Just recently I did a truly uplifting session with a client whom I’ll call Shauna. Shauna has a long history of battling with her weight – she had tried every diet plan known to humankind, starting from the tender age of 10! We’ve been working for some time on the emotional triggers of her overeating, reaching right back into childhood incidents, which had shaped her behaviour patterns. In Shauna’s family, no one really knew how to handle their own, or anyone else’s emotions. Whenever an emotional situation came along, both her parents reached for food. Shauna had learned this knee-jerk reaction too, and carried it right through her childhood, teen years and into adulthood.
Since we’ve been working together, Shauna has made amazing progress with her emotionally-driven eating. She’s lost a stack of weight; radically improved her body image so she can now appreciate her own attractiveness instead of only seeing what she hates about her body; and she has changed her relationship with food. Now she enjoys choosing healthy food that nourishes her body, instead of reaching for junk food that suppresses her emotions.
But when I saw her last time, she was in crisis – her beloved grandfather had died two weeks earlier and her grief was so intense she had started to slide into overeating once again. We did some very intense work – talking about her sadness, how much she missed him, how everything she saw in her family’s house reminded her of him and how she felt lost without his love.
As Shauna’s tears subsided, we reached the nub of the problem with her overeating: she believed she couldn’t handle her emotions. That was the message she’d picked up in her family – feelings were scary, out-of-control, damaging, and to be avoided at all costs! Shauna realised her grandfather was one of the few people in her family who was comfortable with experiencing and expressing his emotions… even more interestingly, he was pretty much the only family member who was a natural eater – that is, he only ate when hungry and stopped when he was full.
This realisation helped Shauna transform her understanding of herself. It enabled her to better manage the experience of her grandfather’s death. She now appreciated her emotions aren’t something she has to hide from by burying herself in food, just because everyone else in her family is so scared of them! Of course she will continue to move through the many and varied emotions that comprise the human experience of grief. But she honours the memory of her grandfather by facing the pain of her grief rather than trying to distract herself with food: she now knows she CAN face her feelings and handle them.
There is much truth in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
From an article by Hopewood contributor Robyn Chuter.