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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Low Self Esteem: Eating or Spending to Escape

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 14th 2008

 An interesting piece of research was published in the Journal of Consumer Research about the connection between watching crime scene investigation shows on television or viewing images of death and the problem of over-eating. It seems that people who watch these types of programs or think about their own deaths want to escape these unpleasant types of thoughts and do so by eating lots of sweets. Those who suffer from low self esteem are particularly vulnerable to over eating when confronted with death.

According to the research findings those with low self esteem, when watching programs or receiving news about death, begin ruminating about how their lives have been "worthless" and how they will leave no lasting mark of achievement on the world, at least in their own estimation. The result is to want to escape by doing one of two things: overeating or over spending.

This seems to be a variation on the saying that "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." The exception here is that those who go shopping or spending do not feel "tough."

Of course, depression, referred to here as low self esteem, can manifest itself in many ways. For example, there are those who, when depressed, lose their appetite and do not eat and experience a loss in their weight. On the other hand, there are those who, when depressed, experience a huge increase in appetite and the need to eat as much as possible, with a corresponding increase in weight.

There is probably no worse way to think than to believe that one has contributed nothing to the world during their life. Never mind the fact that such a way of thinking is a huge distortion, anyone harboring this type of thought fully believes in the worthlessness of their life. I often read this type of thing in the E. Mail messages and comments I receive here at Mental Help Net.

While it is true that most of us may not have accomplished the goals we had hoped for and may feel disappointed about that during our lives, there is no life that is worthless. In fact, I am reminded of the famous Jimmy Stuart Christmas movie about a man who wanted to commit suicide because, in his despair, believed that the world would have been better off without him. His Guardian Angel granted him his wish. As a result, this character in the movie got to see what life would have been like had he not been born. He had never realized all the positive ways in which he touched the lives of the many people with whom he had come in contact during his life. He then prayed for and was granted his original life back again which he now fully appreciated.

Over eating, over spending, engaging in addictive behaviors are not healthy ways to handle the inevitable frustrations that come with life.

Remember the poet John Dunn, "No man is and island and I am made less by the death of any man." Please do not hold me to the accuracy of the quote. You see, I am not perfect, either, and probably got the quote wrong, although I believe I captured the message.

Your comments are appreciated


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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