Psych Central

She can’t stop late-night eating

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Well I’m here because I’m too frightened to see a therapist face to face. I’m afraid I might cry in front of the therapist and that scares me. Anyway my issue is one that has haunted me since I’ve been a teenager. Back then, I wouldn’t be seen eating. Not even by my family or boyfriend. So I might not eat all day long then late at night I would go crazy when nobody was around. Well I can now eat in front of anybody, but still, late at night when my husband and kids are in bed I still go crazy with the food. I’ve gained about 70 pounds in the last three years and I’m trying to get it off now. My diet is perfect during the day, but at night when I’m all alone I start to eat and I can’t stop. now, I think the problem all stems back to when my older brother would call me “fat cow” growing up. I wasn’t fat back then. now I have a husband who loves me, but doesn’t have time for me, and a bosses wife who thinks its ok to belittle her husbands employees. I’ve actually been told that I’m worthless and should be replaced. So if this is what is causing my binging, how do I stop my destructive behavior? Right now I keep gaining weight because of my late night binges?

A: I’m so glad you wrote. You gave yourself and me an important clue about you in your first couple of sentences. Not going to a therapist and nighttime binge eating are connected. Somewhere along the line you learned that when you are scared or feel bad, you need to hide. You didn’t learn important skills for keeping yourself safe when criticized or distressed.

At this point, it’s not important what your brother once did or what the boss’s wife says. What’s important is that you don’t have confidence in your own ability to manage your feelings. Instead, you stuff your feelings down with food and keep everyone, including yourself, in the dark.

I’m afraid that the best way to deal with your stress is to come out into the open. You need to find out that you won’t die if the people who love you know something is wrong or if you share your problems with people who can understand. Scolding yourself for bingeing or putting yourself on a diet is not going to help you lose the weight. You need to take a weight off your mind as well as your body.

An organization like Weight Watchers might be helpful for you. The group support might help you feel less ashamed. The tools that are taught will give you new ways to manage your compulsion to overeat. And learning to eat in a way that nurtures your body will redirect your relationship with food.

And, yes, seeing a therapist may also be a good idea. I hope you do cry, not because I’m feeling particularly mean today, but because I want you to learn that the earth won’t open up and swallow you if you show your feelings. Once over that hurdle, you and the therapist might want to work on building up your self-confidence and your assertiveness skills. There are ways to deal with bullies like the boss’s wife without jeopardizing your husband’s job.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). She can’t stop late-night eating. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/16/she-cant-stop-late-night-eating/