comer por ansiedad

A psychologist explains how to control compulsive eating: “You have to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger”

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  • What is it about full tables and summer that makes us want it all?


  • We talked to the psychologist José Martín del Pliego to explain why this happens and how to control compulsive hunger


  • “Changes in physical schemes typical of age can lead to a need for adaptation that we try to alleviate with binge eating”

The month of July is here and with it the long-awaited holidays. Beach or pool, beer, chips and a good barbecue, or maybe you’re more into paella? Whether you prefer one thing or the other, these feasts usually leave us ready for a good nap, and, although it is hard for us to admit it, we eat much more than we need. What do the full tables have that make us want it all? It is not your stomach that grows, but rather your anxiety. We spoke with the psychologist José Martín del Pliego, head of the psychology department at the Los Tilos Medical Center, so that he could explain to us why this happens and how to control compulsive hunger after 50.

Is anxiety and food a perfect tandem that generates a vicious circle?

We can give an example of how it works, especially when summer arrives. Clothing associated with high temperatures reveals low self-esteem and this can make us need to generate extreme interest in fitness and weight. Then it pushes us to carry out a strict diet, difficult to carry and very restrictive. Given the tension generated by the diet, excessive bingeing appears as a form of short-term relief. That generates low self-esteem again and we start again.

How to understand that compulsion to eat when we are emotionally low or euphoric?

With evolution, when we stand up, the pelvis narrows and we have to be born premature to be able to exit through the birth canal. As soon as we are born, we cannot regulate our nervous system on our own. That’s what our mother does, she calms us down, for almost the first two years of our lives. A moment that generates a lot of calm in the child is the moment of breastfeeding. Here the baby relieves the pain of hunger and, in addition, his ventral vagus system is activated, which makes him feel safe and calm. There is no better place in the world. That is where that relationship between food and security appears and is recorded in our system and we can understand that ancient and totally unconscious link between food and different psychological processes that we experience.

Is it more difficult to control food anxiety after a certain age?

When we get older in some way our psychological defenses are reduced and it is easier to be vulnerable to emotional problems or those derived from anxiety. The changes in physical schemes typical of age, affective losses, divorces or deaths and even changes in the roles that we have been able to carry in life as parents, or at work, can lead to a need to adapt, which wears us out and it can lead to negative emotions that we try to alleviate with binge eating or unhealthy foods but that generate short-term relief.

In general, the older you are, the more difficult it is to control addictive or emotion-related impulses?

I don’t think we lose the ability to control impulses over the years, on the contrary, age can lead us to have more self-knowledge and more tools to manage desire. That does not mean that the impulse does not appear, that it does and sometimes with great force, but we have more control when we get older.

What does happen is that there are harmful habits that we have been with for many years, and those can be more difficult to control, because it is what we have used a lifetime to regulate ourselves; and now we have to learn something different if we see that it is harming us.

Is there more obsession with food on the part of women or is it a myth?

Yes, actually eating behavior problems, statistically, are more common in women. There are factors that predispose some women more than others and aspects that cause the disorder to precipitate. Like everything in human behavior, it has to do with the person’s history, with her emotional life in childhood and adolescence.

We know that, for generations, women have been much more demanded and mistreated in different areas and the weight that aesthetics has had as a form of adequate social image. Currently, we can see among young girls the need to adjust to those patterns of body image that are so negative for them. Food ceases to be simply something that nourishes us or produces pleasure to become a tool that regulates or generates control.

What tips or techniques can you suggest to control compulsive hunger?

Compulsive hunger tries to fill that internal emptiness that we cannot fill in any other way. Therefore, we must distinguish what physical hunger is, which has a function for our survival, from emotional hunger, which is a way of looking for food as a mood regulator.

We will try to connect with my type of hunger, know what I am feeling and try to control it. If it’s emotional, you know you’re not going to cover it up by eating. Feeling where I feel hunger, breathing it, learning techniques that calm us down can dampen the signal and generate relief.

Would it be necessary to go to the psychologist?

If we want to heal the problem in a deeper way, you will need the help of a psychologist who has the tools to work on your emotions since they appeared in your life in order to release and process them.

That is why I work with techniques such as hypnosis or Brainspotting, which allow us to connect with that deep pain, to which I do not have access with my conventional memory, but which is causing that internal discomfort, which I try to cover up by eating and which is affecting my life. Present.

Accessing all this on your own can be complicated, so I would tell you that if your history with food is causing you major problems in your daily life, seek help as soon as possible.

Can you give us some guidelines to control the food and that it does not control us?

  • Know in advance what you are going to buy. Make your list and don’t get off it.
  • Bring the right money.
  • Go on a full stomach.
  • When you save it:
  • Store dangerous foods in opaque places.
  • Have low-calorie foods on hand.
  • Have a meal plan.
  • Always eat in a specific place.
  • Stay focused on eating. No distractors.
  • Bring to the table what we are going to eat.
  • Feel.
  • Know what we are going to eat in advance.
  • Use small plates.
  • Get up quickly from the table when we’re done.
  • Eat slow.
  • Leave some food on the plate.
  • Wait at least 5 minutes before repeating.

Do eating disorders come from anxiety?

Indeed. So to speak, disorders are a way of not connecting with an emotional pain, sometimes very old, childhood or adolescent that is activated for some reason in the person’s life. Here, what we would call an eating problem, has the function of generating relief if we are talking about binge eating or vomiting or offering some type of control if we are talking about restriction when eating. Apparently they would have a protective function that would try to get us away from an emotional discomfort, although later it becomes a problem in itself and an addiction in which everything revolves around food in one way or another.

Would binge eating disorder be a good example of what we’re talking about? What possible guidelines can we follow?

Binge eating, as a consequence of personal stressors, seeks to generate a perception of short-term relief. It can be hours or even days in the head until it is carried out. It is called a binge because the amount of intake is totally disproportionate and, many times, requires a large amount of carbohydrates. They feel like they can’t stop eating. Once it starts it can’t be stopped.

Sometimes the feeling of fullness in the stomach is so uncomfortable that vomiting appears as short-term relief or some type of laxative is used. If purging does not appear, other compensatory behaviors are used to binge eating, such as fasting or very intense exercise.

-Self-observation: feeling what is happening to me with food at that moment in my life. How am I relating to food?

-Meal plan: decide what way of eating is right for me and stick to it.

-Learn to intervene: what is happening to me when I notice that I need to binge and what can I do to prevent it.

-Problem solving: see what problems are what lead me to binge and try to solve them.

-Do not do restrictive diets: if you need to go to a dietitian who offers you a balanced diet that we will try to comply with.

In general, it is necessary to learn tools that help manage that strong emotion, which calls for binge eating, as a way to regulate what I feel.


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