Image: @artographybypThe inner world of a person struggling with binge eating, bulimia, or anorexia is filled with anxiety about numbers: calories, size, scales, diet portions, and weight. Therapy for emotional eating can require hard work, grit, and determination as patients explore the psychological roots of their eating disorders and work to make changes through behavioral and cognitive strategies. At times medication may also be needed. In essence, it’s serious stuff.
The medication you may not have thought of…
But sometimes humor can be the best medicine! Humor can act as an antidote to the perfectionism, rigidity, and depression so often experienced by emotional eaters. It can provide a more optimistic perspective and provide a temporary relief, reprieve, and release from our problems.
The therapist and client laughing together in the therapy session offers a shared moment of affection and bonding. It can create a playful connection and a sense of partnership. The ability to laugh at ourselves and our quirks helps patients learn to play. That’s when emotional fluency can begin to flourish.
Where there is humor, there is hope.
Amber, struggling with severe bulimia, had long expressed a fascination with vampires. We discussed how she identified with the insatiability of the vampire and how when she binged her “fangs” came out.
In one of her sessions, Amber described the latest vampire romance novel she was reading. Caught up in the story, I asked Amber, “So what finally happened to this vampire couple?”
A mischievous smile crossed her face and Amber replied, “They lived capillary ever after!” We laughed uproariously. Amber had added a most playful note to a very tough struggle. This moment of shared laughter declared, “We’re in this together, we are a team, and we’ll get through this bulimia together!”
Tyler & Molly
Tyler was describing the impact of his father’s death on his developing anorexia. “And how did your Dad die?” I asked.
Tyler answered with a rueful half smile, “My father was an alcoholic. He died of neurosis of the liver!” In the midst of a sorrowful time, Tyler had found a shred of playfulness that lightened his grief and brought us together on our journey.
Molly, a binge eater, poked fun at herself sheepishly,
“The most stable men in my life have always been Ben and Jerry!”
I responded that one of my best girlfriends used to be Sara Lee. We joined together with an affectionate, laughing connection.
Why does humor work?
Laughter is a form of “non-food nurturance,” a way of soothing oneself rather than bingeing, starving, or purging.
Norman Cousins declared, “Laughter is inner jogging.” Charlie Chaplin once said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.”
To some degree humor can improve our emotional perspective when we are faced with difficult and stressful feelings.
All the formal therapy techniques in the world are not sufficient to help people relinquish their pain and their eating disorder. But when the person experiences the therapist as an emotional companion on the journey toward healing, then the process becomes vivid and alive.
The root of the word “companion” derives from Latin and means “to break bread together.” (com = with, pan = bread). To break bread is an act of sharing, of togetherness, of comfort, of being present in the moment—the recipe for a wonderful therapy!
Fortified with curiosity, empathy, resilience, and humor, patients can continue their journey to declare peace with emotional eating. They learn to sink their teeth into life, not only their relationship with food.