When I started my STOP Eating Your Feelings group, I had already worked with compulsive overeaters for quite a few years. That and my own experience as an emotional eater led me to believe I knew a lot about patterns of binge eating.

But, there was one pattern that I had not really identified or labelled before I led the group. When I was working with a number of compulsive overeaters all at the same time, it kind of smacked me in the face.

The pattern of avoidance.

It’s kind of a difficult pattern to identify. Because it’s less about what the person is doing and more about what they are not doing, thinking, or talking about.

I began to notice this pattern the time a beloved group member was leaving. The day before our last session with her, six group members emailed to give reasons they could not attend. It was an easy way for them to get out of saying a tearful good bye.

And then there are the many times I have listened to one excuse after another, why clients aren’t willing to make social contact with anyone outside their immediate families.

Simply put, when something makes compulsive overeaters feel uncomfortable, awkward, or stupid, they just avoid doing it.

Instead, they eat.

Many clients come to me asking the question, “Why do I overeat? I don’t feel particularly bad, mad, or sad when I start shoving food in my face. So there must be some other reason.” Then they pull out theories of time of the month, food sensitivities, or events outside of their control, and suddenly overeating becomes a mysterious curse that infected them and they can’t change.

I do believe that most of the compulsive overeaters who come to me are unaware that something inside them leads them to binge.

The thing is, until they stop avoiding, they will continue to overeat out of frustration, boredom, exhaustion, or a general dissatisfaction with life.

So . . . what are you avoiding? Sorry to say, until it comes to the surface, you will be stuck with the monkey on your back that’s compulsive overeating.

Here are some common patterns: 

Overworked overeaters overeat in order to avoid saying, “No.” They neglect to put themselves first, taking care of everyone else instead. They would rather go along with what is expected than put their foot down and do what’s right for them.

Samplers and Grazers overeat to avoid the hole that’s deep inside them. They lack an internal compass which should direct them towards what they want to do next, and instead follow whoever they’re hanging out with at the time.

Traumatized Overeaters overeat to avoid difficult, painful memories. They eat in order to feel safe, to feel comforted, or to help themselves settle down.

Picky Overeaters overeat instead of figuring out what they need and how to get it. Their desires are hidden deep inside, and it can take years of therapy before they realize they really do have needs like everyone else.

What are you avoiding in your life?

To find out if you’re a compulsive overeater, click here.