Over the past couple of years, understanding the motivations behind my impulse to overeat has been one of the more arduous challenges I’ve faced. In the past, I would always take the sort of ‘devil made me do it’ approach. Since eating to excess is ‘bad’ then the forces behind that action must be ‘bad.’ By the same token, since eating in moderation is ‘good’ then I can’t be ‘good’ if I’m not practing moderation.
Of course, there really is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in all of this. Value judgement like that tend to be more harmful than motivational. Particularly since once I’ve determined that I’m ‘bad’ then there is no further reason for restraint and suddenly all bets are off in the eating department.
From examining my own circumstances and from talking to a lot of people about their own challenges, I’ve become more and more convinced that we always get something from eating. Even when we overeat, having stated an intention to actually reduce consumption.
So what, exactly, is it that we are getting?
In some cases, I think we are driven purely by the physiological – foods that taste great provide us with all kinds of pleasurable stimulation. And we can get stuck in that ‘if this feels THIS good, keep doing it!’ mode. I’m particularly susceptible to this at parties, especially if I’m looking at endless amounts of tempting foods placed immediately in front of me.
Another factor in overeating is the emotional. It seems to me that whenever I’m in any kind of heightened emotional state, I’m driven to eat because it either feeds that emotion or I imagine it will calm me down, perk me up, soothe me, etc. What I’m getting from that is the feeling of control – that I can use food as the tool by which I can reconfigure my emotional state.
Third, I think another major driving force behind excess consumption is one’s belief system. Sometimes some of us have buried somewhere inside us the idea that we ‘deserve’ to overeat. In that case, when we HAVE been practicing moderation and portion control, we feel we are not getting what we ‘deserve.’ The other night I came home from a restaurant meal feeling virtuous and successful for having limited my portions, focused on the people, and left feeling satisfied. The next thing I knew I was rummaging through the cupboards to eat anything not nailed down. A friend of mine reported to me that she achieved a major weight loss milestone this weekend, and then proceeded to have a snackfest in the kitchen.
What we get from eating in those situations is not completely clear to me, but it does seem to have something to do with reward and comfort. At some level, these are actions we are performing in order to take care of ourselves, based on deeply held beliefs. And while it might be tempting to say that the answer is to instill new beliefs in ourselves about what we ‘deserve’ (i.e. a healthy body, trimmer figure, reduced blood pressure, etc.), I think that’s a lot easier said than done.
The bottom line is that I believe I’m driven not by evil, satanic, dark forces when I eat excessively. I get frustrated with myself and disappointed, I feel perplexed by my motivations and unhappy with the results. But I do know this. It’s not about being ‘bad.’ Its about being me.