As emotional overeaters, we eat too much. Research on healthy eaters shows they eat a wide variety of foods, including foods that many of us consider unhealthy, such as those high in fat, salt or sugar. The difference between healthy eaters and emotional eaters is that healthy eaters eat only when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Emotional eaters don’t.
Seems simple, right? No more meal plans, calorie charts, or eating healthy foods we hate. But for emotional eaters, it is decidedly not simple. Asking us to eat only when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full is somewhat akin to telling us, “Just learn to speak Swahili.” (Full respect to any of my readers who are fluent in Swahili!)
In recent blogs I have been discussing how metaphors can become keys to connecting our emotional issues with our overeating. Today, I’d like to spend some time exploring the metaphor of too much and it’s opposite, enough.
What in our lives is too much?
How do we do too much?
How can we be too much?
I’ve been noticing this past week how I turn many tasks into too much. A couple of years ago I was procrastinating on finding someone to sublet my office space for part of the week. After some reflection, I decided to make a start in the easiest way I could think of. I sent out two emails to two groups of people I thought might be interested or might know of someone who was. This took about ten minutes. In a few days, I received a response back from one of the people I had emailed who had a friend looking for a sublet office arrangement. Problem solved!
I had been thinking too big, assuming I needed to do more than I really did.
If we expect too much of ourselves, ordinary demands in our lives can become too much. How many of us have made household chores too much by expecting our house to look like one in House Beautiful? Or comparing our wardrobe to something in Vogue?
I have been working towards “getting the word out” around emotional eating, helping people understand that diets don’t work and what to do instead. I even interviewed a business coach, who proposed big ideas and assured me that if I just hired her, her guidance would allow me to pull them off.
I almost started hyperventilating.
Don’t get me wrong, this woman had a lot of great ideas. But I knew if I signed on with her, I would be unable to avoid the “too much” mindset and end up completely overwhelmed, wanting to stay in bed for a week.
So I chose a slower, more modest path. But one that would preserve my quality of life.
I often worry about being too much. At some social gatherings (think pre-pandemic) when I get excited and gregarious, I’m afraid of being too loud. When I’m giving advice to my friends, I worry about being too opinionated.
I worry I give too much information to my clients or push them too hard. Maybe they really want a “nod and smile” therapist who just listens and affirms them? (No offense to therapists who mostly do that – they’re a great fit for some clients.) I do have sessions when I mostly listen and affirm. But sometimes my clients need to be told how their current thinking is creating what they don’t want in their lives. And I don’t feel like a good therapist if I’m not doing that, too.
Perhaps it’s okay to be a little too much?
What is the opposite of too much? Enough.
What is enough?
How can we be enough?
Can we ever be thin enough?
My mom frequently repeated the quote, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” A not enough mindset can create emotional overeating. Certainly there is evidence that crash diets can lead to binge eating.
Many of my middle-age clients think back to when they were young adults and how they never felt thin enough. They say, “I’d give anything to have that body now!” Lack of gratitude and feeling good enough is not only painful but leads to regret.
If you were thin enough, what do you imagine that would be like? Would you feel confident? Sexy? Have the world by the tail?
How might you be able to feel those things, now, without having to make your body into something it’s not? What could you appreciate about your body, now, that might help you feel better about your body and yourself?
For many years therapists focused on discussions of what ideal parenting might look like. Then Donald Winnicott, an English pediatrician, suggested the concept of the “Good enough mother.” Rather than trying to live up to some impossible standard, parents were encouraged to focus on reasonable ways they could help their children learn and grow.
What might be “good enough” eating for you? What might a “good enough” body look like?
If you were good enough, could you allow yourself to be okay without jumping through impossible hoops of accomplishment or success? How might you allow yourself to be enough?