In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté MD

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté MD

Author:Gabor Maté, MD [Mate, Gabor]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-1-58394-420-2
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Published: 2011-06-27T16:00:00+00:00

The same dynamics come into play with eating disorders. How, we might ask, could an activity essential for survival become so distorted, undermining a person’s health sometimes to the point of shortening a person’s life? Although it is commonplace to blame the current epidemic of obesity on junk-food consumption and sedentary living, these are only the behavioral manifestations of a deeper psychological and social malaise.

In human development the ingestion of food has significance far beyond its obvious dietary role. Following birth the mother’s nipple replaces the umbilical cord as the source of nutrients for the infant, and it is also a point of continued physical contact between mother and child. Proximity to a parent’s body also meets emotional attachment needs that are as basic to the child as is the need for physical sustenance.

When infants are anxious or upset, they are offered a human or a plastic nipple—in other words, a relationship with either a natural nurturing object or something that closely resembles it. That’s how emotional nourishment and oral feeding or soothing become closely associated in the mind. On the other hand, emotional deprivation will trigger a desire for oral stimulation or eating just as surely as hunger will. Children who continue to suck their thumbs past infancy are attempting to soothe themselves; it’s always a sign of emotional distress. Except in rare cases of physical disease, the more obese a person is, the more emotionally starved they have been at some crucial period in their life.

As a novice family doctor I used to believe that all people needed was basic information. So all I had to do was to teach overweight individuals how excess body fat would overburden the heart, plug the arteries, and raise the blood pressure, demonstrating my insights with naive pencil drawings scratched on prescription pads, and they would leave the office grateful and transformed, ready for a new, healthier lifestyle. I soon found out that they left the office asking for their files to be transferred to some other physician less pedagogically zealous and more understanding about the ways of human beings. I learned that preaching at people about behaviors, even self-destructive ones, did little good when I didn’t or couldn’t help them with the emotional dynamics driving those behaviors.

Invariably, people who eat too much have not only suffered emotional loss in the past but are also psychically deprived or highly stressed in the present. A woman might leave an unsatisfactory relationship, shed weight, and gain confidence only to become heavy again after going back to her partner. Emotional energy expended without perceived reward is compensated for by calories ingested. Similarly, many people who quit smoking begin to overeat because their craving for oral soothing is no longer eased by their cigarette and the loss of their stress reliever, nicotine, leaves them dopamine-deprived.

If children today are at greater risk for obesity than those of previous generations, it’s not simply because they’re less physically active as a result of being absorbed in TV or computers.


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