Shame, Guilt and Binge Eating

A 40 year old female patient described her experience this way: There was a time long ago that I had a relationship with my body, but for the last fifteen years I have been involved in an ongoing battle with it. I hate the way it looks; I hate the way it moves . . . I don’t like it at all. And when I experience this anxiety over my bad body relationship—I eat. I know I am not dealing with what’s really going on and so I just end up feeding it junk and making it weigh more each and everyday. One day I would like to fall back in love with my body, be kind to it, and make it mine again.

A 52 year old man described his self loathing relationship with his body this way: I am good at everything I do —absolutely everything—everything except overeating. In my thirties I could binge and get by and still feel a little bit of self control—it seemed easier then. But as I grew older the binges grew bigger and I felt more and more out of control. Now, each day, I feel more and more out of control. It was so hard to fight the urge not to over indulge that it slowly—day by day—donut by donut—took over. And as it continues to dominate my life I feel like I am such a failure—even though my friends and family would never think this of me. Binge eating is my terrible secret—and one I wish to expose someday.

From time to time most people living in our society experience some form of “normative discontent” with their bodies. This is considered a normal reaction to the corporate pressures which try and sell us on the need to have a perfect and thin body. Most people are able to deal with this pressure to some extent by not letting it take over their lives in any significant way. However, for the growing number of people struggling with disordered eating, the complex relationship issues between their body, appearance and weight can often take over their lives with an overwhelming amount of shame, self loathing and negativity.

Most people I speak with in therapy who binge eat are highly concerned and often embarrassed about their appearance, food habits, weight and their inability to stop binge eating. Shame, guilt and self blame often begin interfering with their abilities and skills to negotiate everyday life. And the more the binge eating cycle punishes their self image, the more people slip downwards towards a never ending cycle of feeling less than worthy.

These less than worthy negative feelings can often set up a repetitive shame/binge/guilt/binge cycle and thereby increase the size and scale of the binge eating disorder. As the disordered eating grows and takes over more of the persons thoughts, actions, and negative self image, it will stimulate more shame and guilt. The binge/shame/binge/guilt/binge recursion can become an ongoing vicious circle. Shame—emotional (binge) eating—more guilt—more binging etc..

I am always struck by how very bright persons with binge eating problems are. I wonder:

  • How is it that very bright people continually get tricked into eating patterns that can ruin their lives?
  • How is it that very bright people continually get tricked by the same old binge eating strategies like “eat today and begin tomorrow” and other all or nothing strategies?
  • Why is it that no matter what information a person has about health, they will continue to be recruited into the deadly ways of emotional eating?
  • What are the ways that a person can begin to take a stand for themselves by standing up for themselves and the best parts of who they are and against deadly forms of emotional eating?
  • What are the ways to make it possible for a person to restore love with themselves by protecting themselves from the deadly internal over eating conversations that push them towards despair, shame and emotional eating?

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