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No Two Ways

You must either do what it takes to lose weight or love your body as it is

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 08/17/2011

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­­Dear Patti,
For the most part, I’m a happy, confident person except that I hate I’m 35 pounds overweight. My health is excellent, and I still look pretty good, but I know I’d be so much happier and feel more attractive if only I lost the weight. My husband compliments me, and I smile and nod, but I don’t really take it in. He buys me beautiful lingerie, but I don’t wear it, always saying that I’ll wear it as soon as I lose the extra poundage. I can’t wait for the day when I can wear sexy, beautiful clothes and really feel good about myself, but I’ve been saying this for almost four years now. I lose two pounds and then gain three. I go up and down a little bit and that’s all. I don’t know if I’m just lazy or if I’m a compulsive overeater. – Kate

Dear Kate,
Whatever dreams a person has — to one day write a book, to live in the country or to be glamorously thin — he or she often becomes a victim of self-imposed inertia. The desire is certainly there, but somehow the drive and the discipline to make it a reality never quite manage to kick into gear, causing a frustration that can lead to an emotionally damaging state of mind. It’s a fact of life that some goals take longer to achieve than we might like and are accomplished in small, daily steps rather than giant, overnight leaps.

If you find yourself stagnating and not taking the steps within your power, however, you might have what in psychology is called a punitive superego that is subconsciously torturing you and causing you to believe you can never make the grade. Many people might do this for a short period of time until they find their way, but if this process has become a way of life, it’s extremely damaging to your self-esteem. Either you need to do what it takes to lose the weight or learn to love your body the way it is and start wearing that beautiful lingerie now. If you can’t drop the weight fairly consistently, focus on self-acceptance instead of engaging in wistful, long-term yearning.

Kate, I don’t know if you are a compulsive overeater, and the issue is multifaceted. In summary, it’s important for you to understand the physical, environmental and psychological reasons for such behavior as well as effective treatments and support systems. From a physical standpoint, healthy nutrition and exercise are extremely important, as there are biological processes that play a significant role in compulsive overeating. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating need to be ruled out, and food addiction tendencies must be explored. Environmentally, consider whether the convenience and accessibility of fast foods and snacks are derailing your weight-loss goals. Psychological reasons that may contribute to compulsive overeating include mood disorders, anxiety, stress, sexual abuse and poor body image.

Depression affects more than 15 million Americans, and many who are depressed have disturbances in eating patterns, such as an association between carbohydrate cravings and mood changes connected to depression. Anxiety is another prevalent mental health problem in that often limits one‘s capacity for trying new behaviors and enjoying personal growth and change. People also often consume large amounts of food when they feel stressed by threatening or uncontrollable events. Many who have experienced sexual abuse — especially women — are at risk for compulsive overeating, which possibly creates a sense of body armor or protection for the survivor. It’s also not uncommon for people who compulsively overeat to have low self-esteem and a negative body image. In all of these disorders is the tendency to overeat as a way to provide comfort or, specifically, to feed the hungry stomach while trying to feed the hungry “heart.”

There are many tools available to make major changes to overcome compulsive overeating as well as change self-punitive behavior, such as nursing unfulfilled dreams.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices
in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at
(626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site: patticarmalt-vener.com.

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