A woman went to see a therapist. He showed her in and offered her chair and a cup of coffee, both of which she accepted. She was nervous, having never visited a therapist before nor even talked about her problem in too much depth but she’d reached a point of desperation. She knew she couldn’t go on like this; she wanted it sorted out once and for all and she knew she couldn’t achieve it alone.
Therapist – Hi, why have you come to see me today?
Patient – Because I want to understand my problem and sort it out.
Therapist – And what do you believe your problem to be?
Patient – I comfort eat. I’m fat and can’t lose weight. I want to be thin but food just won’t let me go.
Therapist – So is the problem you or food?
Patient – What do you mean?
Therapist – You started off by saying you comfort eat but then said food won’t let you go. First you intimated that you have the problem, then you said food controls you. Which do you think it is?
Patient – I suppose it’s both.
Therapist – Why do feel it’s both? Explain your reasoning if you can.
Patient – Well, I eat for comfort but at the same time, food seems to have a hold over me. I guess it’s an addiction now.
Therapist – Like a symbiotic relationship perhaps?
Patient – Yeah, I guess so.
Therapist – So what do you get out of this relationship?
Patient – Well I have to eat. Everyone has to eat. I enjoy eating. It’s a little indulgence just for me, something nice for myself.
Therapist – If this is a symbiotic relationship, what does the other half get out of it? What does the food get out of it?
Patient – Well, nothing really.
Therapist – So it can’t be symbiotic can it?
Patient – No, I guess not.
Therapist – In that case it must be a one sided relationship.
Patient – Yeah.
Therapist – So who is in control?
Patient – The food, definitely the food.
Therapist – And what does the food get out of controlling you? What’s the payback, the reward, for the food I mean. If you’re in charge of something, you control in order to gain a reward. So if the food is controlling, what’s its reward?
Patient – Umm, well there isn’t a reward for the food.
Therapist – So why would the food be controlling you if there’s no purpose in it?
Patient – I don’t know. I can’t think of one. I see your point. I’ve never thought of it that way before.
Therapist – Then think about it now. Who is getting the reward?
Patient – Me.
Therapist – So that would intimate that you’re the controller, not the food. Don’t you agree?
Patient – Yeah, I guess. But then if I’m the controller, why can’t I stop?
Therapist – Tell me again why you over eat.
Patient – For comfort. When I’m bored and lonely and feeling upset about things. Food is there, easily available. It’s just for me and I can buy it and eat it just for myself. A treat.
Therapist – So you expect a lot from your food, don’t you?
Patient – Huh?
Therapist – Well, you want it to entertain you when you’re bored, be company when you’re lonely and make you happy when you’re upset. You want it to always be there and give you its undivided attention to the exclusion of everyone else.
Patient – I guess.
Therapist – What else is there in life that could keep someone company when they’re lonely, entertain them when they’re bored and make them happy when they’re sad?
Patient – A person. Or a pet I guess.
Therapist – So you’re asking food to take on the role of a person in your life.
Patient – I suppose so.
Therapist – Do you think that’s an appropriate role for food to take in someone’s life?
Patient – No, of course not.
Therapist – But you ask this of your food.
Patient – Yeah.
Therapist – Why?
Patient – Because there is no person to do it.
Therapist – Does the absence of another person to fulfill their proper role, make it appropriate to ask food to take on that role?
Patient – No, it doesn’t.
Therapist – So what does this tell you?
Patient – That food can’t take the place of a person. That eating like I do won’t make the loneliness go away because food can’t fulfill that role, only a person can. I’m eating to try to fix something, but I’m using the wrong tool to fix it.
Therapist – Now you’ve put those ideas together in your head, how do you feel about the control issue?
Patient – I’ve been expecting food to do something it’s not capable of doing. And then, because it can’t do what I want it to do, I eat more to try again to fill that hole but food can never fill that hole cos it’s not made to fit it. I’ve been trying to force my mind to find a solution in totally the wrong direction. It’s my fault, not the food’s. Food is food, it keeps us alive, nothing more. It can’t keep me company or cuddle me at night or laugh with me at the movies. Only a person can do that.
Therapist – Next time we meet, we’ll talk about where the problem really lies. See you next time.
Patient – Thanks a lot.