Add To Cart

Section 10
Levels of Overeating

Question 10 | Test | Table of Contents

Read content below or listen to audio.
Left click audio track to Listen; Right click to "Save..." mp3

In the last section, we discussed three techniques that can be helpful in restoring confidence in clients with bulimia.  These three confidence boosting techniques included:  Beauty is the Beholder; Overcoming the Approval Trap; and Relabel Problems.

In this section, we will examine three different levels of overeating.  These three different levels of overeating include:  food users; food abusers; and food addicts.

3 Different Levels of Overeating

♦ Level #1 - Food Users
The first level of overeating includes food users. These are clients who do not eat nutritionally balanced meals regularly. They consume fast food for a good majority of their meals, or skip meals altogether. Their eating is usually irregular with some meals being substantially large while others do not supply the necessary caloric intake. Most clients who have trouble with their weight are food users. They may binge after a tragic event or during a celebration and then try to compensate by not eating regular-sized meals. The extreme of this type of client are bulimic clients.

Jack, age 27, ate a Big Mac every day including a large fries and soft drink.  At five foot seven, Jack weighed about 325 pounds. He stated, "I don’t understand. Yea, I eat junk food, but I don’t eat breakfast and dinner maybe a bowl of cereal! Shouldn’t that make up for what I eat for lunch?" 

I stated, "That’s not how your body works. When you don’t supply yourself with the necessary vitamins and you skip meals, your body goes into starvation mode, absorbing every single calorie in case you have to go for a long period of time without food. You may like how the Big Mac tastes, but there is another, underlying cause to your junk food indulgence. You may feel stressed during the day, when you’re at work or trying to complete tasks. The fast food helps you calm down and gives you plenty of salt and sugar to appease your stressed out nervous system."  

Think of your Jack.  Is he or she trying to cope with stress by being a food user?

♦ Level #2 - Food Abusers
The second level of overeating includes food abusers. These types of clients are more commonly known as "compulsive overeaters." These types of clients binge at least once or twice a week. They may think about food a great deal of the time and have unusual relationships with food. They may, for instance, eat one particular food many times during the week or use food repeatedly as a reward or punishment. Clients in the final stages of food abuse begin to experience memory lapses and lose their ability to diet for any length of time. They begin to suffer from persistent remorse about their eating patterns.

Nicole, age 34, binged two to three times a week on average. She stated, "I don’t know where it comes from. I’ll be on a steady diet of vegetables, and I’ll be so pleased with myself, I have a little treat as a reward. Then it turns into three rewards, then five! Before I know it, I’ve completely blown my diet!" For these types of clients, I usually suggest avoiding dieting in the first place. I stated to Nicole, "Because you have deprived yourself of so much, you cannot resist giving into yourself even just a little bit."

Food abusers tend to retain so many obsessive thoughts about their food and diet, that the effort becomes too much and they break. I ask that my food abusing clients change their goals, so that instead of attempting to lose weight, they are just trying to stay healthy. Think of your Nicole. How is he or she abusing food?

♦ Level #3 - Food Addicts
In addition to food users and food abusers, the third level of overeating includes food addicts.  These types of clients have lost interest in most other areas of their lives, including, in many cases, their personal appearance. They may isolate themselves from others and begin to feel as if they have lost their personhood. Their overeating continues in vicious circles, ending in self-hatred. 

Many times, food addicted clients will exhibit grandiose and aggressive behavior towards themselves and others. This is an attempt to cover up their lack of self-esteem by convincing the world of how wonderful they are. Often, these clients express acute denial of their addiction, believing themselves to be immune to the consequences of their actions.

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique:  Food Log
Larry, age 42, weighed 350 pounds when he was referred to me. Even at his extreme weight, Larry did not believe he had an eating problem. He stated, "I don’t eat more than anyone else. I just have a metabolism problem! It’s nothing serious! Besides, I don’t feel bad about myself, but I know other people don’t want to look at me. Is that my fault?" 

I asked Larry to keep a "Food Log" recording all the meals he ate during the day.  I suggested he learn the caloric count of each food, noticing the serving size, and record that as well.  The next week, Larry showed me his "Food Log."  One of his days, on average, included:  bacon, cheese and ham sandwich on a whole wheat bagel; club sub sandwich with turkey, bacon, provolone cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard; and a sirloin steak with mashed potatoes and buttered green beans. 

In total, this day accumulated some 3500 calories. I stated to Larry, "A man of your size and activity level requires about 2000 to 2500 calories a day. You are exceeding this maximum by at least 1000 calories. Will you concede that you are in fact consuming more than you need?"  Larry stated, "I did not realize how much that all counted up to. It fills me, but maybe it fills me too much." 

Think of your Larry.  Could a CBT "Food Log" demonstrate just how severe his or her eating habits are?

In this section, we discussed three different levels of overeating.  These three different levels of overeating included:  food users; food abusers; and food addicts.

In the next section, we will examine four techniques for redefining hunger for clients who overeat.  These four techniques of redefined hunger include:  Recognizing Mouth Hunger Phrases; Hunger Log; Demand Feeding; and Responding to Hunger.
Reviewed 2023

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

Goldschmidt, A. B., Wall, M. M., Zhang, J., Loth, K. A., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2016). Overeating and binge eating in emerging adulthood: 10-year stability and risk factors. Developmental Psychology, 52(3), 475–483. 

Gunstad, J., Sanborn, V., & Hawkins, M. (2020). Cognitive dysfunction is a risk factor for overeating and obesity. American Psychologist, 75(2), 219–234. 

Herman, C. P., van Strien, T., & Polivy, J. (2008). Undereating or eliminating overeating? American Psychologist, 63(3), 202–203.

Luo, X., Nuttall, A. K., Locke, K. D., & Hopwood, C. J. (2018). Dynamic longitudinal relations between binge eating symptoms and severity and style of interpersonal problems. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(1), 30–42.

What are three different levels of overeating? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 11
Table of Contents