“Repressed anger plays a powerful role in this addiction (to excess food). I feel that eating binges are often displaced temper tantrums or rage reactions.”

So wrote psychiatrist Theodore Isaac Rubin in the forward to both the first and second editions of an Overeaters Anonymous newsletter published way back in 1980. Despite the increasing number of slimming products on the market since then and the advice re: what to eat or not eat and at what times of the day, results of the latest National Health and Nutrition Survey featured in the Oct. 2 “Growing issue” editorial revealed that, between 1994 and 2016, America’s adult obesity rate grew by more than 70 percent; child obesity rose by 85 percent.

Of course, only so much information can be included in the space of an editorial. But like a recent letter to the editor deploring racism, this piece omits any exploration of possible causes of the problem. Without that understanding, how can cures be devised?

Evidence in my personal experience that Rubin may have been onto something stems primarily from two memories: whenever a family member overate at dinner during my childhood and adolescence, a brother or sister noticing would ask “Who are you angry at? When people overeat they imagine they’re consuming whoever that person is.”

And: having gained at least 40 excess pounds while involved in a relationship during my 20s, it all magically disappeared after my girlfriend and I broke up. I did not decide to go on a diet. As I remember it, it didn’t even occur to me that unlike my daily routine in the past, I was no longer stopping at every pizza and other snack joint on my way home from work to consume all sorts of junk before a big dinner. Thinking back, I realized I’d never expressed the anger my girlfriend often triggered in me.

Thinking that without the exploration of emotional motivations, weight loss achieved only by changes in diet would not last long, I left leaflets around town and posted notices on social media about an alternative type support group I tried organizing a few years ago. “This group will not focus on what and what not to eat,” read my slogan. “Instead we’ll probe underlying feelings that fuel incessant overeating.” Two people sent emails indicating their interest. Then no one came to the meeting I scheduled.

Could all the emphasis on diet alone not only result, at best, in short term weight loss, I began wondering? Or might it also provide a convenient distracting type focus to reinforce the avoidance of repressed feelings? In this sense, might it do more harm than good?

I’ve never attended an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. But judging from some literature they sent me to help me write this, it seems their approach is in complete agreement with mine.

Currently, I don’t need to lose much weight. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that I could benefit by attending one of their meetings.

Ron Merkin lives in Montpelier.

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