Unresolved issues in any relationship is the kind of underlying stress that can precipitate stress eating. Many issues that are unresolved are not necessarily the problems that came up in the last day or so but issues that have been brewing for years. They also won't be resolved in a conversation or a couple of therapy sessions. These long term unresolved relationship issues require disciplined introspection. By this I mean taking a few moments to consider how you are feeling, what are the sensations in your body, and what are you craving. Because cravings can be very powerful, they can be our first recognition of underlying stress. They can also be a powerful distraction from the underlying stress.
Rebecca has been trying to lose weight for many years. She does okay for awhile but then has these "episodes" in which she completely blows it. What follows is guilt, shame, and self hatred. She often asks herself "Why can't I just stick with it? Why can't I just have a small slice instead of the cake?" These questions had no answer and lead her to greater frustration and disappointment in herself.
If you aren't getting useful answers, it may be time to ask different questions. The questions she asked herself had an underlying tone of judgment. Kind of like the question "What is wrong with me?" Perhaps a more fruitful direction would be to ask "What is going on with me?" "What is happening that is causing this kind of stress?" "What emotion is at play that is fueling this stress eating?" These question have an underlying tone of understanding rather than judgment.
Rebecca realized that when she had a powerful craving, she often had feelings of loneliness and grief. It wan't that she was alone, but she felt that no one else understood. She had struggled with the grief of her son's death for years. This pain was deep. It was the type of pain that she felt could consume her if she let it. It was the type of pain that seemed to have no end. Even with therapy and medication, the pain continued. Food was a comfort. Sometimes fighting with her husband, fighting with her sister, or fighting with an unsuspecting waiter helped her to avoid the pain. The problem was she just had another thing to feel bad about and the grief was still there....
In her desperation, she decided to sit with her son's presence everyday for 15 minutes. It was easy to feel his presence in his room, still untouched since his death. She allowed herself to experience whatever emotion was there. Fifteen minutes later when her alarm went off, she got up and started her day. As this ritual continued, she noticed that she seemed to have more awareness of her emotions and was less likely to express it in an unhealthy way. As the years passed, her grief continued. It was no longer an emotion to be avoided but one that she could allow. As she allowed the space for her grief, she had access to more happiness, peace, and compassion. She realized that grief was not an emotion to "get over" but an emotion to experience. Her experience of grief was inextricably entwined with her love for her son. She would always love her son. She would always have the grief of his loss. And she would always need those moments of bitter sweet silence with her son.