In Session with Debbie: Breaking up With Food

This week I had a session with Leslie, a veterinarian in her 40’s.  Leslie and I have been working together for a little over a month and the topic we discussed this week was overcoming emotional eating.  I discussed with Leslie the fact that negative emotions are a part of life and that they aren’t harmful.  We then brainstormed some things besides eating that Leslie could try to help soothe herself when she was feeling upset, like drinking hot tea, online window shopping, and playing solitaire on her phone.  I could tell, though, that Leslie wasn’t convinced so I asked her what she was thinking.  She told me, “Food is my friend,” and that she just couldn’t imagine that, if she was upset, looking at housewares online would be helpful when she had the comfort of her old friend, food, right in her kitchen.

Leslie and I then examined this notion that food was her friend.  Leslie realized that when she got upset and wanted to eat to soothe herself, she was only looking at part of the picture: She was thinking about how soothing and comforting food was while she was actually eating it.  But she wasn’t thinking about everything that happened after – when she felt guilty and mad at herself, when she took in a lot of extra calories, and when she was forced to stay overweight.  When Leslie thought of food as her comforting friend, she was only remembering the positives and completely pushing aside the negatives.

To help her hold on to a more balanced view of what it really means to have food function as her friend and as her primary coping mechanism for negative emotions, we composed a “Disadvantages of Food as my Friend” list. Here is the list she came up with:

Disadvantages of Using Food as my Friend

1. After I’ve finished eating, it brings out my self-dislike

2. It makes me stay overweight (and potentially continues to increase my weight more)

3. It makes me not fit into my clothes, into airplane seats, into booths in restaurants, etc.

4. It means I can’t move around easily or gracefully

5. It makes it so painful on my knees when I have to bend down to get animals out of the lower cages

6. It makes me want to avoid seeing my real friends and family

7. It makes me not recognize the person I see in the mirror

8. It wreaks havoc with my sense of confidence and makes me feel hopeless about being able to lose weight

9. I know food doesn’t really love me back. It can’t – it’s just food.

I asked Leslie to read this list every single day over the next week so that she can get these ideas more firmly in her head.  Leslie and I then discussed that while doing the things we mentioned previously – playing games on her phone, drinking hot tea, calling a (real) friend, giving herself a facial – might not be as soothing as eating when she was upset, they would come with no negative consequences, as opposed to eating, which comes, ultimately, with 100% negative consequences.  With a more balanced view in mind of what using food as a friend really did to her, Leslie was able to willing this week to start working on breaking up with food and trying to soothe herself in other ways.