The majority of my nutrition psychotherapy work in my private practice in Ventura focusses on the relationship a person has with their food or eating. People often come in wanting to lose weight and they want to just focus on that and get another diet plan. However, as I tell them, the weight is just a symptom of the underlying problem. The actual problem is that they don’t have a healthy relationship with food! A healthy relationship with food means that we eat when we are hungry, we stop when we are no longer hungry (not eating until we are full), we make generally healthy food choices but we are not so restrictive that we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy other foods sometimes (so we avoid feelings of deprivation) . The relationship with food is like any other relationship in our lives. It’s a give and take, it’s a compromise, it’s constantly in flux, it’s fluid. There are some easy times and there are some tough times. However, unlike other relationships in our lives, we can’t just walk away from this one! We need to eat in order to live so we must work this one out.
The first step to resolving our struggles with food or eating is to take a clear and completely honest look at what is really going on. We can’t change what we don’t know so we need to become mindful and present with our food and eating behaviors. How is our relationship with food helping us? What purpose does it serve in our lives? People who are overweight will often respond with, “It’s NOT helping me! It’s making me miserable!” Initially that may be what we think, however, if it was really ONLY making a person miserable then it’s purpose may be to punish us for whatever reasons we think we need to be punished. It could be helping us to numb out because our feelings overwhelm us. Or avoid intimacy by keeping people away. Or to fill up an emptiness that’s inside us. Or to distract us or stop us from thinking about things that are bothering us. In other words, food or eating has become a coping mechanism. Whatever its purposes are, unless we learn more about our relationship with food and look at how it’s working for us, as well as against us, we can’t change it.
Food and eating actually only solves physical hunger! When we are using it for anything else then we are using it like a drug to self-medicate away our problems, just like someone with a drug addiction. Sure we can “white knuckle” it for a while on yet another diet plan but eventually we will slip back to the old ways unless we learn a new way to meet those other needs or let them go because we don’t have other coping skills. When we are using food as a coping mechanism then we are displaying disordered eating. If we keep going down that path it often leads to a full eating disorder.
I have had clients lose 200 pounds and keep the weight off by working on the underlying problems! That’s when there’s resolution rather than sticking a band aid diet on the problem hoping that it will just go away this time! Diets don’t work, this does! Check out my short video on Lois’ Cane Analogy on the home page of my website (www.FamilyTherapyVentura.com) to get a better understanding of my philosophy and how I work with people to help them develop healthier relationships with the world around them. Start today to become aware of your head and heart so you can prepare to make the changes necessary to resolve the problems. Clearing the head and healing the heart – that’s what I help people do.
Putting the Pieces Together (So We Make Sense of Ourselves, Others and Our World)
Lois Zsarnay, LMFT, BCPC, RD
Family Therapy Ventura, California
©2014 Lois Zsarnay, LMFT, BCPC, RD