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July 3, 2012 at 2:47 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

I Replaced Love with Food

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Diary of a Fat Woman Blog Series

I think one of the most important questions an overweight woman can ask herself is this:

What has happened to bring me to this point?

Strangely, overeating or carrying excess body fat actually serves a kind of helpful function for some individuals. For instance, a woman who has experienced sexual abuse may be overweight to ward off frightening or unwanted attention from men. In this case, the woman reduces her physical attractiveness so she doesn’t have to deal with male advances. Although this example is extreme, the emotional factors in operation here are quite common among many overweight people - men and women alike - who have never been the victims of sexual abuse.

For me, overeating became a way of dealing with relationship issues.

This started in my early 20s, when I was engaged to a man who, to say the least, was not my ideal mate. We had nothing in common, and as we grew older (we met when I was just 18), our differences became more pronounced. By the time I was 23 and our relationship had been reduced to a tattered remnant of its once beautiful glory, I had discovered that an extra helping of mashed potatoes filled my tummy and made me feel just a little better.

Fast forward almost 10 years to my second marriage, in which I was nothing more than a shadow in my husband’s eyes. While he committed adultery, and often didn’t come home at night, I sought solace from junk food and movies. Now, with a divorce pending and my mind much clearer than it’s been in a long time, I can see the trap I had fallen into: when love is absent, food provides a very different, but also very tangible comfort.

Emotional Dsyregulation - Comfort Eating

The use of food in this manner is called problem "emotional dysregulation." It is a term applied to people that have difficulty dealing with their emotions and use coping mechanisms to handle unwanted feelings. In some cases that mechanism is food, but obviously trading food for love or avoiding feelings is not really the healthiest path.

For people with this problem, health care professionals point out that internal coping mechanisms function at their highest levels without the support of chemicals or food. It's important that people (me included) suffering from emotional dysregulation work to overcome fears that emotions will overwhelm or destroy them, because only then can they really deal with and move past the experience. It's important that we maintain emotional equilibrium without the need for ego supplements.

Getting To The Root of My Weight Struggles

Many people reportedly eat to suppress anger or frustration, and food is often a dear friend to those who are alone and lonely. Overeating is also common among those who face career or relationship unfulfillment, just as I did when my marriage started to fail. It’s important to note here that for a long time, maybe even all my life, I’ve felt that being in a relationship validates me as a desirable human being. 

I felt like not being able to say, “Yes, I have a boyfriend,” or “Yes, I’m married,” was like saying, “I’m all alone because nobody loves me.”

When I felt unloved, I turned to food. Increasingly, as times got harder, the amount of food I stuffed in my mouth became greater. Now, here I am, trying to undo all of my bad habits and also fix what’s really wrong with me: my need to be in a relationship for no other reason than because I don’t want to be alone. Thus, finding the answer to my weight issues has given me insight to my deepest flaws, and how they’re hurting me on a variety of levels: emotionally, psychologically and physically.

Now, losing weight is only part of the solution; I also need to find a way in which I can correct my misconceptions about love and learn to live my life for me, not somebody else. So I’m on a new journey of self discovery, and I’m anxious to see where it leads me.

Photo Credit: Barnaby Walker

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  • I have to agree with Tracy, about learning to love ourselves! Keep up the good work, you can do it.

  • What an incredibly beautiful and transparent blog, Julie. Thank-you so much for sharing as I know it can be difficult admitting food-related habits such s this one to yourself, let alone to the public. I think nearly all of us have at one time or another turned to a sweet treat (or any type of comfort food) when we were feeling hurt. If you think back to your childhood, how often did your mom or dad offer you a treat to help you feel better after you fell off your body or were teased by a friend? This relationship with food can certainly begin early... Making it even more of a challenge for us to overcome as adults.

    I am a huge believer in the power of action and self-expression. By talking your troubles out and creating new healthy habits (calling a friend, playing on Facebook, blogging on here!, going for a walk, etc.) to replace your old self-defeating habits, it gives you control and power over the food - rather than it taking control over you.

    Wishing you the greatest of luck, Julie. You certainly seem like a strong and confident woman and I KNOW you have it in you :)

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