Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for June 23rd, 2010

Feeling Stuffing

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 23, 2010

Stuffing My Feelings

   Peter, /, a sixty-four year teacher, with chronic weight issues returns to his weekly appointment. “You know, you said something last week which was so obvious, and yet for the first time in my life, I really began to understand what it meant.” I look at him, not sure what he is referring to. He continues. “You told me that I stuff my feelings, quite literally. I use food to avoid my feelings. I know that, but somehow last week that really began to mean something to me.” I feel good that my words had an impact, but I am also confused about exactly what made my words stick like that.

    Peter has multiple health problems, many weight-related. To be a healthy weight, Peter needs to lose about forty pounds. Yet, talking about weight is very delicate. The edge of shame is close to the surface. I have tried behavioral recommendations such as weight watchers or consulting with a nutritionist  but Peter says “I know all that.” Looking for the underlying dynamics of eating seems ripe for a deep understanding of Peter’s mind, if we can find a way to think about his eating together without increasing his defensiveness.

    We talk about his childhood as a military brat, moving around a great deal; always having to make new friends. “When you moved, did you tell anyone how hard that was for you?” I wonder aloud. Peter looks at me, as if surely I have no idea where he comes from, and says “are you kidding, it was hard on all of us, but we could never talk about it.” “I suppose your family was concerned that talking about losing relationships would make people sad or lonely and so in your family, as in many military families, the general belief is that if you don’t talk about it, then you won’t feel it.” “Yes,” Peter says “we had to stuff our feelings.”

    “‘ When you say ‘stuff’ your feelings, that  reminds me of stuffing food down, where eventually you just feel physically sick,” I say. “You go from feeling emotionally ill-at-ease to physically ill,” I continue. Peter stares at me, as if I had said something interesting, but he is not sure how to respond. “I will see you next week” I say. The mind/body connection strikes me. Eating issues is the arena where this connection is so obvious. Hunger changes our mental state, as does eating. Our mental state influences our eating behaviors. The bidirectionality is clear, and yet, easy to forget.

      For Peter, connecting his overeating with his history of multiple losses associated with his family moves, along with his inability to express his feelings to his family of origin, seemed to lead to a pattern of behavior where difficult feelings had to be “stuffed.” In this context, Peter was not ashamed of his weight; rather, he could understand how despite his good judgment in most areas of his life, when it comes to eating, he was responding to his emotional state and not to his frontal lobes; the area of the brain responsible for thought and executive decision making. Harnessing his frontal lobes in his food choices is his goal. Understanding his emotional state, not “stuffing”,  is the first step.

Posted in Musings, Weight | 2 Comments »

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