Addiction as self-medication

My approach to diet involves recognising that I tend to overeat for two reasons: insufficient sources of pleasure and enjoyment in life, and as an escape from negative emotions.

In my case, what I thought was hunger was actually an impulse to distract myself from negative emotions.

The causes of negative emotion are different for all of us. That’s why I urge people to consider professional help and mental health support.

Like other forms of “addiction”, overeating can be a way of soothing and distracting from negative emotions. Studies into obesity have shown that for many, both the overeating and the weight gain can provide an unconscious solution to the problem of traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, and assault.

That’s why conventional diets don’t work for everyone. There’s an inner, often unconscious, struggle between the desire to lose weight for health and aesthetic and social reasons, and the desire to escape from very painful emotions or memories.

Have some compassion for yourself in this process. First, because you may be seeking to change behaviours that have been in place for years or decades. Second, because although self-medication with food or other substances tends to have negative side-effects in the long term, it’s also typically a case of doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances.

All things being equal, I doubt anyone prefers to be overweight. But all things are not equal. We work them out piece by piece over time, and compassion and understanding are not only deserved but essential.

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