Compulsive Overeating Treatment, Symptoms, & Causes

Compulsive overeating is an umbrella term that is used to describe loss-of-control eating behaviors.

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What is compulsive overeating?

Compulsive overeating is a loss of control over one’s eating habits. Compulsive overeating can serve a purpose, like helping 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

Why do people overeat?

Compulsive eating 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 stems from emotional issues.

What compulsive overeating is NOT

The cultural narrative around overeating wrongly suggests that:

  • Laziness is to blame for overeating and accompanying weight issues.
  • Individuals have 100 percent control over their food consumption and weight.
  • Binge eating can be controlled by willpower, leading to moderation, weight loss and overall health.

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

Compulsive overeating symptoms

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

Overeating symptoms

  • 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


Signs of overeating

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
Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or guilty after eating

Eating alone
Feeling embarrassed by the amount one eats

Want to learn more?

Read our most popular articles on compulsive overeating:

Am I eating too much?

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.

Disordered eating habits, like compulsive overeating, are often associated with emotional and psychological distress. Anxiety, depression, social isolation and other symptoms may be present in people who binge eat. Compulsive overeating can also lead to physical and medical health concerns, listed below.

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

If you or someone you care about is struggling with compulsive overeating, know that recovery is possible. Our compulsive overeating treatment program offers a comprehensive treatment solution to help you:

  • Normalize eating patterns
  • Stabilize medical conditions
  • Manage co-occurring mental health symptoms (depression, anxiety, trauma)
  • Improve quality of life

Patients in our compulsive overeating treatment program can find help for a variety of disordered eating symptoms, including restricting food (limiting what one eats, yo-yo dieting) or purging through self-induced vomiting, laxative use or other means.

Therapy for overeating

In treatment, individuals work with individual and group therapists who utilize a number of evidence-based therapies shown to reduce distress and increase coping skills. Some of these therapies include:

When you are ready for treatment, we invite you to come as you are.

Nutrition support

Many people with a history of overeating find freedom from shame and guilt with support from a nutrition team staffed by registered dietitians. 

“In our BED program, our nutrition approach is structured yet flexible,” explains Kristie Simmons, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, nutrition director of virtual services at Eating Recovery Center. “We encourage an inclusive philosophy around food and provide guidelines but refrain from being prescriptive, as we feel that can perpetuate the diet mentality.”

The Eating Recovery Center approach

  • All foods fit.
  • There are no good or bad foods.
  • Food is medicine.
  • You can have a peaceful relationship with food.

Is treatment right for me?

Here at Eating Recovery Center, we offer multiple programs to help people address the causes of their overeating and create a peaceful relationship with food. This includes both in-person treatment and virtual care. All of our programs take place in a compassionate recovery community that understands what you are going through. We welcome and support people of all sizes, genders and backgrounds.

What is treatment 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


Get matched with the exact support you need.

With one conversation, our mental health professionals will help you better understand what you’re going through and what you need.

We will meet you where you are, listen to your story in a therapeutic setting, and match you with the level of support that meets your struggle.

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. (

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
  • Stroke
  • 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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