The Story of an Overeater

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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 the Institute 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.

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