Atalanta Beaumont

Handy Hints for Humans

Fat Is an Emotional Issue

Discover the emotional issues that may make maintaining a healthy weight hard.

Posted Sep 11, 2015

If you are happy being overweight, don't read this article. You have every right to be any shape or size you choose. The operative word here is “choose.” If you feel that your weight affects you negatively, then you may want to think about tackling the issue. Be aware that some people are designed to be larger than others and have a heavier build, but if your size is curtailing your enjoyment of life or damaging your health, then you may want to address this. 

The body is a wonderful tool that is designed to self-regulate and heal. We will occupy our body for life and it will pay us back in dividends if we look after it well. If we eat too much or stock up on low-quality fuel, then we start to risk malfunction. If you put the wrong fuel into a car, eventually it will function poorly or occasionally grind to a halt. Losing weight is not rocket science; eat less, exercise more is the only proven formula. However, if you are a failed dieter, you will know that it is not that simple.

There are hundreds of books and programs designed to help you lose weight. But if these were successful there would not be a billion-dollar diet industry. Anyone can lose weight—it's keeping it off that's the hard part. If you've dieted several times and have not managed to lose or maintain your weight, food and eating may not be the issue. How can I say that? Well if you are fat, and despite claims that you want to be thinner, you remain fat, then food and eating may be more than “food and eating” to you.

You will need to work out what role food plays for you and what “benefits” you keep by remaining fat. Food can be a way of comforting ourselves, a form of solace, a way of avoiding facing up to situations or confronting what is really going on. We can address our anger, loneliness, depression, or hurt by eating and thus avoid having to confront deep emotional issues. Being fat is a good way of insulating yourself against the world and protecting yourself from being hurt. It also means you can avoid the risk of trying new things—“I’ll do that when I’ve lost weight.” Why not live your life now; you will never get back any of the time already spent. Unless you feel secure, healthy and happy being overweight, it is not much fun.

So how do you find out what issues are preventing you from maintaining a healthy weight? First keep a food diary. These are very revealing. You need to keep note of everything you eat, how much and what it is, when you eat it and (most importantly) how you're feeling before you eat the food and after you eat the food. This will help reveal what you use food for. Is it to stave off boredom? Is it to avoid loneliness? Once you have done this you will have some idea of what your issues are. If these are deep-seated, involving abuse or neglect, I suggest you seek professional help.

Once you have worked out what your issues are—boredom, anger, loneliness, an unwillingness to confront loved ones—and what food represents for you—comfort, love, swallowing your feelings—then you can decide to do something different. 

Anything involving exercise is a good choice. Go for a walk, start swimming, take up a sport or dancing. Generally set about moving more and replacing eating with other pleasurable activities, such as knitting, reading, singing, dancing, or anything that's enjoyable and makes you feel good. Making a decision to only eat food you really want and of the best quality you can afford, is a good one.

Take time to decide what it is you really want to eat. Imagine eating whatever you have chosen. When you have found what you really want, try this exercise: For every movement involved in eating whatever you have chosen, say, “I am choosing to eat this. I am going into the kitchen. I am opening the biscuit tin. I am choosing a chocolate biscuit. I am closing the biscuit tin. I am going into the sitting room. I am sitting on the sofa. I am taking a bite of the biscuit. I am taking another bite of the biscuit.” This will make you aware of exactly what you are “choosing” to do. It is very hard (and time-consuming) to eat seven biscuits in a row if you follow the above instructions!

Once you have started to lose weight, you will be in a position to address the real issues, such as how you want others to treat you or how you are going to meet more people. You may need to work out what being fat represents for you. Is it safety? Is it anger? Is it withdrawal? Then find other ways to stay safe, be angry or withdraw, ones that don’t involve eating. You could take a self-defense course to increase your sense of safety. You could express your anger appropriately and you could legitimately withdraw when you need time to yourself. You will need to find what works for you.

Using weight as a shield from the world or from your emotions can be effective, but damaging in the long term. However, if being overweight stops you from doing things, it can interfere with the quality of your life and affect your relationships. If it bothers you, do something about it. It may not be easy to tackle your emotionally related weight issues, but it will definitely be worthwhile.