« I have an eating problem. How can a psychologist help me? »
We could understand an eating related issue as an unconscious attempt to solve inner distress. The “food solution” allows us to tolerate certain emotions, relationships and other problems that are on our mind. Without surprise, this type of solution generates other problems in the long run (unwanted weight gain, dangerously low weight, body dissatisfaction and shame, various health problems, isolation,…). It is often at that moment that a person may feel the urgency to change their eating habits, and turn to “easy” fixes such as dieting, eating plans or exercise. Slimming practices and programs are the first to benefit from the sense of urgency and despair. They are still highly coveted as they help people feel as though they are doing something for their health and body, all the while pushing back deeper and necessary change.
All too often an eating disorder is misunderstood as either due to a lack of willpower (“if you can’t do it, you just don’t want it enough”) or a problem regarding bad habits (“all we need is to exchange bad habits for good ones”).
Whether you suffer from compulsions, overeating, mindless eating, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia) or food obsessions, one key element to understand is that these types of behaviors play an important role in acknowledging and regulating anxiety. For this reason, when we only focus on changing behavior, it can only last for so long. The anxiety creeps back in because that is part of being human and it is no longer regulated by food. Sometimes, the eating behavior transforms into some other destructive habit (overspending, drinking, …).
This is why, if we want lasting results, we need to be willing to take into account the more complex nature behind this problem and go beyond simplistic behavioral tips, solely focusing on eating habits. The body and mind are intricately intertwined. It is therefore a priority to analyze, reflect, and better understand how the science of eating, and patterns of thinking as well as emotional responses can serve one another.
Specifically, breaking out of vicious eating habits, requires working at two levels: the CONTEXT in which the eating problem occurs and is maintained, and the BEHAVIOR itself.
For the former, I will accompany you, using my clinical and systemic* training to see how your surrounding context (specific events, relationships, difficulties) and yourself (emotions, communication), trigger and maintain the need for this type of behavior/relationship to food. The focus will be to question its function and role in your current day-to-day life. Fundamentally, as long as relational and contextual matters are not addressed, we will witness either a relapse or a problem shift (moving from an eating disorder to an addiction, for example).
For the latter, I highly encouraged you to follow, parallel to our therapy sessions, the bio-psycho-sensory approach developed by the G.R.O.S. (Groupe de Réflexion sur l’Obesité et le Surpoids)** to work on the behavioral aspect. With the help of a G.R.O.S. practitioner, you will be able to focus more on the eating behavior itself and therefore learn the tools and exercices necessary to eat more peacefully, in the present moment, without food restriction or guilt. Unlike dieting, this approach respects both the mind (emotional needs) and the body (hunger signals). In my practice, I currently work with the G.R.O.S. dietician Olivia CAPOT, also a consultant in Nivelles.
The complementary aspect of these sessions should help you gain in clarity quickly, enabling you to put in place the foundations of a change in line with yourself, your values and long-term goals.The complementary aspect of these sessions should help you gain in clarity quickly, enabling you to put in place the foundations of a change in line with yourself, your values and long-term goals.
* Systemic psychotherapy is a field of psychology that studies how human systems work, how relationships are structured, how the environment and context influence our choices, preferences, and behaviors, and conversely, how people influence their environment and context.
** The Bio-Psycho-Sensory approach, developed by the G.R.O.S. (Groupe de Réflexion sur l’Obésité et le Surpoids) consists of helping the individual, through concrete exercises, retrieve a feeling of freedom and pleasure while eating, without dieting or guilt-ridden rules. More information here (https://www.gros.org/).
Focus on the gut microbiota – New collaboration
More and more research shows the link between emotional distress and disbiosis (impaired gut microbiota). If what brings you to consult a psychologist is also accompanied by other problems such as recurring intestinal problems, chronic inflammation, diverse food intolerances, regular bloating, etc, I invite you to contact my colleague Caroline CAJOT, nutritherapist and specialist in gut-microbiota, who will analyze with you the overall health of your gut-microbiota (aka “second brain”). Her recommendations should help you improve your mood and immunity as well as make the gut-microbiota your ally in the process of this therapy.
To find out how to increase your pleasure and presence while eating, take a look at this article in French « Les 7 sortes de faim ».
If you would like to discover some guidelines regarding body dissatisfaction (in French), I invite you to take a look here.
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