Overeating, Is It Complusive?
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Two plus two equals four. Calories in put on weight, calories out take off weight. Simple, basic, straightforward and clear. Don't want to gain weight, don't eat more calories than you burn up. Calories you drink count, too. Want to lose weight, burn up more than you take in. So what's the problem? Why is obesity epidemic in this country?
There are all kinds of "extenuating circumstances", reasons, excuses used by overweight Americans.
"I'm too busy to exercise."
Answer: "so don't eat so much and walk or bike more, move around, burn a few more energy units, stop sitting so much and driving everywhere you go."
"I'm too busy to cook, so have to eat "fast food".
Answer: "Fast food can be healthy stuff like veggies and some form of protein: try chicken on top of salad...don't kill it with hundreds of calories of dressing."
"Healthy foods are too expensive", "I can't stand to be hungry", "every time I diet, I lose weight, then gain it back." And I love this one, "It's my (thyroid) gland problem."
Answer: "Get it fixed! Thyroid supplement is one of the cheapest medications on the market!"
It is true that an appropriate balance of protein, healthy fats and carbs, and vitamins and minerals helps us maintain our health and feel better, even while losing weight. Much of the food in our country is processed, full of yukky stuff that provides minimal nutrition for maximum calories. Food is ubiquitous, even more so than alcohol. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth. Educate yourselves on that piece; learn to eat real food, unprocessed, fresh, healthy stuff, and in reasonable amounts for your activity level. Tempted to manage stress with too much of your favorite comfort foods? Try exercising and talking to a friend instead. No, changing behavior is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It is, however, worth it. Call or write to me if you have specific questions.
So, moderately overweight folks, you have a choice. You can keep your overeating and minimal-calorie-burning life style, or you can change. Quit complaining. You know what to do. If you ever make a decision to actually do it, give yourself a break and set up for success: get support, join one of the local weight loss challenges or start your own; arrange with friends to meet at the gym or for a walk every day. Do something.
Change what you take in and what you burn up. Hey, I never said it was easy, just that you can do it!!
What about the real disease (dis-ease) of Compulsive Overeating? Some overeaters are enormously obese, some are normal weight, as they are bulimic, purging by vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise. They may take in 10,000 calories in one sitting, only to purge soon after and not gain weight. As I have said previously, addicts are different. Compulsive overeaters, bulimic or not, are attempting to cover pain and fill a void with food (see Fill the Void with Spirituality). Food does not fill "The Void." Pain, anger, loneliness and self-hatred cannot be covered with food any more than with alcohol. Overeating may leave one feeling physically full temporarily, but soon the emotional and spiritual emptiness returns. Keep eating, stay empty. It doesn't work. Lot's of people talk about "emotional eating"; an extra serving at dinner or refill on dessert at exam time or before starting a new job, or a candy bar or milkshake when stressed are all in the range of normal. Key words here are "an" and "a", not "a dozen" or "every day". Food addicts, compulsive overeaters, don't stop here. Compulsive overeaters eat most of their calories alone, behaving "normally" when eating with other people, but taking in many thousands of calories in isolation. Trying day after day to fix something, trying to fill the void with food just adds to self-hatred and emptiness. Affecting every aspect of life, reaching into every relationship, and occupying a high percentage of the space in your brain, compulsive overeating is as painful a disease as any other addiction.
One experienced gastroenterolist (stomach specialist) says compulsive overeaters are abuse victims, often sexual abuse, until proven otherwise. If this is you, it is not your fault! You deserve help...help for re-solving your past, dealing with your anger and emptiness and finding a way to stop doing harm to yourself. Childhood abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional distorts the thinking of even the smartest and most logical of adults. Books have been written about this topic and maybe I will cover part of it in another article; for today's purposes, just know that there is recovery.
Find a consultant, therapist, doctor, or recovering overeater who can help you walk through your specific story. Use any spiritual or religious tools you have. Take them out, clean them up, and use them. Get more if yours are not working. There is help. I promise. Recovering will be the most difficult thing you ever do...and the most valuable. Recovery is worth it. You are worth it.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver firstname.lastname@example.org.