Compulsive Overeating

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Occasionally overeating a meal time is something that can be part of a normal eating experience. However, for some individuals, overeating may be a recurring experience that is accompanied by severe emotional distress and lack of control. About 2 – 5 percent of the adult population in the United States displays compulsive overeating symptoms, and up to 10 percent of individuals can also be classified as food addicted [1]. On the surface, a person struggling with compulsive overeating may appear to have a lack of willpower or control when it comes to food, but there is much more involved with these food behaviors.

For individuals who eat compulsively, the experience produced from eating can be similar to the euphoric high that a person may experience who is addicted to substances or drugs. Physical adaptations in the body may create mood changes and temporary feelings of pleasure or release when food is eaten, particularly foods that may be higher in fats, sugars, and sodium. The temporary release that is experienced with compulsive overeating may also alleviate stress or create a deflection from feelings that may be difficult to cope with, such as loneliness, shame, fear, anger, etc. This euphoric high is temporary state, and once this feeling wears off, a person who struggles with compulsive overeating is often left feeling remorseful about how and what they ate, in addition to the feelings that may have been avoided in the first place. Compulsive overeating involves a variety of factors that interplay to influence abnormal eating patterns, including psychological stressors, biological influences, and environmental experiences.

A person who compulsively eats an excessive amount of food as a means of coping with daily stressors and/or overwhelming emotions may in turn become overweight or obese. This can lead to additional feelings of shame or drive a person to engage in unhealthy means of weight loss, such as chronic dieting. The vicious cycle involving feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem triggering compulsive overeating can lead to a myriad of physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Aloria works from an integrative and holistic care model where our clinical teams are adept at approach all factors as to why someone is seeking care.

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating

An individual who overeats compulsively will frequently turn to food and eating in effort of coping with overwhelming emotions and/or circumstances.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of compulsive overeating may include:

  • Frequent isolation or eating alone due to feelings of shame or shame about overeating
  • Eating uncontrollably or experience episodes of binge eating, even when not physically hunger
  • Consuming a large amount of food over a short time period
  • Consuming food much more rapidly than normal
  • Compulsive food behaviors, such as eating food out of the garbage or hoarding food
  • Withdrawing from normal activities that were once enjoyed due to shame or embarrassment about weight or eating habits
  • Engaging in frequent fad diets or dieting schemes in attempt to lose or control weight
  • Experience of weight fluctuations
  • Frequently turning to food and eating as a way to escape from or cope with emotional distress
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Preoccupation with weight
  • Personality changes and/or mood swings
References

[1]: Meule, A. (2011). How Prevalent is “Food Addiction”? Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2, 61. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00061