Is Food a Coping Strategy For You? This week I’m sharing a question that came to me through e-mail about why we might not reach out and create relationships even when we’re feeling lonely.
Hi Michelle,Thanks for sending your book, and also for the CD. I’ve read about 2/3 of it, and I am VERY impressed. I’ve always clicked with the Geneen Roth/Hirschman & Munter approach, and it has helped me in the past, but I’ve gotten stuck in certain areas, and I find your book expands on this approach and also gives such a point-by-point roadmap.
I’d also like to say what a positive experience it has been the little amount of contact I’ve had with you and perusing your website. I’ve made the circuit as far as e.d. treatment goes (St. Paul’s, individual counseling, VGH intensive program) and you convey such a warmth and non-clinical/non-patronizing manner. It’s very refreshing, and makes me feel hopeful.One question that I’d be interested in your thoughts/feedback on, is with regard to unmet needs. I would say my #1 unmet need is for connection/companionship. I have no friends in my town (and only 2 friends farther way; 1 I see every couple months). And my family is not supportive/doesn’t “give” emotionally in any way.
So, basically, aside from co-workers, I am completely isolated. And yet, I don’t actually do the things I know would bring me in contact with other people and potential friends (e.g. joining a hiking club, book club, adult ed class, volunteering, etc). Sometimes I’ll push myself to do these things once, but then won’t follow through b/c I get discouraged, or don’t like it, or find it takes too much energy.
I know that sometimes I don’t want to go b/c it means less time for bingeing /purging, but that’s not always the reason. I think it’s mainly a sense of hopelessness/defeat at attempting to build new friendships. Plus, to make a good new friend takes time. So, would you say that this issue is an issue for therapy (i.e. why I don’t do what I know would result in making new connections)? Or, am I missing something? And, in the meantime, how can I learn to soothe/comfort myself with the sense of isolation? There’s not many substitutes for other human beings, even when you’re ok with alone time sometimes.Curious as to your thoughts, if you have the time to respond.K.
Thank you K, for the question.Just to paraphrase, it seems that you’d like to have life that has more friends and social connections in your town and yet you see yourself behaving in such a way that undermines the creation of those friendships. Your immediate thought, it seems, is that it has something to do with wanting to be able to be alone to engage in your binging and purging behaviour but I think you’ve missed the mark. The binging and purging is just a coping strategy. I don’t believe that you want to be alone to binge and purge, I believe that you feel overwhelmed and unsafe in some aspect of your life and you use binging and purging to numb and distract you from that underlying issue. Sometimes, early on in our healing it’s very difficult to see the distinction. But, the difference between believing food is the problem, and knowing that it’s just a coping strategy is huge! When we’re buying in to the belief that food is the problem we are stuck. There is no where to go with that except to control (or try to ) our food even more and get more and more rigid and obsessed and then get more and more frustrated and self-critical when we aren’t successful with our more rigid guidelines which triggers us to get even more restrictive and self-critical which triggers a bigger “binge” and a greater need for isolation and withdrawal which triggers more self-criticism and so on and so on and so on. That’s the only thing that ever happens to anyone who begins to believe that their relationship with food is the reason they are: unhappy; alone; frustrated; “not good enough”; not having the life they desire or the career they desire or the partner they desire……and so on. Mountains become molehills quite quickly with this process when we remember that any focus on food or body image that isn’t about health and wellness is just a coping strategy. Did you get that? It’s a very important point and makes your relationship with food a very different experience: Food is a coping strategy for you if you:
- Eat when you’re not hungry;
- Eat beyond the point of fullness;
- Don’t allow yourself to eat when you are hungry;
- Engage in purging with laxatives, vomiting or excessive exercise;
- Berate your body shape and size.
Is food is a coping strategy for you? The solution is not to focus on the food, the solution is to look a little deeper and identify what it is that is triggering you to feel that your life, as it exists today, is such that you can’t feel safe being present for it? What are you telling yourself about your life and yourself today that makes you believe that the best solution you have to offer yourself is to harm yourself with the coping strategies of isolation, withdrawal, procrastination and binging? It is those thoughts that need to be explored so that you can find out for yourself whether there truly is something that is going on in your present reality that needs some attention in order for you to feel safe putting yourself out there and creating new relationships. You may find that the underlying thoughts that trigger you to feel so overwhelmed that you need to use food to cope are old thoughts and really have no bearing on your present day reality. And yet, they are running the show in large part because you’re not aware that those thoughts exist and that times have changed.
So, to begin to create change in your social life you must start with noticing when you’re using food to cope and taking the following steps:
- Tell yourself: “Oh, I’m using my food coping strategy right now – that means I have a need that isn’t being met.”
- Ask yourself what you were just thinking or experiencing that may have triggered that unmet need.
- Ask yourself if that thought or experience in any way undermines your sense of comfort or safety in your life in general or in your relationships with others.
That’s a great place to start. Bringing your awareness around to what is really going on rather than staying stuck on the surface focusing on food is what will create lasting change and lead you to a relationship with food that is truly natural. And if you’re not sure what that is, a natural relationship with food is one where you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and you don’t have any energy about what you’re eating except to enjoy it.
Take it from someone who used to be obsessed, 24/7 with food – what I should eat vs. what I was eating; how fat and ugly I was; how lazy I was; how I was “never” going to be happy; how I was “always” going to be fat or to be struggling with food; how I was never ever ever going to like my body and be happy with it; and so on and so on.
You can have a peaceful and easy and natural relationship with food and be a healthy natural weight for your body without thinking about it. The first step is proving to yourself that your current focus on food and body is just a coping strategy. Once you know that everything else can being to change because now you’re looking in the right place for the problem and it’s much much easier to find the solution!
P.S. Once you’re tuned in to your own use of food to cope and can start to notice the underlying triggers, there are many practical things you can do to begin to stretch yourself and establish strong and healthy relationships that don’t take a long time to create. If you’re interested in some concrete suggestions about this send me an e-mail and I’ll share some. firstname.lastname@example.org