Reasons for overeating?

This week (ok, ok, last week – I’m behind, so shoot me) I was tasked with thinking about why I’m over eating. Here is what I concluded:

I like food. It tastes good. Yum.

So, apparently, this isn’t good enough.

According to the Beyond Chocolate ladies (and they should know):

You may think of overeating as a destructive habit, as self-sabotage or as a ‘bad’ and unhelpful thing to do.  And yet overeating mostly has a positive function.  We use it to manage, to cope, to take care of ourselves.  It often serves to alleviate distress of some sort, whether we are aware of it or not.  The primary function of overeating is to help us in the moment and that’s a good thing.

Overeating has another function however – it overshadows everything else.  Although it helps us feel better in the moment, we usually feel bad straight afterwards (or even before we’ve finished).  We feel bad because we tell ourselves that we are weak, out of control, fat, lazy, greedy, stupid, bad, pathetic – fill in the blank.  We are so busy beating ourselves up for overeating that we have no time or energy leftover to look at what is really causing the distress that we are eating to cope with or ignore.  It’s easier to feel bad and beat ourselves up about overeating than to face other ‘demons’.  Better the devil you know… as they say.

Beginning to see our overeating as a coping mechanism that we have developed for good reasons is the first step to stopping.  When we are willing to acknowledge – with compassion and kindness – that we overeat as a way of looking after ourselves in the best way we know, and that we are working on stopping gradually, without forcing and pushing ourselves, something quite magical happens… and we finally have a chance to find another way.

Under strict instructions to not to try to stop overeating, but just to observe when you do (which feels weird enough as it is) I have been trying to pin down some of the reasons why I’m overeating. I’m not going to lie to you here – it’s hard. It’s a struggle to identify the root of some distress you didn’t know you were suffering from. Having eaten two pieces of home made madeira cake for breakfast (for breakfast! I ask you), I’m looking at this cake thinking ‘Here it is, mmm, it’s damn good cake… why am I not walking away after slice one?’. My brain mostly says ‘Because slice two will easily be as good as slice one’. I genuinely can’t identify an underlying distress right at this very minute, apart from the uncomfortable happening of forcing myself to examine my own piggery.

However, I have noticed one or two things. As a self-employed person with a finger in many-a-pie (ha!), I sometimes spend a whole day at home. I need to plan my day, a few hours on the computer, digging the garden from 3-4pm, fix bike etc and factor in time to do all the things I need to do. If I don’t, I fritter away the whole day doing sweet Fanny Adams and I eat a whole bunch more random stuff that I didn’t really want to eat. So I’ve vaguely concluded that I eat more when I’m being ineffective – I eat more to distract myself from the fact that I’m time wasting. So why am I time wasting?

Well, I have another theory on this. Sort of a theory – probably not fully formed enough to deserve the title ‘theory’ maybe more like a theorish. It’s something along the lines of getting frustrated when things don’t work out and so stuffing my fizog to either distract from the frustration or to really rub it the hell in but then, when things do work out, getting panicked and self-destructing by eating a whole madeira cake standing over the sink (I have never, ever done that). Sooo… I think I need to see a psychotherapist.

I eat when I’m frustrated, I eat when I’m scared something’s going well and I will have to ‘perform’, I eat to really rub in how rubbish I’m being, I eat just because it tastes nice, I eat out of habit and I so eat too much because I hate to throw things away. I also eat in case I won’t get that chance to eat that again – like the madeira cake – the kids are coming today I’M GOING TO EAT IT ALL OTHERWISE THEY’LL EAT IT ALL AND I WON’T GET ANY. They’re kids. I’m an adult (apparently) I should be able to deal with it. It’s just cake. I think I starved to death in a former life.

However, here’s an interesting example. Last night I cooked gorgeous spiced Moroccan meat balls with aubergine and tomato and after having a massive plateful and feeling full, I automatically went back to get more. But then I thought, why am I doing this? Do I really want to eat more? Yesterday I was offered a place on a Master’s course but Neil thinks we’ll break up if I do the course – he can’t handle being apart again for a year. So I’ve achieved something, but if I see it through I have to destroy something else I’ve achieved – my life up here, my relationship with Neil… Hell, it’s the whole frustration/achievement boiled into one horrible, skewed creative-destructive bonanza – I didn’t have any more but no wonder I wanted to drown my sorrows in meatballs.

In which I discuss ways in which I overeat

So – week one!

Mostly I would describe my overeating as just eating too much or not being able to stop. Nothing too emotional or euphemistic, am just a piglet and eat too much.

Ways in which I over eat include…

When I’m bored at work (in the pub) I eat peanuts and crisps. Sometimes I take things such as fruit with me to eat which may or may not temporarily distract me from the Kettle Chips. Most nights , when it’s not busy, I literally feel unable to think of anything else to fill my time.

To avoid wasting things. Brung up poor, I suppose. It’s been better since we’ve got hens (who go hyperbolic with excitement about scraps) but I still cook too much for one plateful, look at the leftovers and think ‘meh, not enough to put in a tupperware and save. I’ll eat it now’.

If it’s there and it tastes nice I will either keep coming back and picking or just plain eat a massive helping and wipe myself out.

Out of habit, all the time. If I’m at a train station I feel compelled to buy something to eat, even if I brought something with me, even if I’m not hungry, because I always buy something at the train station. And I can’t have something savoury without following it with something sweet. Or a cup of tea without a biscuit… The list is endless.

I do things like have chocolate for breakfast because I have this idea that I’m totally, like, relaxed about food and not uptight at all, so hell, I’m the kind of person who can eat chocolate hobnobs for breakfast because I’m so quirky and non-chalant and not even make a thing about it. Look how chillaxed I am I just ate mayonnaise out the jar for breakfast. Bah.

I eat leftovers. Like the poker boys’ pizza’s in the pub – it’s ok because I didn’t buy it – they offered me their dregs! Who am I become?

Neil always encourages me to have seconds. I know it’s not his fault, I could say no, but darn it… It was a good meal…

I get this feeling of panic and unending bleakness if I think of trying to give up sugar so I throw myself into a flap and eat a whole packet of biscuits. I actually feel frightened of the prospect of giving up things.

I pre-plan eating so that if I need to go out I eat early (in case I go to a place where no food exists and I will be stranded for days without sustenance) or make a lunch to take. Often this seems to result in multiple eating events as even if I’ve packed a lunch I always seems to eat before lunch and then I’m hungry again… This might be related to being skint and not wanting to buy stuff but I have an irrational fear of going hungry – of course it’s irrational, look at me, I’d be fine for at least a month without so much as a oatcake. I’ve tried that, just taking oatcakes to sustain me in the long hours but I can’t stick to it.

Lot’s of my eating events seem to me to happen just because I can’t imagine another scenario. Whenever someone offers me a biscuit I say yes because why would I ever say no? When would I ever not want a biscuit? I’m like a Pavlov dog – all mention of cake/biscuit/chocolate gets a ‘yes’ response. I might even sit up on my hind legs and beg.


I’ve have been overeating since…

Hummm…. I don’t know.  I was a fat child. I’ve always been a bit chubby. I remember at primary school I hated gym because we had to get changed in front of each other and I was embarrassed about my belly. My mum tells me that I was upset because other kids teased me about my fat belly. Very vividly, I remember queueing up for lunch one day, selecting whatever paltry offerings there were and getting to the pudding section only to be told by the dinner lady, in front of everyone, that my mum says I wasn’t allowed to have cake, I had to have fruit. On later discussion, literally in the last couple of years when it was brought up for the first time, it turned out that my mum had told the dinner lady that I was to be encouraged to have fruit as it was the only vegetable matter they served that wasn’t boiled to death. Clearly, it sticks in my mind as an early food/shame  incident which makes me suspect I was overeating even then.

I was conscious of overeating at secondary school and persuaded my mum to take me to a nutritionist who patronised the hell out of me and told me I should only eat one banana a day. As I was so shy about it the staff concluded that my mum was a pushy mother trying to foist a slimming regime on her chunky child.

Since then, I have always overeaten to some extent or another.

I started overeating because…

Food tasted good? I don’t think it was anything more sinister than that. But I’ll think on it and try to come up with something a little more newsworthy.

When I think about overeating I feel…

Annoyed. Frustrated. How can someone who has more (just) than two brain cells to rub together be so entirely unable to control something as simple as what she puts in her mouth? I feel jealous of all those people who just don’t give it a second thought and disgusted with myself and my continual failures. And part of my thinks I would rather learn to want to want to be the way I am and stay fat rather than continually beat myself up about it. After all there isn’t actually anything wrong with me – I’m perfectly healthy.

Dammit. I’m hungry now. Avocado with tomato and home made mayonnaise….