The Story of an Overeater

You can read all the books you like on nutrition, listen to lectures, and scan the literature – but what most good clinicians will tell you is that when it comes to what truly works in the realm of diet and nutrition – the gold standard of knowledge is story. Meaning, it’s our real life experience that counts – our personal journey. Stories are not bad science. Indeed, a great story can tell us everything.

In the helping professions we call such stories case studies. I’d like to share with you a simple case study that may prove useful when it comes to your own relationship with food. Indeed, case studies are one of the most powerful teaching tools that we use here at theInstitute for the Psychology of Eating in our professional certification training. Our students love them, and it helps them sharpen their skills and understand the hidden nuances of how to create success with clients. I’ll give you a little taste here so you could see what I mean.

Carla, age 34, came to see me to help her get rid of her intense overeating. She works in New York City as a magazine editor, averages a 60 hour work week, has a love-hate relationship with her job, she’s an avid exerciser, very interested in healthy eating, single and dating, 5’6, 130 pounds, bubbly, energetic, friendly, and very much afraid to gain weight. Carla had seen a dietitian but couldn’t follow the diet plan she was given. She’s also read lots of books and tried various diet plans on her own, only to keep returning once again to the overeating demon.

She’s hoping I could give her some magic diet or supplement plan that will take her problem away.

Now before I go any deeper into this brief case study, I want to mention to you why I believe Carla is representative of so many people – especially women. Even though she’s fit, in shape, and looks like she has the perfect body – she would still love to lose 10 pounds – but at the same time lives in fear of the worst-case scenario: she won’t lose any weight but will have the dreaded fate that no human could possibly want – she’d gain weight.

Of course, I ask my clients lots of questions, I listen intently, I ask further questions about the answers that they give me, and I just love to dive into the details because that’s where the action is. But let me fast-track this case study for you and mention some important details. For breakfast, Carla would have an extra large coffee and a small energy bar. In the midmorning, she’d have another coffee along with an apple. At about 1 PM, she’d have lunch – which consisted of a small veggie salad, an energy bar, and a Diet Coke. Then, at about 3:30 PM, her overeating would begin. Her office has a small kitchenette, and she would ravenously go after chips, cookies, trail mix, pretzels – and whatever was around.

As you might imagine, Carla would feel awful when she finally stopped eating. She would feel like a will-power weakling and would have a nonstop radio station of criticism playing inside her head for hours. She was such a “good girl” during the rest of the day when it came to managing her appetite. How could she be such a loser?

Here’s how I helped Carla in 5 sessions: First, Carla did not have a willpower issue whatsoever when it came to food. She’s perfectly fine and normal. If you look back at her diet, what you might notice is that Carla essentially starves herself from the time she wakes up at 6 o’clock in the morning up until about 3:30 PM when she “loses control” and overeats. During this time she’s protein deficient, essential fatty acid deficient, calorically deficient, and is pretty much running on caffeine. Her overeating in the afternoon isn’t really overeating – it’s her central nervous system screaming “HUNGRY” because her body is simply nutrient deprived. What she describes as “overeating” is actually a survival signal from brain to tongue that’s imploring her to eat so she can avoid starvation.

So here’s the bottom line: I had Carla eating a more robust and healthy breakfast, a more robust and healthy lunch, and after several days of this new and unusual way of eating – Carla’s 3:30PM overeating outburst completely disappeared. Not only that, she was stunned that despite the fact that she was eating more food – that is, more calories – she didn’t gain a single pound. That’s because she’d previously been underfeeding herself and her innate survival mechanism wisely responded by slowing down calorie burning metabolism.

Eating the right amount of food actually made her metabolism hotter.

Carla let go of more than just afternoon over eating episodes. She realized she’d been in a battle with food and appetite that no human could ever win. She began to have a more nourishing relationship with food. She began to enjoy herself, receive pleasure, and let go of her incessant need to constantly control food, and her appetite. The net result was that she had more energy for everything else in her life. She was more interesting to be around, and was finally graduating into a greater sense of relaxation with eating.

For me personally, it didn’t matter that my client was no longer overeating. What mattered was that I’d made a sweet difference in someone’s life and helped her let go of a ball and chain that was holding her back, and I watched her life brighten up in a big way in just several months.

The work we do at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating is not merely about changing people’s diets. It’s about helping people wake up to their most beautiful potential. It’s about helping others see their relationship with food not as a problem or an obstacle, but as a place where there’s tremendous opportunity to grow, learn, and transform.

Please feel free to share your thoughts – I’d love to know if you can relate to any of this personally or professionally.

Warm regards,

Marc David

Founder – Institute for the Psychology of Eating

© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • Susann

    Loved reading Carla’s story. I used to do the same thing. I crave protein within the first 30 minutes after waking up. I just wasn’t in tune to the signals for so long. I still have bouts of overeating. Although when I’m there I overeating good things! As a kid I was in numerous foster homes. Some not so great. I had no qualms about leaving if I was being abused. Must have brought that characteristic from some other lifetime! That meant I didn’t eat sometimes for long periods of time. As a celiac I’m cautious what I’m eating but I eat well! I find I eat more when I’m dealing with financial challenges. No surprise! I’m now run a cottage food company myself. No surprise! Feeding people is loving them when done in a healthy manner!

  • Michelle

    Thank you for sharing Carla’s story. I too, find myself binging on foods, sometimes at 10:30 in the morning! I find, that if I have too much fruit sugar, not enough sleep and/or water that I am binging! I do not drink coffee, make sure I have no added sugars and have protein for breakfast. For me, I find it all has to come together-sleep, water drinking, exercise, sun-light. Could it also be an unbalanced Amino Acid profile? Oh, and yes, emotional health plays a huge part in my eating! Frustrating!

    • Marc David

      Hi Michelle,

      It sounds like you are becoming aware of your patterns, which is a great step in the right direction. Keep it up, and thanks for reaching out!


  • Melissa Ferrari

    I really loved this case study. Carla’s story is a common one. I would have taken the same approach to resolve the issue. I’m a Holistic Nutritionist and the wellness program I run has all the same principles talked about here. People don’t realize that starving their bodies has consequences. And all the caffeine makes it even worse. I’m glad Carla made the right changes to get healthy!

    • Marc David

      Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for reaching out and sharing your insight!


About The Author
Marc David

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet.

His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul.

He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.