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Compulsive Overeating

Contact us about in-person and virtual treatment options for compulsive overeating.

People with compulsive overeating disorder 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 again.

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

What is compulsive overeating disorder?

Compulsive overeating is more than the occasional overindulgence. Compulsive eating disorder 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.

Is compulsive overeating an eating disorder?

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.
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A person stepping onto a scale
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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 of compulsive overeating:

  • 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 of compulsive overeating:

  • 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 of compulsive overeating:

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

Do you think you or someone you know might be struggling with compulsive overeating? Take our eating disorder assessment quiz.

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

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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 of Compulsive Overeating:

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

Psychological Factors of Compulsive Overeating:

  • 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 of Compulsive Overeating:

  • 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 of Compulsive Overeating:

  • 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 for individuals with compulsive overeating.


30 million

individuals in the U.S. alone will struggle with an eating disorder

1 in 3

people with an eating disorder is male

50%

of people with eating disorders need a higher level of care to recover


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.

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

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A male dietitian meets with a group of clients
Two women eating and laughing together

The first step in getting treatment for compulsive overeating is to reach out and schedule an assessment. No referral is needed. Give us a call at 1-888-364-5977 or complete an online form. We’re available seven days a week to answer your questions and help you get started on the path to recovery from compulsive overeating.

Recovery from compulsive overeating begins here.
Get started today. 

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Additional resources about compulsive overeating

Eating disorders like compulsive overeating are still widely misunderstood. That’s why we provide a variety of resources to help navigate these complex illnesses. Check out these resources for information about compulsive overeating and eating disorders in general:


Frequently asked questions about compulsive overeating

What is the first step for getting compulsive overeating help?

Ready to break free from compulsive overeating? We can help. At The Emily Program, we understand the fear of taking that first step, but compulsive overeating can be a symptom of a larger issue. Compulsive overeating is a disordered eating pattern most commonly associated with eating disorders including bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out. With over 30 years of treating these complex illnesses, The Emily Program is here to help you navigate your healing journey. Visit our Get Help webpage to get in contact with us — no referral is needed. 

How long will I be in treatment for compulsive overeating?

Everyone’s recovery is different. Therefore, the answer to this question varies per person. At The Emily Program, we individualize each client’s treatment plan according to their unique needs and circumstances. Our expert clinicians collaborate with you to determine which level of treatment is right for you—residential, partial hospitalization/intensive day (PHP/IDP), intensive outpatient (IOP), or outpatient— and we’ll go from there. We’ll be by your side throughout your journey, ensuring you are never alone.

What is The Emily Program’s approach to compulsive overeating treatment?

At The Emily Program, we provide treatment for all types of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors, including compulsive overeating, for people of all ages and genders. We understand that you have your own unique experiences and circumstances, and therefore require a personalized, empathetic approach to care. 

Beyond primary diagnoses like bulimia and anorexia, The Emily Program addresses a wide range of disordered eating behaviors, including compulsive overeating. Our experienced multidisciplinary team – psychologists, medical providers, dietitians, and psychiatrists – works together to treat all facets of these illnesses. This holistic approach recognizes that eating disorders are complex and require comprehensive care for true healing.

Treatment for compulsive overeating focuses on establishing balanced and regular eating patterns, addressing the physical consequences of compulsive overeating, promoting mindful eating practices, increasing awareness of hunger and fullness cues, building self-compassion and a positive body image, and more. At The Emily Program, we also treat any co-occurring conditions you may be experiencing alongside your disordered behaviors. We do this because we know how difficult it is to build a successful recovery if all aspects of your mental health are not addressed. 

Here at The Emily Program, our mission is to help as many people as possible to reach full recovery. Personalizing treatment to your unique needs and challenges, offering a full continuum of care, and emphasizing multidisciplinary treatment are just some of the ways we are making this mission a reality. 

How should I talk to my child about my concerns?

Discovering that your child may be struggling with compulsive overeating can evoke a range of emotions—concern, confusion, and perhaps even a sense of helplessness. You want to address the issue with care and understanding, but you may feel unsure about how to broach the topic without causing distress or exacerbating the situation. Rest assured, you’re not alone in this journey, and there are steps you can take to approach this conversation with compassion and support.

Before initiating the conversation with your child, take time to prepare yourself emotionally and mentally. Reflect on your concerns and educate yourself about compulsive overeating. While you’re not expected to become an expert on the topic, understanding the basics can help dispel internalized biases or myths associated with compulsive overeating. For example, compulsive overeating is often confused with occasional overeating. However, unlike occasional overeating—which is considered part of a normal and healthy relationship with food—compulsive overeating is accompanied by significant emotional distress.

Our What Is Compulsive Overeating? and What Does Compulsive Overeating Feel Like? blogs are great places to start learning.

Remember, compulsive overeating is not simply about indulgence or poor willpower—it’s a complex behavior influenced by various factors, including genetics, environment, and psychological triggers. 

Keep these key points in mind before talking to your child about their compulsive overeating:

  1. Approach with Empathy: Recognize that your child may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their eating habits. Approach the conversation with empathy and without judgment, creating a safe space for them to open up about their struggles.
  2. Choose the Right Time and Place: Find a quiet, private setting where you and your child can have an uninterrupted conversation. Avoid discussing the topic during meal times or when either of you is feeling stressed or rushed.
  3. Express Concern, Not Criticism: Frame your concerns in a caring and supportive manner, focusing on your child’s well-being rather than blaming or criticizing their behavior. Criticism may cause your child to shut down and become even more secretive about their behaviors. Lead with compassion, letting them know you’re there to help and support them through this challenge.
  4. Use “I” Statements: Expressing yourself in ways like “I feel there have been changes in the way you eat, and it worries me” instead of “You’re eating too much” keeps the conversation open and non-confrontational, allowing you to convey your observations and feelings without unintentionally placing judgment on your child.
  5. Keep the Focus Off Weight: While you may observe changes in your child’s weight, be mindful of how comments about their weight may exacerbate disordered eating tendencies. Compulsive overeating stems from complex psychological factors, such as emotional distress. By de-centering weight from the conversation, you create a safer space to address underlying emotional needs and foster support beyond weight-related concerns.
  6. Listen Actively: Allow your child to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Listen actively and validate their experiences, showing them that their feelings are heard and respected.

Now, let’s explore some conversation starters that you can use to initiate the discussion with your child about their compulsive overeating symptoms:

  • “I’ve noticed that you often eat alone in your room instead of joining us for meals. Can we talk about that?”
  • “I’ve noticed there have been changes in the way you eat, and I want to make sure you’re feeling okay. What’s been on your mind?”
  • “It seems like you’re feeling guilty about eating lately, and that’s something that concerns me. Can we chat about what’s going on?”
  • “I’ve noticed a lot of food wrappers in your room. I care about you so much, and I’m here to support you. What have the last few months been like for you?”

Remember, your child’s reaction to this conversation may vary. They may feel defensive, ashamed, or relieved to finally discuss their struggles openly. Be prepared for a range of emotions and responses, and reassure your child that you’re there to support them unconditionally.

During the conversation, it’s crucial to avoid perpetuating stereotypes or stigmatizing language about compulsive overeating. Emphasize that you’re taking this disordered eating seriously. Your child’s symptoms are part of a legitimate medical condition that requires understanding and professional support. You may choose to share some of the life-limiting symptoms you’re witnessing—that they appear to have less energy, focus, joy, or desire to spend time with their friends.

Finally, reassure your child that seeking help is a positive step toward recovery and that you’ll be there to support them every step of the way. Keep the conversation open, encouraging them to express their thoughts and feelings through additional discussions over text, email, or in person after they have had time to think.

Talking to your child about their compulsive overeating concerns may feel daunting, but with patience, empathy, and open communication, you can provide them with the support they need to overcome this challenge. Remember to approach the conversation with care, listen actively, and validate their experiences. Together, you can navigate this journey toward healing and recovery.

I am concerned my child will not participate in the intake appointment, but I know they need help, how will you handle this?

We understand your concern about your child’s participation in the intake appointment, especially when their compulsive overeating struggles might intensify feelings of shame and distress. At The Emily Program, our compassionate intake therapists prioritize creating a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment tailored to address the complexities of compulsive overeating.

We also recognize the unique challenges faced by families dealing with compulsive overeating and assure you that our team is equipped to support your child’s journey to healing. With kindness, respect, and a deep understanding of your child’s condition, we’ll work with them to engage them in the process. Your input matters, and we’re committed to collaborating with you as you navigate this difficult time. You can trust The Emily Program to guide your family toward recovery.

Are there recommended support groups, websites, or books to help me make sense of what I’m experiencing?

Experiencing disordered eating patterns like compulsive overeating is often frightening, isolating, and overwhelming. Fortunately, there are people and organizations out there who understand what you’re going through. 

When starting treatment at The Emily Program, we provide you with educational materials on disordered eating and eating disorders. This knowledge and support will empower you on your recovery journey.

In addition, we share knowledge, support, and the latest updates about The Emily Program on our blog and our podcast Peace Meal

Websites:

National Alliance for Eating Disorders – A national non-profit organization providing referrals, education, and support for all eating disorders. The Alliance hosts free virtual therapist-led support groups (e.g., pro-recovery, larger bodied individuals, and LGBTQ+ groups)and has a national, interactive database for finding eating disorder care. www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com

The National Alliance for Eating Disorders also has a free therapist-led virtual support group for Friends & Family. You can join and participate as much or as little as you need — listening is OK too. www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com/eating-disorder-support-groups-and-programs

F.E.A.S.T. – Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment for Eating Disorders – A global community offering support, education, and empowerment to families of people affected by eating disorders www.feast-ed.org

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) – This is a non-profit organization devoted to preventing eating disorders, providing treatment referrals, and increasing education and understanding of eating disorders, weight, and body image. www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) – Anational non-profit organization that provides free peer support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder. anad.org

Project HEAL – A national non-profit organization focused on equitable treatment access for those with eating disorders needing treatment www.theprojectheal.org

Books:

When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating
By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD

Overcoming Binge Eating: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop – 2nd Edition
By Dr. Christopher G. Fairburn

Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder – 2nd Edition
By James Lock, MD, PhD, Daniel Le Grange, PhD

How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder: A Simple, Plate-by-Plate Approach to Rebuilding a Healthy Relationship with Food
By Casey Crosbie, RD, CEDRD, CSSD, Wendy Sterling, MS, RD, CSSD, CEDRD-S

Autism and Eating Disorders in Teens
By Fiona Fisher Bullivant, Sharleen Woods, MSc, PgDip, RD

Skills-based Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: The New Maudsley Method – 2nd Edition
By Janet Treasure, OBE, PhD, FRCP, FRCPsych, Grainne Smith, Anna Crane, PhD

Survive FBT (Family Based Treatment): Skills Manual for Parents Undertaking Family Based Treatment (FBT) for Child and Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa
By Maria Ganci

Off the C.U.F.F.: A Parent Skills Book for the Management of Disordered Eating
By Dr. Nancy L. Zucker, PhD

Throwing Starfish Across the Sea: A Pocket-Sized Care Package for the Parents of Someone with an Eating Disorder
By Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, MS, Charlotte Bevan

Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia
By Harriet Brown

Telling ED No!: And Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom
By Cheryl Kerrigan, PNP, Thom Rutledge, LCSW

Life Without ED – 10th Edition: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too
By Jenni Schaefer

Goodbye ED, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life
By Jenni Schaefer


Find more recommendations on our Eating Disorder Books and Resources for Families pages.


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