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Although originally published in 1978, the main theme and sub-theses of , by Susie Orbach, are as timely today as then. In fact, its message is even more relevant and critical to women’s health in an era when bodies “have almost come to define the way our lives can be lived.” We are preoccupied and obsessed with our bodies and, increasingly, “women are not realizing how quickly their lives have become dominated by” concerns about their size and the desire to be a perfect example of what the popular culture, i.e., predominantly the mainstream media, food, fashion, and diet industries, decrees attractive.

“Dieting, as I argue in this book, is a recipe for increasing eating problems.” ~~ Susie Orbach

Orbach posits that our innate appetite control mechanism has been corrupted by these outside influences and led to emotional eating on an epidemic scale. Food has taken on attributes such as “good” or “bad,” leaving us “befuddled” and out of step with our natural ability to monitor our food intake and allow our bodies to regulate themselves. As a result, “for every 100 people that go on a diet, 97% of them will be return customers whose diets have failed and who have already regained whatever weight they lost and then some.”

Orbach’s views were developed during the Women’s Movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when a group of women got together to discuss these issues and test the idea that one could actually lose weight without dieting. Before long, Orbach had to confront the fact that she had been eating compulsively and explore why she was afraid of being thin.

The things I was frightened of came into vision. I confronted them, always asking myself — how would it help to be fat in this situation? What would be more troublesome if I were thin? As the image of my fat and thin personality conflated, I began to lose weight. I felt a deep satisfaction that I could be a size that felt good for me and no longer obsessed with food. I had learned a crucial lesson — that I could be the same person thin as I was fat.

Compulsive eating has never been concisely defined by the medical or psychological communities, but Orbach asserts that the characteristics of a compulsive eater are:

  • Eating when you are not physically hungry.
  • Feeling out of control around food, submerged by either dieting or gorging.
  • Spending a good deal of time thinking and worrying about food and fitness.
  • Scouring the latest diet for vital information.
  • Feeling awful about yourself as someone who is out of control.
  • Feeling awful about your body.

My goal in establishing this blog and taking on this reading project is to understand, at long last, just why I have spent my entire life afraid of being thin. I have been on the dieting roller coaster Orbach describes and, exactly as she observes, not only gained back all weight lost, but more. My goal is to live normally, eating only those foods that are healthy for me and meet my particularized needs without obsessing about my food choices or feeling that every moment of every day is devoted to the avoidance of certain foods. In other words, I am seeking to merge the image of my fat and thin personalities into one.

Yes, I have spent the better part of my life as a compulsive eater. Each of the criteria set forth by Orbach describe me in varying degrees during different time intervals. And that reality has not only impacted my self-image and self-confidence, but my relationships.

I invite you to consider Orbach’s words and leave a comment expressing your reaction. Do her words resonate with you? Have your experiences been similar? Do you share any of the characteristics of a compulsive eater that she identifies? Or can you identify additional attributes that she does not list?

7 Comments

  1. As a personal trainer, it always interests me to see my client’s attitudes to their bodies, and their diets. Often, there’s a huge amount of self-sabotage, and it can be a much more psychological “workout” process we go through to get them to a point where they can change.

    Eating, consuming, and dieting are such complex issues – there’s no perfect answer for anyone … which makes it very confusing and difficult to find what’s right for you. I think the above definition of a compulsive eater would fit almost everyone to a degree – I know I’ve met (and sometimes continue to meet) many of those characteristics.

    I think your goal is a fantastic one … best of luck!

  2. “Food has taken on attributes such as “good” or “bad,” leaving us “befuddled” and out of step with our natural ability to monitor our food intake and allow our bodies to regulate themselves.”

    I couldn’t agree with this statement more! How many times have we used food as a reward for our kids “good” behaviour or refusal of a treat when they are “bad”. I think if we can allow ourselves to see food as “healthy” or “unhealthy” we are that much closer to obtaining a healthier mindstate.

  3. Excellent post, spot on! I’m glad to see someone else out there writing about the fear of losing weight because I really think it is valid, I’ve experienced it!

    “My goal is to live normally, eating only those foods that are healthy for me and meet my particularized needs without obsessing about my food choices or feeling that every moment of every day is devoted to the avoidance of certain foods”…..I have experienced this – as long as I am diligent about staying off of those foods that are addictive (the main one- sugar, and flour, dairy, added sodium, and unhealthy fats)… as long as I eat clean, I don’t obsess about food. That’s what works for me at least, and I get the benefit of feeling just awesome. 🙂

  4. We are preoccupied and obsessed with our bodies and, increasingly, “women are not realizing how quickly their lives have become dominated by” concerns about their size and the desire to be a perfect example of what the popular culture

    Wow this is a good statement. yes, you are right. I think there are two kinds of women. First, a woman who only care about his physical appearance so she will do everything for this. Second, a woman who doesn’t care so she eats too lots of foods. It is hard to be someone between these types 😯

  5. my diet pills

    “for every 100 people that go on a diet, 97% of them will be return customers whose diets have failed and who have already regained whatever weight they lost and then some.”

    97%??? Wow … no wonder so many people failed while doing their diet.

  6. I want to live fit ..Eating, consuming, and dieting are such complex issues – there’s no perfect answer for anyone … which makes it very confusing and difficult to find what’s right for you. I think the above definition of a compulsive eater would fit almost everyone to a degree – I know I’ve met (and sometimes continue to meet) many of those characteristics.
    One should care about the fitness !!

    Body Fitnesss last blog post..8 Components of Wellness and Health

  7. Anonymous

    I think another important aspect to consider is the mental health state of the person who has difficulty eating. While compulsive eating isn’t relegated strictly to women, it affects women more often than men. In the same way that men may have addictions to say, pornography, women can get caught in a food addiction due to emotional issues. Food becomes an escape, or a coping mechanism and until the underlying mental health issues are addressed, the overeating may continue.

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