Emotional eating behaviours
We live in a society that promotes perfection. Almost every advertisement we see in a magazine, online or on TV is pedalling the myth that if only we were young enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, then everything about our lives would be fine. We allow ourselves to be manipulated into believing that a state of permanent joy and happiness is achievable and even normal, and then feel that we are in some way failing if we don’t feel this way all the time. We can find ourselves half believing that if we eat carrots for a week or redecorate the lounge all will be well in our own lives!
This drive for perfection is particularly true about body size. Within the media bombardment about body size there are mixed messages - in women’s magazines, the diet pages showing thin, healthy women positioned right next to the recipe of the month showing slim happy families gathered around tables groaning with appetising calorie laden food. The reality of 21st century living couldn’t be more different than the media representation. We actually live in an ageing population, where we have more overweight and obese people than ever before with the highest incidence of depression, anxiety disorders and family breakdown ever recorded.
For many people, yo-yo dieting is the norm, where they are engaged in a struggle between periods of denying themselves and periods of indulgence, and periods of self-acceptance and periods of self-loathing. The main difficulty for many is the short lived “high” that goes with having achieved their target weight. They hit the magic numbers on the scales and feel fantastic, for a day, a week, a month, but then the reality dawns, that they feel like themselves, like they always did, but thinner. The lost weight has not magically transformed them into a sexier, more confident, more positive person. They are still subject to the same insecurity, the same self-doubt, and the same issues that they have struggled with, but within a thinner version of themselves. Before long all the lost weight is regained and the person feels worse than before the initial diet began.
To overcome this, people need to be helped to manage their emotional difficulties more effectively so they feel better, and then feel encouraged to lose weight. By regulating emotions more effectively and by increasing tolerance of difficult feelings and by identifying new self-soothing strategies that are not food related, the path to losing weight becomes more achievable. When people understand why they eat, what they eat and when they eat, they begin to feel better about who they are and begin to believe that they have worth and are worth looking after.
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About Lesley Butlin
Lesley Butlin, M.Sc, is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, supervisor and trainer. As a therapist and mental health nurse, working for over 20 years in the NHS and a charity specialising in eating disorders, she has acquired considerable knowledge and expertise in treating people with disordered eating. Lesley has been private practice since 1997.