Andrea Wachter, LMFT, author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens: A Workbook to Transform Your Relationship with Food Using CBT, Mindfulness and Intuitive Eating, was kind enough to join us for an interview. What follows is our questions in italics, and Andrea’s responses.
What motivated you to develop Getting Over Overeating for Teens: A Workbook to Transform Your Relationship with Food Using CBT, Mindfulness and Intuitive Eating?
Throughout my 25 years of treating people with eating disorders, I have seen the extreme benefits of early prevention. I’ve found that intervening with a teen or tween (who is open, I might add!) can potentially spare someone years of painful body obsession, restricting, and overeating. In thinking how I could help others outside of my practice, I created a workbook in the hopes of reaching more kids than I could see in my office.
As someone who struggled with body hatred, dieting, and sneak eating as a teenager, I believe that, had I received help and support, I could have possibly avoided having my behaviors escalate into a full-blown, life-threatening eating disorder. So, this book encapsulates everything I wish I had been taught as a teen and everything I teach my clients.
In your section on emotions, you state, “one of the biggest reasons people overeat is to try to stuff down their painful feelings.” I find your statement particularly useful in that you include the words “to try to stuff down.” Can you please comment?
We humans only have a few options when it comes to dealing with our natural emotions: we let them out, or we stuff them in. Overeating and bingeing are two extremely common strategies people use in an attempt to do the latter. And for kids especially, food is usually readily available if they are emotionally uncomfortable and don’t have healthy ways to cope. Of course, feeling our pain is not an easy part of life — in fact, it’s the hardest. Getting overstuffed with food is often an attempt to avoid, soothe or distract from painful emotions.
Learning how to deal with emotional pain and discomfort is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to healing from overeating or binge eating. This is why I devote a significant portion of the book to teaching readers the function of feelings and healthy ways of coping with them. Once someone becomes willing to feel, express, and healthfully soothe their emotions, they are much less likely to need “to try to stuff down” their feelings with excess food. And not only will the skill of emotional health help teens have a healthier relationship with eating, it will help them in all areas of life!
I believe the teen years are a complicated place for any individual. Finding words for the abstract feelings one has is challenging and tricky business. You specifically identified many feeling states in your book. How have your teen readers responded?
In part, it depends on how they are being raised. If a teen has parents who are emotionally healthy, who have a good grasp on the language of emotions, who welcome painful feelings, and who have already taught their teen how to cope with emotions, that teen is much more likely to respond maturely and openly to the topic of feelings.
On the other hand, if a parent has passed along unhealthy messages that they were taught regarding emotions (like crying is weak or anger is unacceptable), then that teen might have a harder time ingesting and implementing the language and healthy expression of emotions.
Many people have been taught, and then naturally and innocently pass down, a very flawed set of rules regarding emoting. So, learning how to identify, tolerate, and cope with emotions is a huge part of healing from an overeating problem. I believe that whether a teen reader is open to learning these concepts or not, planting seeds is essential and offers hope for their emotional health to grow.
Can you please describe your four basic styles of communication?
In the psychology world, they are often described as Passive, Aggressive, Passive/Aggressive, and Assertive. I’ve translated those into teen-friendly terms: Stuffing, Blasting, Combining, and Expressing.
Here’s a little summary of each:
The Stuffer – A person with this style of communication tends to keep their feelings and needs inside. This can often lead to overeating, other addictions, depression, and anxiety.
The Blaster – This style refers to people who blast their feelings out in mean or angry ways. (Examples of this are mean comments, yelling, and violence.)
The Combiner – This refers to people who do a combination of stuffing their feelings down and blasting them out. They might seem nice on the surface, but their anger tends to leak out in other ways. (An example is someone who smiles and agrees to do something for you but then makes sarcastic comments while doing it.)
The Expresser – Someone with this style of communicating expresses their thoughts, feelings, and needs respectfully and maturely, no matter what they are feeling. This doesn’t mean they don’t get angry or frustrated, it means they express it in respectful way and take breaks or get support when they need to.
Each of your 40 “Activities” provide an explanation section, a “for you to do” section, and a “more to do” section. Please pick one of these activities to give our readers a “taste” of your book.
In the section on emotions, one activity is called “Healing What You’re Feeling.” First readers will learn two important aspects of healing and dealing with big feelings: how to let them out and what to put back in.
In this particular activity, the “for you to do” exercise asks readers to complete several sentence starters that will help them express their emotions.
I feel sad that…
I feel angry that…
I feel scared that…
I feel proud that…
And the list goes on, intended to help teens identify and express their emotions.
Next, the “more to do” activity asks readers to imagine that their best friend was having all the feelings they just wrote and then write a really loving and kind response. My hope here being that they will experience and learn to speak kindly and compassionately to themselves which will begin to feed some of the unmet needs they have been attempting to meet with excess food and/or restricting.
You include 11 “Activities” in your Section 3, entitled, “Befriending Your Body.” Why so many?
I used to hear a little saying back in my early stages of healing that said, “It’s not about the food.” That’s true, in part. Chronic overeaters and binge eaters surely need to learn how to deal with feelings, challenge beliefs, and fill up in non-food related ways. And they also need to learn how to ditch diets, eat and move lovingly, and take care of what I call their “body battery.”
So while disordered eating and eating disorders are about many deep emotional, cognitive, and spiritual issues, it’s also really important to deal with the physical aspects as well.
There’s a lot to learn and unlearn when it comes to befriending one’s body. I did my best to cover as much as possible in this section of the book, especially since it’s such an important concept. I also kept the chapters as short as possible, knowing the average adolescent’s schedule.
In the fast-paced, competitive world of teens, you ask your readers to engage in an activity on “feeding your spirit.” Can you please say more about this?
The bulk of a teen’s life is about school and screens, which often creates a significant spiritual void. I believe that this is one of the reasons our culture is so plagued with addiction, depression, and anxiety. We all need to fill up on deeper levels and regularly accessing the parts of us that are beyond the mind and the daily to-do lists helps to fill that need.
If our spiritual needs, like passion, creativity, and peace, are not getting met, then we will naturally look for substitutes, like excess food.
In this activity, I ask readers to come up with some “spirit fillers” and brainstorm about how they might tap into and “feed” their hearts and souls. Filling our spirits, regardless of our age, is universal and a necessary piece of the puzzle toward living a healthy, balanced, and fulfilled life.
About the author:
Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author, and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor, and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, podcasts and HuffPost blogs, please visit www.andreawachter.com