For over twenty years I have specialized in helping people deal with compulsive behaviors. At first I concentrated on working with those who wanted to overcome eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and compulsive overeating. At that time I realized that there was a common denominator in all eating disorders, an uncontrollable urge. Compulsive overeaters have the urge to binge, bulimics binge and purge, while anorexics sometimes binge but mostly have the overwhelming need to starve.
As a result I wrote How To Stop Playing the Weighting Game and A Substance Called Food: How to Understand, Control, and Recover from Addictive Eating.In these books I explained the process of compulsive urges, what they mean, and how they can be controlled. During the years I was creating a new approach to treating food related compulsive behaviors I became aware that at least sixty percent of my clients were sober alcoholics, usually in Twelve-Step programs for drugs or alcohol. They had given up the deadlier addictions, but they were stuck in the thrall of food.
As time passed I began to notice that many were also compulsive spenders and debtors. They usually did not talk at first about these behaviors, not because of shyness but because they didn’t consider them much of a problem compared to alcohol, drugs, food, and “love too much” relationships. Many clients described themselves as “compulsive personalities” although scientists say that there is no such thing.
I have learned that the problem is not alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex, exercise, or smoking. These are the solutions. The real problem is that most of us do not know how to cope with the ups and downs of our lives. We run away from discomfort and mask our pain and fear with temporary escape or longer-term oblivion. We keep doing this until the solution becomes a full-fledged problem with a life of its own.