How CBT Can Help You Stop Overeating

CBT to Treat Food Addiction Due to Emotional Reasoning

Model poses as woman overeating
Jenna's overeating was an ineffective way of dealing with her feelings. Echo / Getty Images

If you have difficulty with overeating, you may wonder whether cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you stop your problem behaviors and food addiction. This example puts you in the place of a fictitious person who has characteristics and circumstances often seen in people who come for treatment for food addiction. This can show you what happens in CBT and how it can help people stop overeating.

Overeating Behavior

You are a binge eater who binges on candy, cookies, and chocolate several times a day. Your overeating started in childhood when you would eat candy in secret at night. You describe your binges as emotional eating because you eat when you felt upset.

You do everything you can to prevent weight gain, including skipping regular meals, exercising for hours, using laxatives to "clear yourself out," and occasionally, making yourself vomit. Your family doctor became concerned that you were developing problems with incontinence from laxative overuse, and she referred you for CBT to help you stop overeating.

Overeating Due to Emotional Reasoning

Your cognitive behavioral therapist guides you in recording the thoughts and feelings you experience before, during and after bingeing on sweet food. By analyzing the thoughts and feelings you have around food, you and your therapist come to understand that you have become addicted to food because of a type of faulty thinking called emotional reasoning.

As your weight has increased, your self-esteem has worsened. Many times a day, you would interpret small chance occurrences as reasons to feel bad about yourself. Once you start keeping track of your thought processes, you realize how often this is happening.

For example, if someone pushed in front of you in line, you would feel that this must mean you are a worthless person, and you would immediately buy a bar to chocolate to eat and make yourself feel better.

One day, a colleague didn't respond when you said "Good morning," and you reasoned this was because your colleague disliked you. At your first opportunity, you made an excuse to slip out and buy a pack of cookies and ate the whole pack. Your performance review at work was rated "good," and you thought that anything less than "excellent" meant you were terrible at your job, so you spent the evening eating cake and ice cream.

Each time a minor disappointment of this sort occurred, which was almost daily, you would go to your secret stash of chocolate or head to the grocery store for a binge. In spite of this well-established pattern of behavior, although you wanted to stop overeating, you just did not know another way to handle your uncomfortable feelings of worthlessness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Emotional Reasoning

The CBT therapist explains to you that your binge eating is based on emotional reasoning, and, although eating might make you feel temporarily comforted, would not help you feel better about yourself. In fact, overeating was having the opposite effect and was actually making you feel worse about yourself, which would then worsen your overeating.

Together, you plan a different approach to handling disappointment.

With practice, you are able to interpret people’s responses more realistically, so you are not constantly feeling inadequate. You also practice methods for improving your self-esteem. As your self-esteem improves, you became more able to refrain from snacking and bingeing, and began to eat more nutritious food.

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