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Co-Dependency and Food: Trying to Fill the Void

Nice girls don't speak up. Nice girls take care of and support others. These are just a few of the messages girls often receive as they are socialized. Often in adulthood, these ingrained messages turn into full-blown co-dependency. Years can go by. Unmet needs build up energy; they demand attention. But without learning skills in setting boundaries, letting others feel their own pain and making oneself a priority, food often becomes the hassle-free, soothing balm to take the edge off and release that pent up energy momentarily, that is until the guilt sets in.

We are in one of the following roles when we are co-dependent - victim, rescuer or persecutor. Following are a few examples of how these roles play out in our relationship with food:

Victim: You eat too much food. You gain weight and then can't eat what you want. No matter what you do, what diet you try, you can't lose weight. No matter how you eat, you seem to continue to gain weight, feeling worse and worse.

Rescuer: The dessert makes you feel better, especially the chocolate. It makes you feel loved. You feel comforted and nurtured when you eat certain foods. You reward yourself with food over the smallest perceived successes. Or someone may rescue you when you claim you can't lose weight. "You've tried hard. It's not working for you. Go ahead and eat it. You're not losing weight anyway. You can try that new diet tomorrow."

Persecutor: You're great at beating up on yourself. No matter what you do, you can't lose weight. Your tortured thoughts go something like this: "I'm never going to lose this weight; it's too hard to lose weight. I hate myself because I can't control my eating. I hate myself because I'm not following this diet perfectly. I'm fat. I'm ugly. I hate myself."

How do you get out of your co-dependent relationship with food? First, pay attention to your thoughts - I mean really notice. What are you saying to yourself about food, your body, your weight, yourself? Likely you'll find that you wouldn't say those things to your worst enemy. Secondly, write those thoughts down. Ask yourself if any of your thoughts are really true about you or do they come from unconscious, past patterns. Next, ask yourself if you wish to continue to believe these thoughts. If not, forgive yourself for believing them and replace those thoughts with the ones you want.

It goes like this.

My thoughts:

I always eat too potato chips, and I can't lose weight. I'm so spineless.

Are my thoughts true?

I don't always eat too many potato chips. I've been eating dessert, which is probably why I can't lose weight. It's not the potato chips. I don't know why I said I'm spineless. I'm not.

Why do I eat so many potato chips?

When I ate them today, it was after that conversation with my friend. I felt angry. The crunch of the potato chips helped me feel less angry. Now that I think about it, I eat potato chips a lot when I'm angry.

Do I want to continue believing my thoughts?

No. I forgive myself for eating potato chips to swallow my anger. I forgive myself for calling myself spineless.

New thoughts:

When I'm angry next time, I'm going to express my anger appropriately and talk with the other person. I'm not going to eat potato chips. I can lose weight. I am successful in losing weight.

Learn to listen to yourself and not rely on outside cues for what you may or may not think and feel. It's not selfish to meet your real needs directly. When you meet your true needs, food is no longer a bandage. Then you can freely choose whether or not to eat that particular food without the intensity of unmet emotional needs. It's about valuing yourself and making decisions and choices that honor your value. New thinking will support your weight loss efforts.

About The Author

Zo Houseman is the author of Live Lightly! that describes how she lost 100 pounds and kept it off by learning to think differently. Read free excerpts. More information and resources are available at


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