Overeating Is an Abandonment Issue: How to Heal it

I love to eat, and then eat. It's just the consequences I hate. What's a potato chip but a prelude to the whole bag? What's an M&M but a tease for a fistful?

I've watched people eat just one cookie and then turn away. I study them as if they are extra terrestrials. They must have cookie flavors lingering in their mouths, right? Then why doesn't this make them grab for another? And another? I don't get it.

What I DO get is that food is primal satisfaction. Sucking it down is a reflex, our first reflexive gratification. The flavors and textures of food hit the palate and create an instant sensation - mostly pleasure -- quicker then any drug could do. Its succor and nurture help assuage abandonment fear, a primal human emotion that impinges from within whose roots tug all the way back to birth trauma.

As adults, we are supposed to be the CEOs of our lives, fully engaged in setting and achieving goals for ourselves, in charge of giving ourselves a good life. This involves the ability to delay immediate gratification in the service of achieving long range goals. If the goal, for example, is to become a doctor, lazing around all day instead of studying only may feel good in the short term, but defeats the purpose of getting through med school. Likewise, if the goal is to lose weight, gorging on pasta may feel pleasurable while it's going down, but forfeits the more sustaining pleasure of being able to zip up our pants.

Grabbing for feel-good relief at the expense of our important life-goals is a form of self-abandonment. If our confidence and sense-image depend on trimming down, but we keep stuffing ourselves with brownies, then we're abdicating our CEO responsibilities, failing to take good care of ourselves, abandoning our hopes and dreams for a cheap thrill. What causes us to forsake ourselves?

1) Low Self-Esteem: The key symptom of low self esteem is the tendency to succumb to immediate gratification -- a buy now, pay later attitude. We don't hold ourselves in high enough regard to put ourselves through the rigors of med school or diet and exercise. We're just not special enough, not worth it.

2) Abandonment Issues. Low self esteem is a product of unresolved abandonment -- those unattended needs that hearken all the way back to childhood when we felt left behind, diminished, not good enough, rejected. The universal abandonment wound is cumulative and festers beneath the surface where it silently generates self-doubt and reduces our self-esteem quotient.

3) Low Sense of Entitlement: We aim low and put up with having less because we don't feel important enough to put forth the effort to attain the body-beautiful or fulfilling career. So we go for second best and grab for quick fixes that forestall our loftier goals, creating a vicious cycle in which food becomes the soother and reward -- an addiction.

4) Abandoned Inner Child: When our Inner Child feels empty, needy, or insecure, we stuff the feelings with food instead of loving ourselves enough to forgo immediate gratification in the service of achieving long-range success.

In short, our Inner Child wants to feel attractive, healthy, and desirable, but our Outer Child (the head-strong self-saboteur) wants more brownies, and our Adult Self isn't strong enough yet to tame our Outer Child's wanton behaviors and give our Inner Child the benefits that really count. What to do?

1) Since the cause of stuffing your feelings is unresolved abandonment, step one is to get involved in abandonment recovery -- a program of hands-on tools designed to strengthen the Adult Self and help heal the underlying wound.

2) Metabolic problems aside (and people have multiple endocrine-neuro-chemical factors affecting appetite, metabolism, set point, and weight, etc.), the Adult is responsible for accomplishing your goals. Whether or not your weight issues are "your fault," the only person who can take action to resolve it is you.

3) Self responsibility does not mean self-blame. Although you are responsible for fixing the problem, your current habits have less to do with your strength of character than to do with the accumulation of past hurts, disappointments, and losses that were beyond your control.

4) The antidote to self-abandonment is self-love. But we can't just will it into existence by reciting platitudes in the mirror. It involves an action-oriented, unconditional commitment to self.

5) The tools empower the Adult Self to tend to the needs of our abandoned Inner Child, cherish it as a beloved part of ourselves, and take forward steps to help it feel taken care of, loved, and provided for -- not just give it self-indulgent substitutes like brownies. Sticking to a food plan demonstrates self-love by addressing Inner Child's most deeply held needs.

6) Get Help. It's easy to underestimate how difficult it is to change deeply set patterns of self-gratification. There are expert doctors, programs, counselors, support groups, friends, and sponsors that can help you. No need to do it alone. You are not alone!