Food addiction and shame

Why are we so ashamed of our addictive eating? And what is shame, anyway?

Food addiction thrives in isolation. We struggle with it behind closed doors. Bingeing in secret is a common symptom of food addiction. I can’t remember ever bingeing in public. I was far too ashamed of my inability to control my eating. Many addictive eaters seem to share this experience. This shame prevents us from seeking help.

Why are we so ashamed of our addictive eating? And what is shame, anyway?

Shame is a state that is very self-conscious in nature and lets us know that we have an internal sense of not being enough, not being worthy, feeling disconnected. We experience shame as a deeply negative state. Where in or around your body do you feel it? For me, it feels like I want to curl into myself and disappear. Other people or situations can activate shame in us when we feel blamed or criticised. And we can also activate shame in ourselves when we feel that we are not living up to our own standards. That’s the job of our inner critic. As shame leads to feeling inherently flawed, it activates in us the desire to isolate. So that’s why we hide when we eat addictively. On one hand, shame about ourselves might activate the overeating. And on the other hand, we are so ashamed of having ‘done it again’, we keep ourselves in shame and isolation. We become mired in a shame spiral.

Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is an emotional state we might experience when we think we’ve done something wrong and feel bad about our behaviour. We are more likely to want to admit our guilt and talk to others about it to make amends, often motivated by a deep desire to belong, be liked and accepted. Guilt is a useful emotion in the sense that it motivates social beings to uphold morals and values that help the collective in sticking together. Guilt is a lot more related to a behaviour that we feel guilty about. Shame is a lot more insidious and toxic, because we equate our whole person with being faulty and inadequate. My favourite researcher on shame is Dr Brené Brown. She defines shame as ‘the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection’.

Do you want to learn more about how to break out of the shame spiral? Stay tuned for my Befriending your inner critic with Internal Family Systems course to be launched shortly.

Categories: : Food Addiction, Healing, Internal Family Systems

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