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I'm ashamed - An Emotional Eating Case Study

Shame rears it head in many different ways, emotional overeating is one of them.

Meet Helen, a 43 year old single woman who had been overweight for most of her adult life.

Helen wanted desperately to have a relationship, but every time she found someone, they left her after a few months. She believed she would never find a life partner; it was too late. She believed her weight was responsible for her situation, but she's been unable to keep the motivation to diet because she felt like a failure. Helen came to me because she wanted to give it one last go.

We worked together for a couple of weeks, getting to know her daily eating habits, work life, home life and her medical history. Helen seemed like any other woman her age, getting through life the best she could. She knew what she 'should' eat but was often distracted from it; at the end of the day, all she wanted was to have a few glasses of wine, something quick to eat, and to just relax. When a 'prospective partner' entered her life, her eating habits got better, she exercised more, looked after herself and was happy for a few months. Then the same pattern reared its head. Her partners left, and she went back to feeling there was something wrong with her.

How to spot emotional eating

After a few sessions, it became clear that there was something Helen was uncomfortable with. When she got frustrated, angry, and felt like she'd done something wrong, she would eat in secret. This realisation came to her when I asked her to try eating all food at the table; until then, she never noticed her emotional eating behaviour. Helen didn't have to eat in secret, she lived alone, so why did she cake standing in the corner of the kitchen and eat it as quickly as she could?

Shame ....

Wendy Byard - Shame and Emotional Eating

As a child, Helen's mum had made a birthday cake for her little brother. The chocolate smelled so good, and it looked so moist, Helen just couldn't help herself. Whilst her mum was upstairs, Helen used her finger to remove some of the buttercream at the bottom so nobody would see; it was delicious. She walked away, knowing it was bad, but elated because it was so delicious. She tried not to, but she went back into the kitchen and picked at the cake again..... before she knew it, she had eaten a large chunk.

Helen's mum was absolutely furious, so furious that she called her a selfish little cow and sent her to her room. Nobody spoke to her for three days.

Helen admitted that this was one of the most shameful things she had ever done; the memory still lives on when she sees chocolate cake. Helen had been using her memory to punish herself again and again without even realising it. Helen associates eating cake with punishment and the withdrawal of love; the trouble is she loves cake, so she eats in secret and sabotages her relationships, all for a mistake she made as a child.

Thankfully now Helen sees where her behaviour comes from; she's addressing her beliefs; things are starting to look much better.


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