“When did you first begin to substitute food for love?” I asked my client. (Note: Names and identifying information have been changed to protect confidentiality.)
“I don’t really know,” she answered, reaching for the Kleenex box. “I remember in high school when I’d lost a lot of weight, and this really popular guy gave me the eye, if you know what I mean.”
My nod encouraged her to continue. “What did you do right after he gave you the eye?” I asked, knowing what she would probably say.
“I went right home and raided the fridge.”
“You’re terrified of your own beauty?” I asked, althought it was spoken softly and sounded more like a statement than a question.
“I guess so. His look made me realize at that second that if I didn’t put a layer of protection around myself – actually a layer of fat – then I would probably be abused again, or turn back into my old promiscuous self, which is even worse. So yeah, I guess you could say I am terrified of my own beauty.”
She grabbed her long, sleek brown hair and began to twist, which I recognized as a sign of anxiety. conversation caused her to ponder difficult issues – issues that are much more about the heart and her story than calories and fat grams.
I encouraged her to continue therapy to get to the roots of the issues, which often display themselves through many secondary symptoms, including:
- Eating disorders
- Drug, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping and other addictions
- Promiscuity or lack of sexual intimacy
- Difficulties in friendships and other relationships
When did you first start to gain weight? is a MILLION dollar question! I cannot stress this enough. Something happened to the person at that time in her life. It may have been the divorce of her parents, sexual abuse, or another extremely painful situation. Until the pain is dealt with, people trying to lose weight will continue to dance around the symptoms. They will often lose weight, but then – just as research shows – most of them will gain all of it back, plus MORE!
This client has now lost over 80 pounds and has kept it off for several years. I ran into her a while ago, and asked her how she lost the weight. “It was mostly the counseling,” she said. “You helped me to process through the hardest parts of my story, and then I turned to food less and less.” She is now much more comfortable with her own beauty, and refuses to substitute food for love.
Does this mean everyone who is significantly overweight has experienced abuse? Of course not. However, many who have struggled with weight issues have experienced major trauma in their lives. Usually they will continue to struggle with the weight until they have the courage to face the roots of their issues – the pain in their hearts that grew from seeds of sadness in their stories.
Being overweight is usually a symptom of underlying issues, and more than likely the weight loss won’t stick until these issues are addressed. To work on the weight alone is somewhat like chopping off the top of a weed in your garden. The root will be hidden for a whole, but sooner or later the weed will reappear.
Make 2010 the year that you work on your own life story with a licensed mental health counselor who addresses the causes of issues and not only symptoms. Then you will fight the body image bandit and win because you will no longer substitute food for love. You will become the person you were meant to be…
© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies: Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Tooshie: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.