Compulsive Eating & Weight Gain

October 21, 2018

Do you find yourself overeating and are frustrated with feeling like you lack self control? Did you know that a high processed carb, low-fat diet often leads to compulsive eating? Listen in to today’s Dishing Up Nutrition as we tackle compulsive eating and some of the common causes. We will talk about how changing some of your lifestyle and eating habits could help put a stop to compulsive eating and weight gain.

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DAR: Good morning. Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Darlene Kvist. I'm a certified nutrition specialist and I am the founder of Nutritional Weight & Wellness. You know, 25 years ago, I started Nutritional Weight & Wellness with one small office located over a pizza place and only one very part-time helper and myself. Over the years, Nutritional Weight & Wellness has grown to seven different locations. It wasn't all planned. It just happened. So you know now if we think about what we're doing at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have our radio show Dishing Up Nutrition. It's 14 years we've been doing this now and we have an online presence. We have podcasts of Dishing Up Nutrition. We're on social media. There's some of these things that I didn't even know what it means. Of course, you know, we have numerous corporate accounts where we provide nutrition education at lunch and learns and I know, Joann, you teach a lot of those. You know, our staff includes 12 dietitians or nutritionists and over 20 nutrition educators teaching a variety of classes and one of those dietitians is Joann Ridout who is joining us today is our cohost and we're talking about compulsive eating and weight gain. Joann, what do you think about opening up the phone lines today to take calls from listeners who are really frustrated with their lack of self control? You know, they end up compulsively overeating and of course, you know, they gain weight because they're eating things that go right into the fat cells. So you know, I think if you're brave enough this morning and we get anyone to call in and say, “Why am I doing this? What's going on?” We’ll try to explain it to people.

JOANN:  That'd be great. And first of all, I'd like to say good morning, Dar, it's great to be here with you today. We were trying to remember how many years it’s been since we were together, it’s been a few. Talking to the listeners this morning sounds like a great idea. We are only taking callers who have specific questions about compulsive eating or examples or questions. Our number in the studio is 651-641-1071. And first, however, I want to share a recent study reported in Drug and Therapy Perspectives. This study found that 30 percent of women who sought treatment to lose weight have a binge eating disorder.

DAR:  So it's kind of interesting when you say that 30 percent of women, the way you said that, it makes me think if you've been on a diet, 30 percent of those people turn into compulsive overeaters. I mean, that's my interpretation.  

JOANN: Or have a compulsive eating problems. But another interesting statistic is that 72 percent of women who are alcoholics also have a binge eating disorder.

DAR: Interesting. Isn't it?

JOANN: So, those numbers are very interesting.

DAR: 72 percent, that's very high. So before we talk more about research and take calls, I want to share a little more about how Nutritional Weight & Wellness came to be. You know, back a few years ago, quite a few years ago, my first degree was in psychology and my second degree was in education. So I actually taught school for 20 years and then what happened is I got this passion for nutrition and it directed me onto the path of understanding the power of food, of real food. So understanding it from the point of view of how it affects our bodies and how it affects our brains. And you know, at that point in my life I was about 55 years old and I was starting this new adventure with very little financial support. But I knew, I just knew intuitively that that low-fat, high-carb plans that were being recommended in medical offices in schools, in hospitals, and diet clinics was basically wrong for most people. You know, and this was wrong.

JOANN: When I was training for this company, I remember some of the initial reading that I went through, I think it was Gary Taubes, had said that even in the 1800’s, they knew that very high-carb diets were wrong. So why did we go back to it?

DAR: We certainly went back to it. People still have a hard time believing that that isn't the truth.

JOANN: And so Dar, I know you enjoy reading research. You really like to think about what makes sense. That's what we're talking about.

DAR: That's what I like. What makes sense for people?

JOANN: So back 25 years ago, while you were starting this company, I was working as a dietitian at Courage Center and I remember we had clients who needed good nutrition to support the healing of both their bodies after an injury and also their brains after brain injury. Sadly, the popular processed carbs and low-fat diet was not very healing for those clients, but unfortunately that was clinically recommended at the time.

DAR: And so you had to do that.

JOANN: And our regulations really monitored that.

DAR: So just kind of think about this for minute. Research indicated that that high-sugar, processed-carb, low-fat type of diet is one that leads to inflammation, one that leads to diabetes, weight gain and compulsive eating.

JOANN: Definitely. And so I think we need to repeat that. A high processed-carb and low-fat diet often leads to compulsive eating. And that makes so much sense because we know when we eat carbs we want more. So I was a master at following a low-fat eating plan, but I also remember being hungry all the time, especially in the evening. And so many of our clients have that evening snack issue. So I remember once I did start snacking, it was difficult to stop. So now, at times, my blood sugar is off balance. I may grab too many nuts in the evening when I'm not thinking, but at least I'm making a better choice, a lot better choice than the sugar I used to grab I used to grab handfuls of cereal. But of course, that was just sugar.

DAR:  Which was actually of course probably almost worse than the sugar. Which is hard for people to understand. If they don't realize that you're getting kind of attacked by two things.

JOANN: Right. And I remember taking great pains to read all the labels and try to find the best cereal, which is just a joke.

DAR: We had an interesting conversation before we went on air about some of this and how it affects us personally. You know, blood sugar affects most people. So it affects us, too. So, you know, as nutritionists, when working with a client, I try to figure out why my client is struggling with compulsive, binge type of behavior and my first step is always and my first question is always about sleep. I say, so how's your sleep? How many hours do you sleep each night? Because you know, extensive research has been conducted about sleep and weight gain. The bottom line is if you're short on sleep, you'll gain weight. So what does that mean, short on sleep? Well, you know, what comes to my mind is four or five hours of sleep, which we see a lot of clients like that, don't we? So it isn't that people are eating more because they're awake more. It is what is happening to your hormones when you don't sleep.

JOANN: Yeah, that's right. We actually have two hormones controlling our appetite that are affected by our sleep. Leptin is the hormone that tells us we are full. When we lack sleep, the concentration of Leptin is decreased, so less Leptin equals more hunger. So you are never really feeling satisfied and you always feel the need to eat more.

DAR: So Joann, I know you're going to say we'd need to take a break, but let me finish my sentence there. Just think about that. Listeners, when you don't sleep enough, you don't make enough Leptin and then you're hungry and, but it's a different kind of hunger. You're just not feeling satisfied.

JOANN:  So now it's time for our first break. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition and today we're discussing causes of compulsive eating. We found a very interesting article to share with you about self control. It was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and is titled “Self-Control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Will Power is More than a Metaphor.” This article takes a look at self control and its findings show that the brain relies on sufficient glucose as its energy source. To give us self control, we always talk about balanced blood sugar. So be sure to stay tuned because after this break we're going to share a technique you can use to have more self control. And we'll be right back.

DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Before break, Joann was sharing an article about self control. The authors of the article described self control as the ability to control one's thoughts, emotions, urges, and behavior which made me think, much of that self-control behavior today is focused on eating behavior, especially out of control eating behavior such as compulsive eating, binge eating, can't stop with one behavior. After reviewing nine different research studies, the author found that self control relies on your brain having a specific energy source.

JOANN: That's right, and I think of it this way. So for our cars to work properly, they need a specific, particular energy source. So for most cars today, that energy source is gasoline. You put gasoline in your tank, you turn the key, the engine turns on, and then you drive off.

DAR: So going back to that article, according to the article, self control also relies on a particular energy source and that energy source that our brain needs to function is the correct amount of glucose. You know, as I said, this article looked at nine different research studies. From these nine studies, the data indicates the lack of self control is often caused by low glucose or low blood sugar. So, let's talk more about that, Joann.

JOANN: And as a dietitian, I certainly understand low blood sugar and the out of control eating that can occur when I haven't taken the time to eat.

DAR:  It happens to all of us. You know, to have self control, we need a steady supply of glucose to our brain. So low blood sugar or low brain glucose, leads to lack of self control and compulsive eating. So then the question becomes “What can you do to make sure you have adequate levels of glucose?” We don't want too much, and we don't want too little, right? We need a steady supply of glucose.

JOANN: So to end that compulsive eating, our first recommendation is to eat in balance every three hours.

DAR: Easy to say, but it's hard to do. So if your goal is to have self control, than follow our suggestion and eat real food every three hours. So you have to think, “okay, how am I going to do this?” And so that's what we need to think about.

JOANN: Exactly. So we were talking about how much Leptin is produced, when we sleep. And you were going to talk a little bit more about sleep, weren’t you Dar.

DAR: You know, because again, when we lack sleep, that concentration of Leptin is decreased and less Leptin equals more hunger and you never really feel satisfied. So when we think about eating every three hours, probably our next recommendation is to sleep seven and a half or eight hours.

JOANN: Isn't that amazing? And how many people do that?

DAR: You're right, exactly. Not very many. So again, you know, some of us may be thinking, so how much sleep do I need to make sufficient amount of that Leptin hormone? And again, you know, seven and a half to eight hours of good sleep most nights. But what happens if you only get five hours a night. Let’s think about who that might be. It might be a night shift nurse. And we hear this story all the time. Night shift nurse and a parent of two young children. And you come home, you get the kids off to school, you go to bed at 9:30 in the morning. And you sleep till 2:30 Because you know, you want to get up because the kids are coming off the bus. So 9:30 to 2:30 is five hours of sleep, you know, when you write that 9:30 to 2:30, it feels like that's a lot of sleep. But if you do the numbers right, it's five hours. So most people sleeping only five hours per night, they want to eat sugar nonstop because their Leptin level is low. That hormone level is low. It's what we call, it's a hormonal biochemical response for the lack of sleep. It's the hormone that says stop eating, and it just isn't doing its job. Because there isn't enough of it.

JOANN: And there never will be when you continue that schedule. So we have also another hormone affected by the amount of sleep we get and that hormone is called Ghrelin. So the lack of sleep increases the level of the hormone Ghrelin, which tells your brain that you're hungry and not satisfied. So again, when your Leptin is low and your Ghrelin is high, it makes perfect sense that you are totally out of control with your eating.

DAR: Exactly, yes. How many people realize that our sleep makes two important hormones while we sleep? So you know, research on sleep from the University of Chicago and you know, the University of Chicago has done tons of research, confirms our findings that with a lack of sleep, your appetite increases and you're not satisfied. You want to eat more and more and more. You just can't get satisfied even though logically you look at how much you've eaten and say, I should be feeling satisfied, but I'm not. I want more.

JOANN: Yes. You might be asking “How did I get into having too much Ghrelin and not enough Leptin?” So remember, both of these are hormones and when they get out of balance, that happens because you're not sleeping enough. So we need at least seven and a half hours. Ideally we need eight to nine hours of sleep most nights to have balanced appetite hormones.

DAR: Exactly. And I think that's the other thing, if you're going from five hours and you know that you need maybe nine hours, you're going to have to probably do it in steps until your body gets used to sleeping that much. But it does make a difference. And it's like that nine hours gives people that healing time for their body. So if you're not sleeping enough, what can you do about it? You know, maybe you're a person, and we know people like this, they have poor sleep habits. I call it they're busy doing nothing for two or three hours before bedtime. They're procrastinating about going to bed. So then you stop back and say, “What do I need to do to change that behavior?”

JOANN:  And a lot of times I'm working with clients, you know, when they're describing this behavior and a lot of moms say it's the only quiet time I have. So they just sit there just because you know, or try to get things done, but not very successfully. But if that is you and you struggle with compulsive eating, let me suggest meeting weekly with one of our dietitians or nutritionists until you have formed a new bedtime habit.

DAR:  You know, Joann, you and I both have worked with a lot of people that have poor sleep hygiene is what they call it. People who sleep becomes the last thing that they are concerned about. And they need guidance and a consistency and a commitment to make those changes.

JOANN: Exactly. This sounds really simple, but the reality is you need to be in bed at least eight hours to get eight hours of sleep. That's a no brainer. Right? And so as dietitians and nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we help people form new sleep habits and reduce that compulsive eating.

DAR: Right, exactly. So lack of sleep puts a blanket kind of over your control button, you know, it gets muffled out. So researchers at the University of Chicago Sleep Center discovered that after just two to three nights of being short on sleep, hunger pangs rise, and there's an increase in your appetite. So just think about that, a couple of nights and you start losing control over your eating. That shocking, isn't it?

JOANN: It is, definitely. So, it's time for break and you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. I'd like to remind you of our Menopause Survival seminar coming up Saturday, November 10. That's coming up quick. If you're struggling with menopause symptoms and want solutions, come and spend a day with us. Join Dar and Chris and myself for a day of finding the solutions to your menopause symptoms. So you can call 651-699-3438 or register online at

DAR: And we dig into a lot of different symptoms during that.

JOANN: We do. A lot of times people say, “Oh, I'm through menopause.” But I always say, no, this is really about women's health.

DAR:  And so sometimes we have people that are like in their thirties all the way up to 95 come to that class.

JOANN: Anyone in perimenopause is also a good one.

DAR: Well welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. You know, next week we have a highly anticipated show for many of you. We hear this request so many times, nutrition for hair growth and how to prevent hair loss. Hair is an important one for people. You know, last week I read a study that found that we need to eat at least 12 ounces of protein daily to maintain hair growth. We need protein. So, this is, we know is a very popular topic. So hey, tell your friends to tune in with you. So if you want to know more about this, just check us at

JOANN:  That's a great topic and  when you said that, it always reminds me of when out nutritionist share stories about how much better their hair is after they follow our eating plan. So there's another motivator. So here's some other facts, back to sleep, about the lack of sleep. So researchers have found that a lack of sleep affects the functioning of your prefrontal cortex. That is the part of your brain that helps you make thoughtful decisions. So that lack of sleep correlates with a lack of good decisions.

DAR: Isn’t that interesting. So actually lack of sleep equals lack of self control. Compulsive eating is typically not emotional or not caused from some bad childhood memories. Rather it is often caused from a lack of sleep. It's hard for people to wrap their head around because they haven't heard that for years and years.

JOANN: No. And in our society we have minimized our need for sleep. For so many years that people have a hard time adjusting to the idea of eight hours. They really are shocked when they hear that, maybe not shocked, but thinking, how am I going to do it.

DAR: Exactly. They just sort of discounted it as being that important

JOANN: Right. So we have said lack of sleep can cause hunger and that always looking for food behavior. So now we're going to shift our focus from sleep to looking at medication. There are a couple of common medications that also lead to overeating and to weight gain. Actually more than a couple. But we're only going to talk about a couple of them. Gabba Penton, so you may have heard of this, Gabba Penton is a drug commonly used to treat nerve pain. It's associated with weight gain. Generally people will put on at least five pounds or so.

DAR: And I find that it puts on a lot more than 5 pounds, that’s what research has found.

JOANN:  And we and we see otherwise, right? So often people who have fibromyalgia or neuropathy take Gabba Penton to control nerve pain.

DAR: And I think it does do that very well, but I want to share a success story of one of my clients who has fibromyalgia. She was able to reduce the dose of Gabba Penton she was taking when she started eating the Weight & Wellness Way with real food. After reducing her dose of Gabba Penton, she actually lost 30 pounds without even trying because she's no longer bingeing on those cookies in the middle of the afternoon. And honestly, her hunger level has returned to being normal and she's picking real food over sugar. So she's taking the stress off of her nerves. I think for anyone with Fibromyalgia, it is so critical to eat real food, get rid of the sugars and the flours and all that. That causes irritations to those nerves.

JOANN:  Right. And often I find with people on a medication like Gabba Penton, they may be sleeping okay but still having that out of control eating because of the medication.

DAR: Yes. And I think the sleep is different than just real sleep. It's a medicated sleep.

JOANN:  We know that it’s not as deep of a sleep.

DAR: No. It's a sedated and sleep, but not a real sleep.

JOANN: Right. So that was a great success story for your client. There's also a lot of research that indicates many antidepressants increase hunger, many, many of them, so that leads to weight gain and some of our clients who take antidepressants complain they're hungry all the time. And for some of them, once they start eating, they just can't stop.

DAR: I actually, JoAnn, just another client story, I actually had a client a few years ago that was put on an antidepressant and she would actually get up in the middle of the night, drive to the convenience store to get her load of junk food because she was having such incredible cravings in the middle of the night. As soon as they changed her medication, that all went away. She didn't have to get up and make the sugar run.

JOANN: Oh, thank goodness. That's exhausting to hear about it.

DAR:  So you know, there are several reasons that people fall into compulsive eating, but let me share some good news first about compulsive eating. You know, many of our clients follow our Weight & Wellness Way of eating and their compulsive eating goes away. So if compulsive eating is from an emotional problem, which we hear all the time, why would compulsive eating go away when the person changed his or her diet? Could it be when people stop eating the high carb, high processed food diet and followed the Weight & Wellness Way of eating, such as with protein, vegetables and healthy fat every three hours, compulsivity goes into remission. And I think that's the goal.

JOANN:  I hear that from clients all the time.

DAR: Exactly. They can't believe it. So when you eat our Weight & Wellness balanced eating plan, your brain has the ability to make logical decisions and your emotions and stress don't spin you into compulsivity because you know we all have stress in our life. But if we're eating so that we've got that controlled, good. You want to do a caller?

JOANN: We have a caller.

DAR: Okay, sounds great.

JOANN: Okay. Barb, are you there?

CALLER: Yes, I am.

DAR: Hi Barb. Good morning to you.

CALLER: Good morning. It's funny you just hit a little bit on the subject that I'm calling for. My daughter is 23 and has been suffering from night eating syndrome for I think at least five years. It got to the point where she actually went to a facility to try to get help with it and that didn't really help the problem. We're still experiencing the problem today. She eats well. She eats the nutrition for wellness way for the most part. She eats much healthier than I do and tries to eat organic and clean. She doesn't eat sugar, she doesn't eat processed foods. Her oils are very, she's very particular. She'll eat avocados and the healthy way. The problem just does not seem to go away. She is on Gabba Penton, but this problem started way before Gabba Penton. She takes it for degenerative disc disease. So it's been a very, very stressful existence for her because she is trying to eat really clean and well. And at night after she goes to bed, she wakes up and she describes it as being half asleep and half awake, so she knows that she's eating, but she's not awake enough to tell herself you're not hungry, go back to bed. So what we've resorted to before she moved out was we put an alarm on her door. And she said, “Mom, I need you to help me with this” because she's really stressed out because she was gaining weight. We dealt with that. But no matter how many times I would meet her in the kitchen, after the alarm went off in our room, she would go back to bed. But the problem hasn't stopped. She thinks it might be just a bad habit. Well, she recently moved out in the last couple of months and she was pretty good at the start, but now she's telling me that the night eating is full on. Only this time she's eating junk because she’s eating her boyfriend's junk food. Because when she gets up she eats high carb stuff. Stuff she would never eat.

DAR: Barb, I know we're getting a signal from the producer that we have to take a break, but I think you can even stay online or we can kind of talk about that when we come back as some possibilities. And as you were talking, I have some possibilities in my brain and I know JoAnn does too. So let's go ahead and we'll take our break. Joanne, go ahead.

JOANN: Yes. And you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. Now through November 15, we're offering five different 90 minute classes for only $10 each. These classes are very popular. We’re offering Five Steps to Boost Metabolism and also Nutrition for Better Digestion and many more. Check out our class offerings on our website at and we'll be right back.

DAR: Well, welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. You know at Nutritional Weight & Wellness we say, the more you know, the better you can do. So that's why we're doing these 90 minute classes for $10 each. That's because we want people to know so that they can do better. So we encourage you to take this opportunity to know more about interesting ways nutrition can support your energy, your mood, your memory, your well-being, your digestion, how you're going to get through the holidays with all the junk food that's out there. So if you've taken our classes before, you know, we really thank you for doing that. If you want a refresher, sign up for a couple of the classes. If you're new to Nutritional Weight & Wellness, people tell me all the time how much they appreciate these classes and what great teachers we have. I hear that all the time. We have great teachers. So call 651-699-3438 or even go online at to sign up. And I know the classes are filling up fast. So do it now rather than waiting. So we're going to answer this lady's question, Barb’s question about night eating and you have some ideas. I know,

JOANN: Right. Barb asked the question about her daughter and problems she's having with night eating. And the first thought I had was, you know, kind of what we're talking about is balancing your blood sugar because even though you're eating really clean, if the timing isn't right or the balance isn't right for your body. And so getting the right amount of protein, the vegetables, the healthy fat altogether and balance in the right portion and about every three hours. And I have noticed myself that even though I eat really clean, that if my span of time and miss my break in the afternoon or the dinner is too early or too late, depending on my schedule, my blood sugar balance can get off and that would lead to losing control with eating. And then I feel like I'm ready to snack in the evening even though I may not really need a snack. So I think there's something to that length of time and the balance with the protein and the vegetables, the healthy fats, that's what we teach. But the other thing, the other idea I was thinking about is if she could enlist her boyfriend's support and having those snacks out of reach or out of her area. The bad snacks, the junk food that she doesn't want to be eating, if those could be in a different place. I've asked my husband to keep them in his car or his truck. Because sometimes if I'm having a bad day, I don't want that in my reach.

DAR:  So just so listeners kind of understand, a lot of times, and I know JoAnn and I have talked about this before, is that when we're working with clients for some reason our clients become first. We don't take care of our own snack in our own healthy eating as well as we need to. And the other thing that I've noticed is that some of us have very, very sensitive blood sugar problems. JoAnn, you've talked about yours in the past, actually having it since birth. Having this blood sugar control problem. And I think, I mean I know, that's true for me too, and to really understand how sensitive people's blood sugars are, you know, for instance, I would really encourage this young woman to come in and see you because you know exactly how she's feeling. And she might need a lot more fat to stabilize that blood sugar.

JOANN:  And even though she's eating the right foods, they might not be in the right proportion, in the right place during the day.

DAR:  And you know, one of the other things that we say on her Weight & Wellness plan is at lunchtime you eat two servings of fat and. But some people need three, four to balance that blood sugar. We also say we need to have a concentrated carb, which means something like carrots are sweet potatoes, you just can't do spinach and broccoli because that might not be enough glucose to keep your blood sugar balanced. It's technical. And when you see someone that person, that professional needs to be really listening and detailed to get this. But it's possible. You don't have to be struggling every day with this.That's off my soapbox.

JOANN: That is so true. So I've also, back to our topic, I've noticed about 80 percent of our clients who are compulsive eaters have blood sugar issues. Just like what we're talking about. So perhaps they're diabetic or prediabetic or just insulin resistant.

DAR: Or they actually were born with a very sensitive blood sugar. So you have to say what causes most of the blood sugar problems? Why are so many people developing diabetes or prediabetes? You know, I think we know that the rate of diabetes in the past 20 years has increased considerably. You know, back in the 1930's and even into the forties, people ate meat or fish, vegetables and real fat butter, lard, bacon fat and fewer people had type two diabetes.

JOANN:  That's right. And very few people were overweight then either.

DAR:  I know and they were eating, you know, butter, lard.

JOANN: They were eating the way we teach, including lard, organic.

DAR: You know, I think, JoAnn, that people are shocked when we say now you can cook your eggs in the bacon fat that you've cooked your bacon in and it's okay.

JOANN: So maybe food are to blame for your compulsive eating. Those food companies have known for years that people will eat more of their products if they add large quantities of sugar, salt and other additives like MSG. Food chemists understand that eating refined man-made food causes cravings to intensify. And as a result, people have less control. They just can't stop at one. So therefore, they start eating compulsively.

DAR:  You know, one thing we know for sure is when people follow the Weight & Wellness Way of eating, they have fewer cravings. We hear it over and over in our classes and with individual people.

JOANN:  And even people with history of compulsive eating for years and all of a sudden are able stop. It's like a miracle.

DAR: So it's kind of magical actually for people. So, you know, as we kind of think about what we've talked about today is first of all, we've got a couple of hormones, don’t we? You want to kind of recap on hormones a little bit?

JOANN: We need the Leptin and we need the Grelin. And so we need those in balance as well. And we need to sleep eight hours or seven and a half minimally in order for those to work.

DAR: And that's how we develop those two major hormones and one cuts off our desire to eat and one increases our desire to eat. So we want to sleep.

JOANN: Our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple yet powerful message, eating real food is life changing. Thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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