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April 26, 2015 / 7 Iyar, 5775
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Overeating And The Well Spouse (Part One)

 “You have such a pretty face. If only you could do something about your weight.” Is a comment very familiar to most overweight women. It is usually made by well meaning friends and relatives who seem to think that all the person needs in order to deal with their weight problem is their caring, but hurtful, comments. Perhaps their friends think that the person who is overweight never looks in a mirror, never looks at themselves below the eyebrows or needs glasses.


 

There seems to be an assumption that the persons who inhabits the oversize body are unaware they are a larger size. All that is needed is to make them aware they are overweight and this knowledge will fix the problem. In reality, the comments serve no purpose, impart no new knowledge, and cause pain. Yet, they keep coming. The comments seem to be made, almost always, by people without weight problems.

 

I decided to interview some well spouses on this topic when I received the following e-mail.

 

Dear Ann,

 

Some obese women who are now in their 60’s will not be able to walk when they are in their 70’s because of all the extra weight they are carrying. It’s even going to be harder for them as they age. It’s time for them to take action now. Those that are in their 30’s also need to look at what they’re eating now, to stay young for their children and families.

 

* * * * *

 

Overeating is a symptom, not an end product. It is a physical response to an emotional problem. And the emotional problems are as varied as the people themselves. It is the emotional problem that needs to be addressed as much as the overeating. That necessitates that people understand why they overeat or be willing to explore why they overeat, and more importantly, be willing and able to do something about it. Even well spouses who understand why they overeat are not always ready to do something about it.

 

One well spouse I spoke with said she understands why she is overweight. “It keeps a wall around me. I know it makes me unattractive, but being a well spouse, I find it protective. I don’t want to be in a situation of being attractive to another man. It would make life too difficult for me as a well spouse. It might provide me with temptation that I don’t want to think about and can’t cope with. It took a lot of therapy for me to understand this. I am trying to get over the fear and deal with the weight because of health issues. But it is very difficult.”

 

Another had this to say. “Dieting requires self-care. Self-care requires a positive self-image. Both became eroded with years of care giving. I am constantly surrounded by criticism, from my spouse, from my community. With my life so hard and lonely, I feel that I am being punished for something. Feeling that way is not very conducive to dieting. I need to feel better about myself. If I could have more of a feeling of self worth, dieting might be easier. But in an atmosphere of constant criticism and constant catastrophe, it’s just impossible.”

 

“Who has the time?” was another comment. “Between work, care giving, parenting, and everything else, there’s not a minute left for me − neither the time nor the energy. It takes time to diet; to plan meals and buy the appropriate food and then prepare the proper meals.”


Another comment: “My ice cream is my best friend. It comforts me when no one else does. It fills the emptiness. Food is my companion. Of course I know I’m headed for problems, but I’m just too sad to care.”

 

“I know my overweight may lead to illness and even an earlier death. But that may be my only way out.” And many well spouses understood and even agreed.

 

It is neither a lack of awareness that they are overweight, nor an ignorance of the health risks that keep people from losing weight. They are all too aware of these risks and as some of the comments indicate, may even welcome them. If there is a concern about someone you care about, that is overweight, bombarding her/him with what that person already knows, is not the solution. Often it just adds to the problem.

 

If you really want to help overweight friends or relatives, start with helping them to feel better about themselves. Helping them with the burden of their lives whether it is loneliness, the overwhelming chores of care giving or just discovering what they are compensating for by overeating that results in weight gain.

 

Happier people want to live longer. Happiness leads to a desire to be healthy and may be the best way to start them on the road to health. Overeating is a very complex issue without a simple cure. However, repeatedly informing people that they need to loose weight is not a solution and will often make the problem worse.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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