What is Compulsive Overeating?
Compulsive overeating is a term that describes the loss of control over one’s eating habits. Compulsive overeating helps some people cope with difficult life events or unpleasant emotions like sadness, fear, boredom or shame. Compulsive overeating is a key warning sign of binge eating disorder.
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
Eating large amounts of food
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
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
- 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:
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Night eating
- Emotional eating
- Stress eating
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
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?
Compulsive overeating treatment incorporates medical, therapeutic and nutritional interventions. In treatment, people who overeat learn how to process and let go of stored pain and trauma as they:
- Eliminate binge eating habits
- Find healthier ways to manage stress
- Address substance use
- Improve sleep
- Stabilize their physical and mental health
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.
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)
Compulsive Overeating FAQs
What is it called when you constantly want to eat?
Constantly wanting to eat is called compulsive overeating or binge eating. People may compulsively overeat because they are bored or because they feel worried or upset about something. If you constantly want to eat and are looking for professional help for this, learn more about treatment for binge eating.
Why do I compulsively overeat?
Some people may overeat because friends or family members do. Others may tend to compulsively overeat because they:
- Feel anxious or afraid
- Fee sad or hopeless
- Feel ashamed or guilty
- Feel a sense of emptiness
- Are bored
Certain genetic and psychological factors may also increase the risk of overeating.
How do I stop obsessive overeating?
It is hard to stop overeating without professional help, but overeating is a behavior that can be stopped just like any other behavior. With an experienced treatment team, you can learn how to process emotional pain and trauma and find new coping skills to help you stop overeating.
Is eating too much considered an eating disorder?
Eating too much can be a sign of binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder in the U.S. People with binge eating disorder regularly:
- Eat more than most people would
- Eat rapidly until uncomfortably full
- Eat when not hungry
- Eat alone
- Feel disgusted, sad or ashamed after the binge
Why is compulsive overeating a problem?
Compulsive overeating is a problem because it can be very hard to stop compulsive overeating. Compulsive overeating can lead to weight gain which can increase the risk for multiple physical and mental health concerns, including:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Heart disease
- Joint pain and mobility concerns
- Insomnia, anxiety and depression
Is it possible to stop compulsive overeating?
Yes, it is possible to stop compulsive overeating, but stopping compulsive overeating requires far more than willpower and self-control. An experienced eating disorder treatment team can help you identify new coping skills to replace compulsive overeating behaviors. In treatment, you can also process past hurts or traumas.
Is there rehab for overeating?
Rehab for overeating is provided in eating disorder treatment facilities nationwide. In treatment, you can learn how to stop overeating by processing and letting go of pain, trauma and distressing emotions. As you change your emotional state, you learn new coping skills to replace compulsive eating behaviors with healthier alternatives.
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