Helping Clients Who Struggle with Overeating

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

In our image-obsessed culture, chances are you have clients who are struggling with overeating. Most overeaters are convinced that their problem is eating too much. They’re often surprised to learn that eating too little (or thinking they should be) is a huge contributor to the problem.


Another factor is unmet needs. When we help our clients discover the deep needs they’re attempting to meet by overeating they’ll no longer need to use food as a counterfeit attempt.


Much like ruling out why a baby is crying (hunger, diaper, hurt, tired, etc.) we can help our clients rule out the reasons they are eating when they are not hungry, or eating way past the point of full when they are: Restricting, Unmet Needs, Painful Emotions, and Unkind Thoughts.


One tip is to help clients make a distinction between three parts:

  • Inner Overeater

  • Inner Restrictor

  • Healthy Self (It’s a bit tricky in our health-crazed culture to make sure our clients notion of healthy is truly healthy—and not just another diet!)

Here are some creative ways to help clients bring all three parts into awareness:


Ask your clients to:

  • Visualize, draw, or collage their Inner Overeater, Inner Restrictor, and Healthy Self.

  • Role play all three parts.

  • Pick sand tray items to represent each part.

  • Be the voice of their Inner Overeater and you speak to them harshly (as they likely have been). Then speak to them compassionately and have them notice the difference.

  • Do a written dialogue at home, right before they’re about to overeat. (Even if they still eat afterwards, interrupting the pattern and tolerating a moment of cravings is a great start!)

Andrea Wachter is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also coauthor of The Don’t Diet, Live-It! Workbook and Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author, and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor, and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, podcasts, and HuffPost blogs, please

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