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Leaving The Food You Love

If weight loss programs are coming between you and your comfort food, CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay has advice on how to turn your attention to other pleasures in her monthlong series, The Great American Weight Loss.

Excuse of the Day: Food is my best friend!

For many people who seek solace in food when they are frustrated or disappointed, this excuse is a reality, says Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, Director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute.

"A patient of mine summed this up when she said, 'I can get to food 24 hours a day. It never says no, it never says you're too needy. It's there for me in a way other people in my life aren't,'" Kearney-Cooke said.

For people who view food in this way, eating brings them what they feel their relationships with friends or family cannot.

"There is an emotional void," Kearney-Cooke says. "So often food is filling that up."

When Dr. Kearney-Cooke meets with clients who are overeaters and have this problem, she asks them to fill out a questionnaire that includes the following questions:

  1. When your expectations with others aren't met in close relationships, what do you do?
  2. Kearney-Cooke says that this questions indicates to her whether the person is avoiding conflict. Many overeaters don't confront people who have disappointed them or made them angry.

    If a friend cancels a luncheon date, for example, Kearney-Cooke says it's normal to feel disappointed. But many overeaters turn to food as a pleasant distraction instead of confronting another person.

  3. What role do you play in relationships?
  4. When asked this question, almost all of the patients in the binge eating group who Dr. Kearney-Cooke treats tell her that they take care of everyone around them, but that no one takes care of them.

    These are the same people who have a difficult time saying "no" to anyone. They are unable to set boundaries that keep them from taking care of everyone around them. As a result, when their needs go unmet, they frequently turn to food.

  5. What roles leave you hungrier than others?
  6. This question helps Kearney-Cooke identify where the biggest problems in relationships are coming from.

    "Many of the overeaters will describe that they are always the caretaker," she says.

    Common answers include: taking care of an elderly parent, meeting the needs of a spouse who takes them for granted, or serving children all day.

Kearney-Cooke says that people who feel overwhelmed by others' needs should communicate what they themselves need from others directly.

"Make 'I' statements," she suggests. "Say, I would like yu to watch the kids Saturday morning so I can hike and go out with a friend."

Try to also negotiate with others so that your statements are more effective.

"Say, 'If you will watch the kids Saturday morning while I'm out hiking, I would be happy to watch the kids Sunday while your
golf.'"

Finally, it's important to be able to say "no" and to set boundaries in your life. People are not able to say no to overeating until they are able to say no to others.



Kearney-Cooke also suggests that -- instead of reaching for the comfort food in the cupboard -- people search out activities they enjoy to do with friends and family, or with themselves.

"I say develop an alternative cupboard, but in that cupboard put phone numbers of people who you care about, music you love, books you love, and when you're feeling needy or drained, reach into this cupboard."

Reported by Dr. Emily Senay