When Food Is Your Best Friend

Posted by Michael Kimmel in Columns 16 Mar 2015

Dear Michael:
I am 32 years old, 5’6” and I weigh 210 pounds.  I’ve weighed this much most of my adult life.  Why?  I love to eat.  Food is my friend, my best friend. Sometimes, my only friend.  After dating a few men, who only wanted to use me because I’m too fat, I gave up on dating.  Food, books and the internet are my best friends. Last year, I lost and gained the same 15 pounds over and over.  Can you help me?
Fat and unhappy in City Heights

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Dear Large and unhappy:

First off, I don’t like the word “fat” so I changed it to “large”.  You pose challenging questions…a billion-dollar industry exists merely to answer them.  But, I’ll give it my best shot here.  I’ve got some questions for you:

What is a reasonable weight for you?  Talk with a doctor you trust.  Look at your family history:  is there a pattern there?  Did you ever weigh what you thought you should?  When?  How long ago?  When you started gaining weight/eating more, was there anything going on in your life that made you turn to food for comfort?  Scary times can push us to eat things we don’t need, when we really want comfort, not calories.

Let’s look at your idea of “food as friend”.  Food is nutrition.  It is not a companion.  Food is a vehicle, not a goal.  Food is a sensory experience, not consolation for a lousy life.  Your relationship with food is distorted.  You can’t get free of a food addiction/dependence without asking yourself some very uncomfortable questions.  For example, the next time you open the refrigerator or kitchen cabinet to get something to eat, stop and ask yourself, “What am I looking for here?”  Are you bored, sad, depressed, lonely, angry?  Food won’t help you.  In fact, it can make you feel worse because it cannot fill your emotional needs.  Food is not a good “best friend”.  It is a substitute for a best friend, and a poor one at that.

It sounds like you are ignoring your needs for connection with other people.  We all need friends to talk with, commiserate with, laugh with.  You sound like you’ve given up on people and focused on objects to meet your emotional needs.  Bad idea.  It doesn’t work.  Ask yourself:  Am I afraid of people?  Why don’t I have any friends?  Take responsibility.  You’re an adult, so don’t blame mommy or daddy or even that box of Oreos for isolating yourself with your books and Internet.  If you can’t relate to people and don’t know why, get yourself to a good psychotherapist and get some help.

Why did you allow men to “use me because I’m fat”?   Since when does large = masochistic?  Do you think that being used is/was all you deserve?  While there may be men you haven’t yet met who would find you attractive just as you are, let’s be real: the typical dating scene does favor certain body types. Many of us who feel “less than” in the body department would be considered perfectly fine in other parts of the country (like Ohio, where I hail from).

Focus on your mental and physical health (they are permanently linked). Talk with a doctor (or two) that you trust.  Work with a psychotherapist on your isolation and self-hatred. Find a weight you can maintain.  You may be more of a Melissa McCarthy than a size 0 fashion model. You can be a sexy, smart, curvaceous woman, like Melissa: larger than the typical movie star – and twice as beautiful for it.

One “diet” book I like is:  “The Only Diet There Is”, by Sondra Ray.  Its premise is that only a diet of negative thinking leads to long-term health and reasonable weight.  Unless we change how we think, we’re unlikely to change our weight or health, and the result is yo-yo dieting that trashes our self-esteem.  You sound like you’re ready to change your thinking, your health, your weight and how you relate to men.  Good luck.