Compulsive overeating is a serious eating disorder that is distinguished by an obsessive or compulsive relationship to food. Common signs of compulsive overeating are:
* Binge eating, or not being able to control eating even when not hungry.
* Eating faster than normal.
* Eating alone due to shame, embarrassment, and fear.
* Symptoms such as depression, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia.
* History of weight fluctuations due to chronic dieting.
* Secretive eating patterns, including hiding food in strange places so that it’s convenient to eat at a later time.
* Feeling extreme guilt and torment after binging.
What is compulsive overeating?
Compulsive overeating is the act of eating large amounts of food while feeling out of control and unable to stop. Unlike bulimia, it does not involve purging to rid one’s body of food and thus inevitably results in weight gain. With that said, it should not be confused with obesity. Just because someone is overweight does not mean they are a compulsive overeater. Compulsive overeating is an eating disorder that stems from emotional issues and requires treatment to overcome. If left untreated, compulsive overeating can lead to serious medical conditions, including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, kidney disease, arthritis, stroke, and depression.
Understanding the compulsive overeater
Compulsive overeaters use food to cope with stress, depression, low self-esteem and other hidden issues. They typically learn their behavior early on as children when they turn to food for comfort and realize they can sooth themselves with food. Compulsive overeating is also common among people who suffer emotional, physical or sexual trauma.
Compulsive overeaters will demonstrate their obsession by spending excessive amounts of time thinking about food and secretly planning or fantasizing about eating alone, and will compulsively eat even when they aren’t hungry. Compulsive overeaters will go through frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating until they are uncomfortably full, or will engage in grazing behavior by eating all day. A compulsive overeater can consume as much as 5,000 to 60,000 calories a day.
A compulsive overeater cannot control their eating and will often feel overwhelmed with guilt, shame and self-loathing over their behavior. They will often eat to manage stress or will have certain triggers that cause them to overeat, including emotional and external triggers (sometimes just walking into the kitchen will trigger an episode). During the overeating episode, some individuals report feeling numb, distracted or in a trance-like state.
It’s a common misconception that overeaters are lazy or don’t care about their appearance. This is completely untrue. Compulsive overeaters are constantly worried about their weight and are obsessed with how they look. Dieting is a way of life for compulsive overeaters but they often fail. Diets may help them lose some weight for a short period of time, but if they haven’t learned how to deal with their addiction to food they will inevitably relapse back to excessive overeating. Until the root causes of the disorder are addressed, a compulsive overeater will never succeed on a diet. A serious consequence of overeating is obesity, which can lead to numerous medical complications.
Getting help for compulsive overeating
Overcoming overeating requires treatment through counseling and therapy. Treatment will involve addressing the disorder from a psychological standpoint (i.e.; resolving the emotional issues needed to develop a healthy relationship with food) and through nutritional counseling to help the individual learn how to keep a balanced diet. Therapy often includes learning coping skills to identify the emotional and external triggers that cause an overeater to binge and building self-esteem and confidence.