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What is Compulsive Overeating?

There are many reasons behind loss-of-control eating behaviors. Some individuals may eat out of boredom. Compulsive overeating may simply be a mindless habit for others. For many individuals, compulsive overeating is a coping mechanism that helps one avoid underlying emotional issues. This can include depression, anxiety, or trauma-related distress.

Causes of Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeating is a form of disordered eating, which means that a combination of genetics, psychological issues and sociocultural factors generally contribute to the cause of this behavior.

Because many people struggling with overeating are of normal or higher weights, they often don’t realize their overeating and co-occurring weight issues stem from emotional issues.

What compulsive overeating is NOT

The cultural narrative around obesity wrongly suggests that:

  • Laziness is to blame for overeating and accompanying weight issues.
  • Individuals have 100 percent control over their food consumption and weight.
  • That willpower alone drives moderation, weight loss and overall health.

It’s important for anyone suffering from an overeating disorder to understand that these statements are not valid.

Signs & Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating

The symptoms and signs of compulsive overeating are varied and diverse. People with compulsive overeating behaviors may regularly experience one or more behaviors that may be a sign of compulsive overeating.

Signs of Compulsive Overeating

  • Eating what most people would think is an unusually large amount of food
  • Eating much more quickly than usual, or eating slowly and consistently throughout the day and/or night
  • Eating past satiety or until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating despite feeling full or not feeling hungry at all
  • Eating alone due to shame or embarrassment about the quantity of food consumed
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after overeating
  • Night eating
  • Impulsive eating
  • Compulsive food behaviors like hiding food and eating food out of the garbage
    Binge eating

Behaviors

Eating large amounts of food
Eating what most people would think is an unusually large amount of food

Eating Quickly
Eating much more quickly than usual, or eating slowly and consistently throughout the day and/or night

Impulsive eating

Health Risks Associated with Compulsive Overeating

A number of individuals with compulsive overeating habits feel that they lack the willpower they need to "eat healthy" or "stay on a strict diet." But, compulsive overeating is most likely not due to a lack of willpower. And dieting may actually make compulsive overeating behaviors worse.

Medical and Physical Health Risks

Many people who compulsively overeat — without compensatory behaviors (vomiting, laxative/diuretic abuse, over-exercise) — are of higher weight. When individuals are overweight or obese they may be more likely to experience one or more of these serious medical conditions:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer

Higher weight patients are also more likely to experience sleep disturbances, aches and pains, hygiene issues, mobility concerns (greater fall risk) and other health risks.

Compulsive Overeating Treatment

We recognize that both behavioral and biological factors contribute to being of a high weight, and that many overweight and obese individuals have a co-occurring eating disorder. Unlike a traditional weight-loss treatment center, however, our compulsive overeating treatment program is not an obesity treatment program or a weight management program.

Eating Recovery Center's compulsive overeating treatment program offers a comprehensive treatment solution to normalize eating patterns, stabilize medical comorbidities, control weight and improve quality of life issues. 

Patients in our compulsive overeating treatment program may be looking to get help for one or more co-occurring conditions, including, but not limited to:

At ERC, treatment takes place in a compassionate recovery community that understands what you are going through and that supports people of size.

What Does Compulsive Overeating Treatment Look Like?

​Learning how to stop compulsive overeating requires a specialized treatment approach. Our compulsive overeating program offers intensive multidisciplinary treatment for overweight and obese adults and adolescents, including medical, psychiatric, behavioral and nutritional care.
Our compulsive overeating treatment program can help you:

  • Interrupt or eliminate eating disordered behaviors, like binge eating
  • Better manage stress and uncomfortable feelings
  • Address co-morbid mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders that frequently co-occur with eating disorders
  • Address weight-related medical issues
  • Address body image disturbance
  • Boost movement and activity levels
  • Improve quality and quantity of sleep
  • Decrease co-morbid compulsive behaviors (i.e., process addictions)
  • Learn cutting-edge skills to address eating disordered behaviors, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and Exposure & Response Prevention
  • Stabilize weight*

Three levels of care are available in the program to meet each patient's unique recovery needs:

  • Residential Program
  • Partial Hospitalization Program
  • Intensive Outpatient Program

Not sure what level of care is right for you? The appropriate level of care will be recommended following a thorough pre-admission assessment with an eating disorder therapist. You will progress through the levels of care as necessary, or you may discharge back to your home community following program completion.

*Patients will typically lose 5 to 15 percent of their body weight in this program. While weight loss is not specific a goal of treatment, it is a likely outcome of eliminating compulsive behaviors and stabilizing medical comorbidities.

Facts & Statistics About Compulsive Overeating

  • It is estimated that more than 30 percent of higher weight patients attempting to lose weight meet diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder (BED) and/or bulimia nervosa (BN). 1
  • A complex set of hormones influence and determine hunger and satiety cues as well as how we feel, think and behave around food; an individual’s weight and eating behaviors are largely determined by neurobiology rather than one’s “motivation” or drive to lose weight. 1
  • Biological and genetic factors prime a subset of the population to overeat. 1
  • More than one-third of adults in the US are obese, and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese (Journal of American Medicine (JAMA)).
  • Obese individuals have a 20 percent elevated risk of depression. Specifically for Caucasian, college-educated individuals with obesity, the depression risk increases to 44 percent. (www.obesityaction.org).

1 "Difficulties in Detecting Eating Disorders in Both Normal and Higher Weight Patients," Julie Friedman, PhD and Susan McClanahan, PhD, CEDS. (2016)

Frequently Asked Questions About Compulsive Overeating

Why is compulsive overeating a problem?

Compulsive overeating commonly results in weight gain which can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other weight-related medical concerns. It can also be associated with body image problems.

Is it possible to stop compulsive overeating?

If you are struggling with compulsive overeating or related problems, it does not mean that you lack self-control. Specialized therapeutic care can help you learn why you have these behaviors and how to change them.

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