A few years ago, a good friend of mine was secretly dealing with compulsive overeating. She would eat until she would pass out. She sought out help from Overeaters Anonymous and I learned a lot about compulsive overeating from her struggle. Her medical professional told her that high blood pressure, diabetes and digestive issues were directly related to her overeating (she was binging on a lot of sugary and salty foods and eating very little fiber). If you see yourself in the information presented in this article, please seek help.
Compulsive overeating is a disorder that is characterized by compulsive consumption of food. People who are compulsive overeaters do more than just eat when they are not hungry. They also feel compelled to eat extremely large amounts of food. New research has begun to show that a component of compulsive overeating may include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as addiction.
The major signs of a compulsive overeater is that they will consume anywhere between 5,000 to 15,000 calories in one meal. The recommended calorie intake for an adult who is sedentary is set between 1400 and 1600 calories per day. Compulsive overeaters also will engage in behavior that is termed “grazing.” With grazing, the person eats all day long, but never in controlled amounts. Compulsive overeaters also show signs of anxiety, depression and guilt in regards to their eating behaviors. They are frequently, but not always, overweight. Many who suffer with this compulsion also have a history of trying a variety of diets but not experiencing success with any one healthy eating style. The compulsion to eat is as strong as a withdrawal craving for an addictive drug and without proper treatment; it is difficult for the person to recover on their own. Compulsive overeating cannot be resolved through a simple exercise and diet program; behavioral modification therapy is recommended.
Many of these symptoms are associated with other eating disorders, specifically bulimia. Unlike other disorders, compulsive overeaters do not also have compensating behaviors, such as vomiting or use of laxatives.
- Feeling out of control – the person feels as if they are powerless to stop eating or to resist a craving.
- Consuming food rapidly – food is consumed quickly and often without fully removing it from packaging.
- Eating alone, or out of view – feelings of shame or guilt often drive the person to eat in hiding, or to rarely share meals with others.
- Guilt feelings associated with eating – after binging, the person may experience a depressive episode based in the guilt from overeating and/or weight gain
- Obsession with weight, preoccupation with weight gain – constant checking of weight, references to being thinner or comments about other weights to the extent that it is a focus of their conversation
- Mood swings and/or depression, depressive episodes – there is debate whether the mood swings associated with compulsive overeating stem from neuro-chemical withdrawal effects similar to drug addiction withdrawal, sudden changes in blood sugar levels, or are associated with guilt and shame over the behavior.
- Increased and fast weight gain – the person goes through rapid weight gain cycles. These may be followed by obsessive periods of exercise and dieting that never last long.
- Decrease in activity or ability to move due to weight gain – difficulty in walking or engaging in physical activity due to stress on joints or difficulty moving from extra weight carried.
- Social withdrawal due to weight gain, binging or “feeling fat” – The person is prone to canceling normal activities and/or calling out from work during binging periods.
- History of multiple, failed diet attempts – Multiple experiences with dieting that have never proven successful, or had limited success but were abandoned.
How compulsive overeating can damage the body
Much of the damage that can result from compulsive overeating is a result of the additional weight gain it can cause. Obesity, and morbid obesity significantly increase your risk of –
- High cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep disorders, such as apnea
- Clinical depression
- Digestive disorders
Compulsive overeating can also create a cycle of anxiety and depression related to the amount of money spent on food and related diet and fitness program attempts; as well as low self-esteem. The rapid eating style and rapid weight gain pattern associated with compulsive overeating causes significant stress on all the systems of the body as well.
What you should do
If you suspect that you suffer from compulsive overeating, or suspect that someone you love has this problem – it is important that you pursue help from a medical doctor and a qualified counselor. The most successful treatments for compulsive overeating involve the dual approach of modeling diet changes while helping the person overcome behavioral patterns through modification therapy. Since most compulsive overeaters are also suffering from obesity, the additional supervision of a medical doctor is advised to help return them to health. It is also important that you find, and get involved with, a peer support group during the recovery process.
“Food Addiction – Signs, Symptoms & Treatment” Addictions.com. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
Weiner, Sydell (1998). “The addiction of overeating: Self-help groups as treatment models”. Journal of Clinical Psychology 54 (2): 163–7. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199802)54:2<163::AID-JCLP5>3.0.CO;2-T. PMID 9467760.