Eating to Punish Myself

I found a blog posted in March 2011 by Karly Randolph Pitman on 5 reasons we overeat. I thoroughly enjoyed it and encourage you to check out it in its entirety for more information.

Here are some bits and pieces of that blog:

There are five primary reasons why we turn to food – either in emotional eating, overeating, or binge eating. In each case, we’re eating to meet a need – and not because we’re deficient, a slug with no will power, or a flawed, terrible being.

No matter how we’re using food, we heal by turning towards our pain, relating to it with kindness and compassion. We shift the overeating through a shift in our relationship – how we relate to our needs, our feelings, and our very selves. When we heal the underlying relationship, we can change our behavior without getting so “stuck.”

1. Fight or flight – This is eating to soothe the build up of anxiety, fear, inner tension, or stress. In this instance, overeating is almost like a panic attack. When you finally eat the donut or the chocolate cake, you’ve “had” it. The anxiety has reached its breaking point, and you turn to food to cope.

The metaphor I use is that of a tea kettle that reaches a boil. The kettle boils, the whistle blows, and the steam and pressure finally releases. In this instance, when you binge or overeat, you initially feel better because you’ve lowered the anxiety and stress. You’re not in fight or flight anymore. But then you feel terrible for bingeing.

2. Comfort eating – Eating to nurture, soothe, comfort, nourish or care for unmet needs or feelings. We may bury our true needs for belonging, love, acceptance, comfort, and companionship, telling ourselves we can survive without them. Or we may feel too vulnerable to express our needs honestly.

We may be so used to caring for others that we feel guilty or afraid in caring for our own needs. We minimize our own needs as we overextend ourselves and take on the needs of others.

We may comfort ourselves with food when we’re grieving; when we’re feeling sad that our needs aren’t acknowledged, met or understood. We may eat to soothe our disappointment over life’s no’s.

Again, we initially feel better – particularly because we typically choose “comfort foods” when we’re wanting comforting – high fat, high starch, or high sugar foods like ice cream, pizza, or buttery mashed potatoes. These foods also spike certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which is why we initially feel so good. However, we tend to get caught in craving cycles where we want more and more.

3. Numbing out – In this case, we either can’t or don’t want to feel our feelings. This is because it feels too vulnerable to touch our feelings – we may feel afraid that we can’t handle our feelings; we may numb from our feelings because it triggers deep grief (all the things we wish were different), or we may suppress our feelings because we don’t want to feel the isolation when they aren’t acknowledged by others.

When the vulnerability becomes too much to bear, the brain moves into self protection mode. We don’t even allow ourselves to feel our feelings or to have needs – it feels too scary to have them and then feel the void when they’re not filled.

Many of us learned to disassociate from our feelings and needs from a very early age. If, as children, our needs were minimized (“It’s not so bad”), suppressed, edited (“You can’t be hungry – you just ate lunch two hours ago!”), or denied, we learn to eventually stop needing. We learn to turn them off.

We also numb out because we feel ashamed. We see something we don’t like about ourselves and we hide from it in food.

4. Frustration – This is when “frustration turns foul,” to use the words of developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld. In an average day, there are many things that go wrong – the dishwasher breaks, the babysitter’s late, the bill’s overdue, the traffic’s stalled – not to mention the larger frustrations of life!

When these frustrations reach a boiling point, we get stuck. We’ve had it, we’re over it, we’re done with what isn’t working. Eventually, we explode. We explode at others, at ourselves, or in food. Like the tea pot, we’ve boiled over again.

5. Self attack

When things go wrong, many of us quickly move into anger, blame and judgment. Blame and judgment work this way:  either it’s someone’s fault – or more typically – it’s all our fault. We blame ourselves for everything that happens in our lives; we blame ourselves for being deficient; we blame ourselves when we can’t make life conform to our ideas of how things should work.

When we’re caught in a space of blame we move into shame –  “I’m bad.” I’m bad because all these bad things are happening to me…

This is too much to bear. Animals die without contact, closeness and love. Our spirits die, too.

To cope, we hide. We hide from ourselves – from our hearts, from others, and from love. Like a dog who hides behind the couch when he’s pooped in the house, we hide when we’ve been “bad.”

We hide from our goodness. We take refuge in our “badness” – and we do this by eating. We overeat to hide, and then we overeat to punish ourselves. We binge because it keeps us from the self care that helps us feel good. We eat because we know it will make us feel like crap – fat, out of control, disgusting, gross.

All of these (except #4 Frustration) apply to me. When I get frustrated, I usually clean instead of eat.


But everything else? Yes.

Karly lays out some “to dos” when you find yourself in each of these positions. And they are good advice! The problem is that in those moments of weakness and vulnerability I do not think rationally. These “to do” lists are not options. I do not think rationally, whether I can remember all of it by myself or not. It doesn’t matter if they are written or is someone tells me.

Drinking. Smoking. I want to respect my body but I just don’t. I don’t know why. Either I’m eating too much or not enough. It’s like I have to do something negative towards my body. WHY!? Why do I do this to myself?

I’m thinking about trying some type of hypnosis. (If anyone has anything to say about that, I would love to hear from you.)

About Karly Randolph Pitman Karly Randolph Pitman helps men and women heal the emotional roots of eating disorders so that they can change painful habits and create a loving relationship with themselves. Karly founded in 2006 after struggling with eating disorders for over 20 years. Learn more about Karly and 'growing human(kind)ness' at

About Karly Randolph Pitman
Karly Randolph Pitman helps men and women heal the emotional roots of eating disorders so that they can change painful habits and create a loving relationship with themselves. Karly founded in 2006 after struggling with eating disorders for over 20 years. Learn more about Karly and ‘growing human(kind)ness’ at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s