What is Compulsive Overeating?
Individuals who struggle with compulsive overeating typically eat excessive amounts of food—but not because they are hungry. These individuals eat to feel better, to cope with negative emotions. However, upon eating, the opposite happens. They feel a loss of control, shame, guilt, and as if they lack willpower. From there, the cycle of overeating begins again.
What exactly is compulsive overeating?
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 if they engage in purging or binge eating disorder if no purging behaviors are present.
Compulsive overeating describes a behavior of excessive food consumption with a lack of hunger. People with compulsive overeating may sometimes eat in binges where they consume copious amounts of food in a short period of time or they may engage in grazing behavior. This grazing behavior is when individuals constantly pick at food during the day but are not hungry. Individuals who compulsively overeat may excessively dwell on thoughts about food and may even secretly fantasize about eating and create circumstances where they can eat alone.
Compulsive overeating often leads to weight gain or obesity. However, not everyone with compulsive overeating is obese. Individuals of all body weights and shapes can struggle with compulsive overeating. It is common for those who suffer from compulsive overeating to also suffer from another illness such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, or depression. If compulsive overeating is present with another condition, it often adds to the complexity of the unhealthy behavior.
Warning signs of compulsive overeating include:
- Weight gain or obesity
- Feelings of guilt or shame upon eating
- Personality disorders
- Withdrawal from social events
Treatment for Compulsive Overeating
Compulsive overeating is typically an eating disorder behavior associated with bulimia or binge eating disorder. It is important for an individual who is compulsively eating to speak with an eating disorder treatment provider. This conversation can shed light on whether the compulsive overeating is associated with bulimia, binge eating disorder, or possibly OSFED.
Individuals often turn to compulsive eating in order to assuage negative emotions, to fill a void, or to cope with daily triggers and stressors. Those that suffer often experience negative self-talk, negative self-perception, and often other mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.
In addition, recent research has noted that compulsive overeating may be affected by an individual’s brain makeup. A study conducted in Germany found that when individuals consume highly desirable foods, there is often a tendency to consume them faster, which means the brain may experience a lag in sending a satiety signal. In addition, it noted that desirable foods that do not live up to expectations may cause an individual to consume more in hopes of increasing the volume of pleasure upon consumption.
Due to the intertwined nature of psychological wellbeing, neurobiology, and compulsive overeating, it is essential to receive specialized eating disorder care that is able to address all factors that play into an individual’s compulsive overeating. Often, those who suffer from compulsive overeating benefit from:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Nutrition evaluation and counseling
- Medical care
- Integrative interventions such as yoga and art
If you or a loved one are engaging in repeated episodes of compulsive overeating, it is important to seek help. The Emily Program is a great place to start. By calling us at 1-888-364-5977 or completing an online form, we can do an eating disorder assessment and work with you to create a treatment plan that works for you. Compulsive overeating doesn’t have to control your life—recovery is possible.