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Section 13
Compulsive Eating

Question 13 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed three concepts related to binge regression.  These three concepts related to binge regression included:  self-criticism during a binge; panic; and guilt.

Have you found, like I, that those clients who compulsively eat are also compulsive dieters?  Although they may try to correct the problem, they always find themselves failing in the end to resist the urge to overeat. This can be related to internalized beliefs about eating habits and accepted societal behavior.

In this section, we will examine three concepts related to the compulsive dieter. These three concepts related to the compulsive dieter include:  addressing failure; addressing the need to control; and overcoming the need for self-criticism.

3 Tools for Compulsive Dieters

♦ Tool #1 - Addressing Failure
The first concept related to the compulsive dieter is addressing failure. Often clients who have been diagnosed with compulsive eating and dieting have a deep sense of failure. Most of their attempts to correct their habits have succumbed to their intractable behavior. This sense of failure subsequently attacks their self-esteem and they feel weak-willed, self-indulgent, and lacking in self-discipline. Once the client loses his or her self-respect, they become more resistant to change.

Maria, age 38, had been on some form of a diet ever since she was 20.  Maria stated, "I’ve been on every diet program imaginable and I’ve lost hundreds of pounds in the course of my life!  I feel completely trapped!  If I decide to diet in the morning, by dinnertime I’m on a rampage. I feel so hopeless! Why can’t I control myself?" 

I stated to Maria, "Compulsive dieters such as yourself, have not really failed. Rather, the solutions you have been offered, which are based on misconceptions of the nature of compulsive eating, have failed you. No one has ever tried more diligently to solve a problem than you. You have followed every recommendation ever made to you regarding how best to approach what you see as your problem.

"Unfortunately, the answers you have found have been based on the idea that either you needed to develop better control over your eating behavior or abandon your own control to the rules of a diet. You have been taught to condemn and restrain your eating when, in reality, weight control is not even the right problem to address." 

♦ Tool #2 - Addressing the Need to Control
The second concept related to the compulsive dieter is the need to control. Clients who internalize the belief that to overcome overeating is to control eating habits are more easily susceptible to dieting. Compulsive dieting clients never question the idea that they must control their eating. 

Scheduled eating is an accepted part of the social order. Clients who are compulsive dieters no longer settle for simple regulations—three meals a day—and instead create elaborate, carefully timed meals that include various combinations of foods in specific order and in precise amounts. The more regulated they feel, the more relaxed the client becomes.

Jada, age 35, had devised a complicated eating schedule for herself. She stated, "I eat a small bowl of cereal right when I wake up. Three hours later, I have a meal replacement bar. Three hours after that, a small salad with low calorie dressing. Three hours later is a fruit cup. When I get home, I have a small plate of vegetables, and three hours later than that I have some toast.  You see, six meals a day keeps my metabolism going! I’m never really hungry because I know I’m going to be eating in just a few hours. But even after a few days of doing this, my body goes crazy and needs to binge! I can’t seem to control it!" 

I stated to Jada, "Your body is in effect not accepting the diet you’ve laid out for it. It’s telling you that this small meal every three hours schedule doesn’t satisfy your physical or emotional needs. Allowing your body to eat as it is built to eat can help you resist your urge to binge."  Think of your Jada. Is he or she trying too hard to control his or her eating habits?

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique:  No Control Freak
To help clients like Jada release their urge to control their eating habits, I ask that they try the "No Control Freak" CBT exercise.  Because so many clients are reluctant to release their control over their eating habits, I ask that they try analyzing their daily life and evaluating the amount of control they assert over other aspects of their life.  Then, I asked Jada to compare the amount of control she asserts over aspects of her job to the level of control she asserts over her eating habits. 

I asked Jada, "If something goes wrong at work and it is out of your control, how do you react?  Do you completely lose your mind or do you become more flexible in your thinking?"  Jada stated, "My mind adjusts to fit the crises.  It’s the same in my family affairs.  But when I can’t seem to control my eating, it’s like my whole world falls apart!" I stated to Jada, "When you can’t control the most important aspects of your life, you adjust accordingly because that’s the only thing that can be done. It’s the same in your eating habits, which are much less important than family and work." 

Think of your Jada.  How is he or she controlling his or her eating habits?  Would he or she benefit from the "No Control Freak" exercise?

♦ Tool #3 - Overcoming the Need for Self-Criticism
In addition to addressing failure and addressing the need to control, the third concept related to the compulsive dieter is overcoming the need for self-criticism. One of the main motivators in diets is the need to self-criticize. This internalized belief stems from a cultural acceptance of sacrificing self-esteem for personal betterment. Like the constant failure experienced, self-criticism only serves to destroy the self-esteem many clients strive to have. They believe that the ends justify the means. However, if a client is a compulsive eater, constant criticism only instigates feelings of depression and consequently drives them to eat more.

Diana, age 41, had tried dozens of different methods to motivate herself into losing weight.  She stated, "I’ve put pictures of myself on the fridge.  Pictures that made me look really fat!  And then I cut out my face and put it on the bodies of teen models.  I thought this would motivate me, but it only made me feel worse!  I couldn’t stop myself from opening the fridge and consuming my weight in calories." 

I stated, "Your problem is not motivation but the emotions linked to eating. When you feel bad about yourself, you want to physically satisfy your body in some way, so you turn to food and binging to accomplish this. In criticizing yourself, you are in fact shooting yourself in the foot by creating a situation which only encourages your eating." Think of your Diana. Is he or she being pushed into binging by being too overly critical of him or herself?

In this section, we discussed three concepts related to the compulsive dieter.  These three concepts related to the compulsive dieter included:  addressing failure; addressing the need to control; and overcoming the need for self-criticism.

In the next section, we will examine three aspects of releasing clients from their diets.  These three aspects of releasing clients from their diets include:  reluctance; depression; and weight acceptance.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cotter, E. W., & Kelly, N. R. (2018). Stress-related eating, mindfulness, and obesity. Health Psychology, 37(6), 516–525. 

Pearson, C. M., Wonderlich, S. A., & Smith, G. T. (2015). A risk and maintenance model for bulimia nervosa: From impulsive action to compulsive behavior. Psychological Review, 122(3), 516–535.

Pearl, R. L., Wadden, T. A., Bach, C., Gruber, K., Leonard, S., Walsh, O. A., Tronieri, J. S., & Berkowitz, R. I. (2020). Effects of a cognitivebehavioral intervention targeting weight stigma: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88(5), 470–480.

Radin, R. M., Epel, E. S., Daubenmier, J., Moran, P., Schleicher, S., Kristeller, J., Hecht, F. M., & Mason, A. E. (2020). Do stress eating or compulsive eating influence metabolic health in a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention? Health Psychology, 39(2), 147–158.

What are three concepts
related to the compulsive dieter? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 14
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