I Can’t Believe I Ate That! What Is Compulsive Overeating?

Have you ever eaten something and could honestly not remember eating it? Have you ever started eating and didn’t want to continue, but couldn’t stop yourself? This conversation tends to be a common occurrence. Many of my clients turn to food for comfort so automatically that sometimes they don’t realize it until they see the wrappers as evidence. It literally becomes an out of body experience. In the therapy world, we call this dissociation. Dissociation is common when someone has experienced trauma. It is the brain’s way of protecting us from pain. It is like shock. Shock is a physical experience that allows us to distance ourselves from physical pain. Dissociation does the same thing for emotional pain. Compulsive overeating, emotional eating, drugs/alcohol, sex, gambling and other addictive behaviors become a way to numb pain. For most people in this situation, it is likely that the trauma that initiated this process occurred long ago and you may not even recognize the connection. Any situation that creates pain leads us to try to numb it. Over the years, this connection between food and the avoidance of pain becomes so strong that you feel like you don’t have another option to cope. Each time you go back to eating as your coping skill, it becomes strengthened. Just like lifting weights builds your muscles, using avoidance behaviors strengthens the connection in your brain. Over time, other methods to cope become diminished. While this seems hopeless, you can actually change these connections in the brain through therapy. By going back to the source of the pain, you can begin to change the behavior. You can actually create new pathways in your brain and begin to strengthen those connections. The pain becomes more and more distant and you see hope in making changes. Most people who want to change their eating habits rarely think of therapy as the means for change. I see it as the first line of defense! By addressing the underlying emotional issues, you can finally make the changes you have tried to achieve through yo-yo dieting. There is help out there! Get the support you need to let go of the shame you feel around this issue.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
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