“Jess was an obese binge eater who came to therapy prompted by a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. We began to discuss what triggered her history of overeating, and she mentioned casually the death of her father when she was four years old. Her family said, “Daddy went to Heaven.” Daddy was never spoken about again. “Tell me about him,” I asked. “There’s nothing to tell,” Jess replied. And with that, she began to cry as the accumulation of 32 years of stifled tears came surging up in a tidal wave of pain. With each following session, Jess cried deeply about the death of her father. Then one day she exclaimed, “I wonder if after so many years my fat has been like frozen grief. I think with all these tears, my grief is becoming liquid!”
Grief frozen by fat, frozen by the numbing of overeating, starving, or purging can be held in the body for years. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds. Unspoken loss continues to exert its power. I came to see how much loss and grief can play a significant part in the emotional eating of my patients, and how chronic eating disorders can be related to unresolved frozen grief.
I realized how therapy for emotional eating needs to help people mourn the sorrows that have kept them stuck in bingeing, purging, or starving. I began asking my patients to construct a list of losses they had suffered. These losses did not always have to do with death, but with a myriad of ways that hurt can lodge inside us without resolution.
Unable to dislodge the “knot” in their throat by crying and grieving, many people turn to emotional eating. The more you run away from intense emotions, the more your eating problems run after you.
Grief must be witnessed to be healed. Therapy can help to unfreeze grief. You learn that your pain is not the whole of who you are. Tears thaw grief. Shared pain is soothed pain.