One of the greatest problems for obese people is that, in stressful situations or emotions of dissatisfaction and/or emotional need, they crave eating foods that bring “quick pleasure”, like cookies, sodas, ice cream, fried food, hamburgers, chocolate, cakes, pies, etc.
Foods that are high in fat or refined sugar are classified as fast absorbing carbohydrates, which means that the body absorbs them quickly and converts it to energy. Therefore, when we eat, we feel a nearly instant sense on energy and well-being. From the moment of chewing, the brain produces pleasant sensations that activate dopamine (the pleasure and happiness hormone), and you feel relieved of tension and other unpleasant emotions. However, this sensation of satisfaction is only temporary. Over time, eating these types of products not only creates being overweight, but also weakens the body’s defense system, and irritates and breaks down the nervous system.
So, why this impulse to eat?
This answer has to do with how we are trained to function under a system of response and escape when confronted with anything considered dangerous. In a stressful situation or strong emotional need, we frequently respond according to the resources we have, and our understanding of the situation. So, we need to deal with the situation with our set of resources. Eating is a way to produce pleasure, calm, and satisfaction. The brain can’t distinguish if stress or the situation causing pain or dissatisfaction has to do with unpaid bills, relationship problems, a dispute with a boss or family members, or by not achieving or getting what you want. It can’t know if what is causing the stress will get better tomorrow, or if the situation is between life and death. The brain just receives the message and proposes solutions.
Where does this strong need to eat come from?
In far-off antiquity, when savage animals pursued human beings, this could be experienced as high levels of stress and anxiety. The person then produced cortisol and adrenaline, substances that helped tense muscles, preparing them to attack, flee, or that the person defends him/herself, acting in favor of life and survival. This happened not only when something pursued them, but also when they experienced some sort of necessity, and had to make all his/her abilities function in order to leave for a hunt and bring back whatever food or object was necessary. All of these reactions are related to a survival instinct.
Currently, when we feel anxiety, stress or dissatisfaction, or some unmet need (whether this is affective, physical, or intellectual, the brain does not distinguish one from the other), this primitive defense and action mechanism is activated. Under these situations, the body anticipates the person to fight and do something to meet this survival need. If this situation persists without a solution, the body, having been tense and prepared to react, has burnt extra calories due to the constant production of cortisol and adrenaline. It has also created the message that it needs more calories so that energy reserves are not depleted, allowing appropriate reaction at any moment.
That is when we feel hunger. Fear and emotions from this same tree, like insecurity, tension, stress, uncertainty, etc., constantly produce a lot of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. We could suppose that a person eats and feels satiated. However, if the insecurity, tensions, and other emotions persist, the body will then constantly send the message of needing food, even though it has already eaten, even if it still has more energetic reserves. It’s like a way of being well protected, “armed against”, you must have “lots of reserves”.
How to resolve the impulse to eat all the time?
Telling an obese person not to eat (or telling yourself), is counterproductive: if the root of the problem is not addressed, eating is an instinctive reaction to an obese person. The need and origin of the stress or anxiety is what must begin to be considered. A lot of situations that cause stress, anxiety, insecurity, etc., are not in regards to physical risks, but rather, to emotional ones. Obese people can have strong feelings of insecurity or fear that something doesn’t turn out, or is accomplished in one’s life. A strong affective (emotional) need could be the origin of their impulse to eat and “get full”.
The focus to help eradicate the problem of obesity for people who have tried everything and still can’t lose weight, should be to begin to drop the idea of “losing weight”, and begin to discover which affective or emotional needs are generating this situation of stress, insecurity, and anxiety. This could be difficult, however, this process can be supported with therapies like bioenergetics, which helps treat emotional situations through the body.