I haven’t done an Ask Olivia session in forever and I’m so sorry about that. I love when you guys send in your questions and seek advice. Lately I’ve responded on a one-on-one basis, but when I got this request, I had to share:
My mum and I have never gotten along. She would get mad at me for nothing and always told me she hates me. She never says thank you, doesn't appreciate anything I do and won’t even give me keys to the house. She breathes down my neck all day and says hurtful things like I'm stupid and fat. She insists I’ve gained 20 lbs. when I’ve actually lost 20 lbs. and still continue to exercise. The worst part is, she now has dementia. Despite all of this, I still have respect for her, and do everything she asks of me. But when she gets on me about my weight, I start to stress eat and pick up unhealthy food to eat. Food has become a source of comfort, but I can’t let it or her destroy me. What should I do?
I'm really sorry your mother treats you like this, but I’m also very proud of the way you manage to maintain respect for her. That is not an easy thing to do and says a lot about your character. I know its hard to be polite in the face of such disrespect, but given that she is your mother, whom you live with, limiting your interactions with her doesn’t sound like much of an option. However, I would suggest if moving out isn’t an option right now, arrange your daily schedule in such a way that you create boundaries between the two of you (ex: Getting up at a time you wouldn’t have to talk to her, finding activities that keep you away from the house etc.)If your interactions with her are the reason, you’re overeating, then your interactions with her and food have to change. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that eating too much in one sitting or taking in too many calories throughout the day are common habits that can be hard to break. There may even be moments you enjoy being around her, that draw you into communication, but it turns south and then you’re turning to food.
From a psychological point of view, the reason food feels like a source of comfort is because many highly processed foods trigger the reward centres in the brain. People begin eating these foods because they release endorphins and “feel good” neurotransmitters, which can temporarily relieve emotional distress. But no amount of temporary relief can compensate for the life long damage you're causing.
Meal planning is optimal to help you gain control of your overall food intake. Meal planning also involves keeping healthy snacks around for those binge moments. Too much of even a good thing is bad, but it’s still better to keep healthy options around that won't set you back too far.
Lastly try emphasising stress management techniques such as meditation, walking, or talking to a friend or therapist to help you deal with the underlying issues promoting stress. As 'long as you allow your mother's words to hurt you, that will constantly play in the back of your mind (subconscious) and drive you to seek comfort in the unhealthy behavior. You can’t change the person, only how you react to them. This is where its important to build new healthy habits, or strengthen those you already do.