Upton: Facing the strain of overeating

Upton: Facing the strain of overeating

May 23rd, 2013 by By Tabi Upton in Life Entertainment

I've plumped up over the years. The reasons are complex and mysterious.

Part of it is a rapidly slowing metabolism, another side is stress, a section of the problem is most likely hormonal, while yet another component is due to the additives and vitamin-depleting processing that we find so normal for the food we eat in these dear old United States.

The most insidious issue, however, is probably my drama-filled, on-and-off-again relationship with simple carbohydrates and sugar. Conquering these fiends, which I sometimes mistake for friends, takes courage and the stamina of an addict bent on recovery.

I recently listened to renowned eating disorder

specialist, storyteller and writer Dr. Anita Johnston tell the story of a woman who met a special someone named Chip -- as in Chocolate Chip. Their courtship and dating life were fabulous, but she quickly became obsessed with him. Her friends could see that he was no good for her, and finally she gave him up. Now they're cordial when they run into each other at the supermarket, but the pull is gone. She's free of him.

Johnston, a regular lecturer at Focus Healthcare, offered this humorous illustration as an example of how she helps individuals see their struggles with food in metaphorical terms. Most of us can relate to loving someone who is just all wrong for us. We know what it's like to enjoy something in the moment while heaping more problems on our lives at the back end. That's what compulsive eating sometimes offers us -- immediate relief from a long and stressful day, relaxation, comfort and the numbness of not feeling.

Compulsive overeating, though not generally seen as immediately life-threatening as anorexia or bulimia, can still be a disruptive life issue. The struggle to maintain a normal weight presents various problems. Self-esteem can be compromised if the overeating also leads to obesity. And then there's the shame, the secrecy, the hiding.

People sometimes eat past the point of satisfaction to stuff down unwanted memories from the past, to shield themselves from uncomfortable emotions, to protect themselves by adding layers, to avoid dealing with life's pressures.

Sugars and carbohydrates can stoke chemical fires in the brain that create a rush of euphoria. After going without refined sugar for several days, I ate a small cup of cookies and cream ice cream after a healthy lunch. I literally felt a burst of happiness travel through my body and up through my head. I was high on sugar. I had never been so aware of what I was seeking when I ate decadent and nutty chocolate or reveled in my boxes of Whale Crackers. I was after that sense of well-being, escape and fun.

Unfortunately, the euphoria fades to frustration when your pants don't button. So you try again.

Johnston would say that you must understand your underlying needs, the unique symbolism in what you are doing, then learn the tools to moving past your barriers to get to the other side.

Freedom is on the other side. It's when you, like the woman in the story, can pass your own beloved food without losing your mind, yet still behave cordially.

The temptation may be to ramp up our efforts in rigid rules, but that isn't the goal. Balance is the key. Food brings life, is meant to be enjoyed and is good like medicine when used in right portions and with good intentions.

For resources on the subject of compulsive overeating, visit www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com.

Tabi Upton is a local counselor, workshop presenter and freelance writer. Contact her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.Tabi Upton is a local counselor, workshop presenter and freelance writer. Contact her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.