Need Ranking and Overeating

Need Ranking and Overeating

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes very clear the reason most weight-loss programs don’t stand a chance. Appearance and artistic dress are less critical needs (unless one thinks her survival is based on her attractiveness) than the need for safety or the relief of pain. You don’t decorate the house while the wind is smashing the windows.

I can’t remember that I want to be slimmer when I’m hanging on for dear life. If my boss wants me to do the equivalent of climbing the fire escape of the Space Needle, color coordination is not going to be one of my high priorities. A woman who has had no training for adulthood, who is making it up as she goes along, is constantly hanging on for dear life. Sure, I can paddle my kayak through the high waves in Puget Sound because I’ve been trained to do it, but I was not trained to communicate my needs to others. In fact, I was ignored, ridiculed, and endangered when I expressed my needs. I learned many ways to get my needs met—manipulations, subterfuge, meeting others’ needs first, ignoring my own needs, and eating. What diet can possibly last when pitted against such compelling forces?

We ate to make up for lack of love, not belonging, feeling incompetent, and to feel nurtured and safe. We ate to make up for the ways we were deprived. What diet, which is just more deprivations, could last? A diet collapses like matchsticks under a sledgehammer when such powerful needs break through.

So food rescued us in two important ways. It provided escape from fear, loneliness, misery, danger, and feeling trapped. It also became a substitute for other needs. Food gave us safety, taking us to a place where we felt warmth and belonging. Food made us secure and fulfilled. Thee are always new foods and new treats, new concoctions to buy or make, new flavors. Food gave us newness and exploration. We learned to substitute food for many of Maslow’s ranked needs. We learned avoidance and substitution.

We confused ourselves quite a bit. Because we were substituting food for other needs. We were lonely, we ate. We were overwhelmed, we ate. We were so bonded to food, we lost sight of the possibility that the cure for loneliness is people, not food. And remember, without relationship skills, we were blocked in our ability to find relief from loneliness by being with others.

A friend isn’t a cure for loneliness if we can’t be honest with her about what we are feeling, if we can’t talk to her when she disappoints us, or if we can’t tell her we’re angry because she canceled at the last minute. When we can’t communicate our preferences, we end up going shopping because she wants to, because we can’t say, “I’d like to go to the aquarium today.” If these big blocks stand between us and honesty with a friend, we continue to be lonely even when we’re with her.

I hope now you’re beginning to understand the complexity of the problem. A diet—any diet—collapses under the pressure of such a far-reaching problem. Can you forgive yourself now for all those failed diets? Can you see that the diet was a solution too small for this problem? You were never at fault…

Yet another factor is in operation. Many overeaters are tired. We may have an energy deficit. Why is that? One factor may be that our insulin levels make our fat cells reluctant to release fat so that it can be converted to sugar and then burned for energy. Another factor may be light deprivation. We may be compelled to eat in an effort to get more energy. We are choosing food that should give us energy but doesn’t. Others get energy from sugar but we don’t, due to the body reactions explained in chapter 2. Even though experimental results aren’t yet clear enough to explain exactly what happens in our bodies step by step, enough is known to conclude the following:

– We overeaters have bodies that are chemically delicate. 
- Our bodies respond to subtle deficits in minerals, vitamins, light, energy, and needs. 
- We are probably eating to correct deficits, but what we eat is not making the correction. 
- Eating is an effort to self-medicate. Eating is caused by biological pressure.

There! If you are with me so far, you’re ready for solutions.

Reprinted with permission from Anatomy of a Food Addiction

by Anne Katherine, M.A.

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