A 64-year-old woman came to see me with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and out-of-control diabetes and kidney disease. She complained of feeling depressed, anxious, and was unable to sleep. She told me she was a compulsive over-eater. Her drug of choice was potato chips, and a close second was vanilla ice cream. She had been eating lots of both for 30 years.
She had gone to Overeaters Anonymous and had been seen by multiple doctors who put her on a variety of diets but none worked. She suspected she would need to be on years of psychotherapy for her emotional eating. I wasn’t so sure.
We started by looking at her three-day food diary and it was filled with potato chips, vanilla ice cream, and deep fried chicken. She said that was normal. I said “How about we don’t take anything away from you at first. Let’s just add a few things.” I had her eat 15 grams of protein every 4 hours without fail starting with getting up (meaning total protein of 90 to 105 grams a day), and 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables with that protein. I figured that she could get plenty of fat, which is always mixed with high protein foods such as meat, nuts, chicken, and cheese). A week later she came back radiant. She hadn’t had one bowl of ice cream or one potato chip all week and didn’t need it.
The second week she came back downcast. She’d been doing just fine until the night before. Out of the blue at 10 o’clock, an irresistible craving to buy potato chips emerged. What happened that day? She had gotten really busy at work and had skipped her afternoon protein snack. She had come home exhausted and took a nap at 7:30. No dinner. And went immediately back to work at her computer. At 10 o’clock her cravings were so strong she stopped working. As she was telling me this story her eyes were getting wider and wider because it was clicking. “Oh my gosh, I was hungry!” Yes, you were hungry! And that was the last time she let that happen. We brainstormed what to have in the refrigerator that was easy for her to grab ahold of to eat: Hard boiled eggs, carrots, celery sticks, unsweetened peanut butter. Mozzarella cheese sticks. She knew how to cook healthily she just hadn’t done it. Getting her to cook healthy meals when she wasn’t exhausted was easy. “Why didn’t anybody else tell me this in the 30 years I’ve been trying to stop overeating?” she lamented. I personally think what worked for her was eating protein and other real foods every 4 hours.
Christina Veselak, LMFT, CN, former Alliance President
Director, Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition
Private Practice, Denver, Colorado