Tell me a little bit about yourself? I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Alameda, CA who has been seeing clients since 2001. I have experience leading groups in compulsive overeating. I am nearing completion of a program for Certification in Eating Disorders from John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA. I take a team approach with medical doctors, registered dieticians, other individual and group therapists to address overeating issues. I have worked with addictions to alcohol and drugs, pornography, food, and people (codependency) and am a certified EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist. I have personally been involved with 12 Step programs for over 15 years to address overeating (Overeaters Anonymous) and codependency (Al-Anon) issues. I started diets in 1970 and have been on and off them for many years, finally concluding that the Intuitive Eating philosophy presented by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA is what works best for me. In my practice I can fully support those seeking help in whatever strategy is working for them.
What are some underlying issues of overeating? Overeating is a complex issue involving behaviors related to food, weight and/or body image. Food behaviors and issues can evolve as a result of dieting. Where there is a food binge there has most likely been some food restriction. Weight has become a symbol of perfection for some. Society and the fashion industry has implicated that the ideal body is thin – like a prepubescent male. Studies show that 80% of American females are dissatisfied with their appearance, and 65% of American adults are overweight. There are often emotional and stress triggers for people to overeat. Some use food to block their feelings. Others feel powerless over their hunger, emotions and behaviors. Often there are feelings of rage, guilt, shame, disgust and anger. Disordered eating can be a habit learned in the home. There is some evidence that foods high in sugar, fat and salt can stimulate the dopamine in the brain, which rewards this behavior and results in habituation for some. Sexuality can be an underlying issue, perhaps coming to terms with their sexual being or their sexual preference. Some underlying issues of overeating are the result of having been abused as a child. Children don’t have the necessary coping skills, they turn to food for comfort and solace. It can be traumatic for a child not to be acknowledged and validated. Of course, it’s not the recognized traumatic experience but over time with many instances of being invalidated and unacknowledged can become traumatic. In the trauma field this called a small “t” trauma.
What type of impact can overeating have on someone's overall life? The range of impact of overeating on someone’s overall life can be from minor to severly life threatening. Overeating can cause health issues that are life threatening. It can damage the heart (weakened heart muscle), circulatory system, brain, eyes, blood, skin, blood pressure, digestive problems, eyes, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, muscles not repairing, and cramps. It can impact the brain causing shrinkage, mood swings, depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Often people who overeat isolate and eat in secret. This can impede a person’s ability to relate and socialize with others. For some diets become an external factor they try and control their food intake when their internal world feels out of control. Some feel they will pursue goals when they reach a weight goal. Others refrain from participating in certain activities due to their weight. People can be preoccupied with thoughts about weight, appearance and food. It can become obsessive and reduce time that could be used for meaningful activities. Their thinking can become distorted and their identity can become closely linked to how they feel about their weight or perceived body image. Some become involved with compensatory activities like over-exercising and purging. They can injure themselves by their compulsion to attempt to make up for their bingeing.
What type of professional help is available for someone wants to overcome overeating and work through those underlying issues? There are many resources available for help overcoming overeating. There are many excellent books available at Gurze.com. There are self help groups like Overeaters Anonymous. Meeting schedules can be found online at www.oa.org. In most communities there are numerous therapists who offer group therapy that address a range of issues including addressing coping skills, identifying triggers to overeating, learning self-soothing techniques, assertiveness training, limit and boundary setting, increasing self-acceptance, sexuality, and addressing body image issues. There are inpatient hospitalization programs, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, structured groups, and other self-help groups on-line and community based that can be used to address overeating.
What advice would you like to leave for someone wants to overcome overeating and work through those underlying issues? First of all, I would encourage them to start right away. It doesn’t matter where they start, any intervention can be helpful. When they’ve tried to address their compulsive overeating without success on their own, it may be time to try something else. Since dieting is successful only 2% of the time, whatever step they’re willing to take today will be useful and help to motivate another step. Help is available through mindfulness, meditation, individual psychotherapy, group therapy and more structured approaches. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an effective technique that can be used to process stubborn beliefs that are no longer valid. Often new skills need to be learned like self-soothing and assertiveness training. I want to stress that they are not alone. It is a scary journey and perhaps the most important one they’ll ever start.
Ellen Odza, MFT