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How CBT Helped Jenna Stop Overeating

A Story of How CBT Can Be Used to Treat Food Addiction

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Updated February 06, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

This story is an example of how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helped Jenna stop overeating. While the characters and the story are fictitious, the characteristics and circumstances described are often seen in people who come for treatment for food addiction. Jenna’s story is presented for illustrative purposes, to help readers understand how CBT can help people stop overeating. Click here to share your own CBT story.

Jenna was a binge eater, who binged on fast food and chocolate several times a day. She described her binges as emotional eating, because she ate when she felt upset. As Jenna’s weight increased, her family doctor became concerned that despite her best advice, Jenna had become obese, and she referred Jenna for CBT to help her stop overeating.

Lisa, Jenna's cognitive behavioral therapist, guided Jenna in recording the thoughts and feelings she experienced before, during and after binging on junk food or chocolate. By analyzing the thoughts and feelings Jenna had around food, they came to understand that Jenna had become addicted to food because of a type of faulty thinking called emotional reasoning. As Jenna’s weight has increased, her self-esteem has worsened. Many times a day, she interprets small chance occurrences as reasons to feel bad about herself: someone pushes in front of her in line, and she feels that this must mean she is a worthless person; a colleague doesn’t respond when she says "Good morning," and she reasons this is because she her colleague dislikes her; her performance review at work is rated "good," and she thinks that anything less than "excellent" means she is terrible at her job. Each time this happens, she goes to her secret stash of chocolate or heads to the nearest fast food outlet for a binge, although she does want to stop overeating.

Lisa explained to Jenna that her binge eating is based on emotional reasoning, and would not help her feel better about herself. It was actually making her feel worse about herself and worsening her overeating. With practice, Jenna was able to interpret people’s responses to her more realistically, so she was not constantly feeling inadequate. She also practiced methods for improving her self-esteem. As her self-esteem improved, Jenna became more able to refrain from snacking and binging, and began to eat more nutritious food.

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