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Compulsive Overeating

People with compulsive overeating regularly eat excessive amounts of food—but not because they’re hungry. Instead, they eat to feel better, to find relief. The opposite happens. They feel guilt, shame, and a loss of control, which only triggers the overeating to begin again.

If you or someone you know needs help with compulsive overeating, reach out today.

What Is Compulsive Overeating?

Compulsive overeating is more than the occasional overindulgence. It is a complex, deeply rooted pattern of disordered eating that involves consuming unusually large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry. Unlike typical overeating, which may occur in social settings or on special occasions, compulsive overeating is driven by emotional distress. Eating acts as a coping mechanism, offering temporary relief from anxiety, stress, and other difficult emotions. The overeating triggers intense guilt and shame, however, perpetuating a cycle that requires professional care to break.

Compulsive overeating is a description of an eating disorder behavior, but it is not a diagnosis in itself. Typically, individuals who engage in compulsive overeating are diagnosed with bulimia nervosa if they engage in purging, binge eating disorder if no purging behaviors are present, or OSFED with a pattern of binge eating. Other psychological illnesses, as well as physical medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, often add complexity to compulsive overeating.

What Compulsive Overeating Is NOT

Understanding compulsive overeating goes beyond understanding what it is; it also involves recognizing what it is not.

  • Compulsive overeating is NOT a matter of willpower or a sign of weakness. It is a complex disordered eating pattern with underlying emotional, psychological, environmental, and physical factors.
  • Compulsive overeating is NOT an occasional binge. It is a chronic pattern of eating unusually large amounts of food, often accompanied by feelings of loss of control or guilt.
  • Compulsive overeating is NOT limited to a specific body size or weight. It can and does affect people across a wide spectrum of body shapes and sizes.

What Are the Causes of Compulsive Overeating?

Compulsive overeating is a multifaceted issue, typically stemming from a combination of emotional, psychological, environmental, and genetic influences.

Emotional Factors:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Depression and feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Boredom, loneliness, or feelings of emptiness
  • Trauma or unresolved emotional issues

Psychological Factors:

  • Low self-esteem or poor body image
  • Difficulty managing emotions or coping with stressors
  • Perception of food as a source of comfort or reward
  • Negative thought patterns or distorted beliefs about food and eating

Environmental Factors:

  • Cultural or societal influences on eating habits and body image
  • Family or peer influence on the development of disordered eating patterns
  • Bullying or teasing about weight or appearance

Genetic Factors:

  • Family history of compulsive eating or other eating disorders
  • Certain genetic variations associated with reward pathways and the body’s response to food
  • Inherited traits related to appetite regulation

Understanding the dynamic interplay of these factors is essential when preventing and treating compulsive overeating. No single factor works in isolation, and each person’s experience is unique. By embracing this complexity, we create the pathway toward tailored intervention and support.


Signs & Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeating is characterized by various symptoms and signs, indicating a complex relationship with food. Individuals who struggle with this form of disordered eating may exhibit several behavioral, physical, and psychological warning signs.

Behavioral Warning Signs:

  • Consistently eating large amounts of food, even when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating quickly and continuing to eat even after feeling full
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or depressed after eating
  • Using food as a way to cope with emotions or stress
  • Frequent and intense cravings for certain foods
  • Consuming food alone or in secret
  • Hiding food, stocking up on food, or eating discarded food
  • Feeling out of control around food
  • Yo-yoing between restrictive dieting and compulsive overeating
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed to eat in front of others
  • Continuously thinking about food or obsessing over what to eat next
  • Engaging in overeating behaviors predominantly at night

Physical Warning Signs:

  • Rapid weight changes or unexplained weight gain
  • Digestive issues, including bloating, constipation, heartburn, or changes in bowel movements
  • Difficulties with sleep, including trouble falling asleep, restless sleep, or excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Hair loss or brittle nails

Psychological Warning Signs:

  • Obsessive thoughts about food, weight, and body
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorder

Read more about compulsive overeating on our blog.


Compulsive Overeating Treatment at The Emily Program

Embarking on the path to recovery from compulsive overeating is a journey. At The Emily Program, we are  here to support clients every step of the way. Our tailored treatment provides the support and tools necessary for healing.

Key Components of Our Treatment Approach

  • Multidisciplinary Care: Our team of therapists, dietitians, medical providers, and psychiatric providers collaborate to address the physical, emotional, and nutritional aspects of compulsive overeating. Together, we develop personalized treatment plans for each client, monitor progress, and make adjustments as needed to support their journey to recovery.
  • Specialized Focus: Unlike programs that treat all disordered behaviors the same, we offer specifically tailored to compulsive overeating. Our inclusive care takes into consideration the intersectional domains of client identities, offering safety that might not be otherwise experienced in programs focused on restriction or other disordered eating patterns.
  • Personalized Treatment Plans: Each client’s treatment plan is built around their individual needs and triggers, ensuring targeted interventions that work for them.
  • Comprehensive Approach: Our treatment goes beyond just addressing the symptoms of compulsive overeating. We recognize the complex nature of this eating pattern and treat the physical and mental health concerns that often accompany it, laying a holistic path to recovery.

For those dealing with the complexities of compulsive overeating, The Emily Program provides essential support, guiding toward a healthier and more peaceful future.

Discover more about our specialized treatment for compulsive overeating at The Emily Program.

Treatment Options

Understanding that the recovery journey from compulsive overeating is deeply personal and varies for each individual, The Emily Program offers a variety of treatment options that offer comprehensive support: 

  • Residential Treatment: Our residential eating disorder treatment offers round-the-clock care and a structured environment. With intensive support, medical monitoring, therapeutic meals, individual and group therapies, and tailored care plans, we ensure clients receive the comprehensive help they need.
  • Day Treatment: Our day treatment programs provide structured support during the day, allowing clients to return home in the evenings. With individual therapy, group therapy, and therapeutic meals, we support individuals who don’t require an overnight stay but benefit from consistent daily treatment.
  • Outpatient Treatment: Our outpatient treatment is designed for those further along in their recovery or needing a lower level of care. With flexible scheduling, clients can attend therapy sessions, nutrition counseling, and group therapies while maintaining their everyday lives.
  • Virtual Treatment: We also offer virtual treatment options that allow clients to access individual and group therapy from the comfort of their homes, providing convenience and accessibility to treatment. Our CARE IOP program is our intensive virtual program specifically tailored to the unique treatment needs of those affected by binge eating or compulsive overeating.

Each treatment option is carefully designed to provide clients struggling with compulsive overeating the comprehensive support, guidance, and care they need for lasting recovery.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin your recovery journey today.

Get help. Find hope.