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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Compulsive Eating

A crossword puzzle enthusiast was recently overheard to remark: One of these days I'm going to quit doing puzzles and start filling in the other empty spaces in my life!" This insightful comment applies well in our consideration of the use of food to handle emotional pain.

Food fills up the empty spaces in the body, but not those in the mind and soul. Learning to tell the difference between "mouth hunger" and "stomach hunger" is important if you have a weight problem.

Eating out of boredom - a form of emotional pain - is one of the chief reasons for compulsive eating and poor nutrition. The work ethic and need for achievement that characterize life in contemporary culture can lead you to the conclusion that you must be "doing something" or keep busy to be of value to yourself and society. When the motivation for work or involvement wanes - due to physical exhaustion, an emotional setback, or an inability to find meaning in life - we commonly experience a sense of guilt for not being productive. Many people attempt to resolve this condition by eating.

Time and again in the classes and workshops that we conducted, we would hear stories like these:

"My problems with overeating started when my last child went off to school."

"I'm eating a lot of junk food lately, but I'm under a lot of emotional stress. Since I lost my job, I'm bored."

Deborah, who conducts weight-awareness seminars for women, has found that many people eat to gain weight so that they will have something tangible to work at - that is, trying to lose weight. No one makes this a conscious plan - but the pattern is common enough that she believes it is a real one. She personalizes it this way: "If I wasn't on a diet, what else would I have to do?" or "If I ever reached my ideal weight and found that I still wasn't happy - what would I do then?"

<< Previous Food as a Pain Reliever | Back to Eating | Next >> Eating Disorders
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