Overeating: It’s All In Your Head
They say that inside every fat person there’s a thin person fighting to get out. In Suzie’s case, the thin person appeared to be losing the struggle. At 5’4″ Suzie felt she ought to be 130 lbs, but was actually closer to 160.
Just about to turn 20, Suzie looked older. She had deep eyes and smooth chestnut hair beneath her floppy leghorn hat, and wore a silk print dress with an enormous string of crystal beads. She had a lively manner and was ready to laugh, but seemed imprisoned by her excess fat. She was disheartened. “I’ve tried dozens of diets over the last five years, and I work out four times a week, but I can’t seem to lose weight consistently, and I’m heavier now than I was a year ago.”
When Suzie told me her exercise regimen, I felt exhausted just listening to it. She was at the gym never less than four evenings a week; for the first 30 minutes she vigorously pedaled an exercise bike, followed by an even more demanding 60-minute aerobics class. Yet she remained overweight.
The Solution to Suzie’s Weight Puzzle
Suzie was sincerely mystified as to why she “could not” manage to reduce. On one level, the answer was obvious: She was absorbing enough excess calories to outweigh the effects of her exercise. Suzie immediately confirmed that she often yielded to impulsive temptations to drink too much alcohol and to snack on high-calorie foods. So the real puzzle was: How can someone with the drive and determination to stick to a grueling exercise program fail to control her eating and drinking habits? The answer is that addictions arise from addictive thinking.
On her first visit I gave Suzie a personality questionnaire, which confirmed my immediate guess. The test involved circling one of the three words “OFTEN,” “SOMETIMES,” or “SELDOM” after each of 50 statements. Suzie indicated “OFTEN” for these statements:
- I feel upset when things proceed slowly and can’t be settled quickly
- I feel upset about life’s inconveniences or frustrations
- I feel quite angry when someone keeps me waiting
- I feel very sorry for myself when things are rough
- I feel unable to persist at things I start, especially when the going gets hard
- I feel unexcited and bored about most things
Low Frustration Tolerance
Suzie was suffering from Low Frustration Tolerance, a very common type of “musty” thinking, which lies at the root of the great majority of overeating problems and other addictions.
Low Frustration Tolerance arises from the third “must,” the belief that life MUST be fair, easy, well-ordered, comfortable, exciting, pleasurable, interesting, or hassle-free. In any situation where life does not conform to such demands, the addict compulsively looks for a quick escape from these “unbearable” circumstances.