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. 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. 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 Quickly
Eating much more quickly than usual, or eating slowly and consistently throughout the day and/or night Impulsive eating
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. 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. 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.
- 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. Hide Last Child Layout Div ERC Scroll-Top-Padding with Subnav It is often said that the feeling of fullness arrives ten to fifteen minutes after we have actually gotten full. So we have already eaten enough before we start feeling so. Well, that’s not a problem if you stop eating when you feel full. But how many times have you continued even past that point? Or even past the point when you feel like you’ve had – not just enough – but too much. Quite frankly, it happens to each of us sooner or later. But for some people, this happens on a regular basis and turns into an eating disorder. If this is part of your routine, you may be a chronic overeater, which puts you at risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a number of more severe diseases. Stay with us to the end of this article, as our medical weight loss clinic in Chicago explains everything you need to know about compulsive overeating. The causes, the typical signs you are overeating, and most importantly, the ways to prevent it.
Causes of overeating
Why do I continue eating even though I’m full? – This question may sometimes sound like an unsolvable riddle, but in reality, the explanation is not that complicated. Setting aside occasions such as holidays and birthdays, there are several common reasons why you may resort to overeating and binge eating when it comes to everyday life.
- Mindless eating – If you are distracted during your meal, you may not be aware of how much you have eaten. Unfortunately, eating while watching TV or in front of the computer has become a common habit for many people. Even while eating in a dining room, most people don’t let mobile phones out of their hands. That leads to mindless eating, unaware of whether you are full or not.
- Emotional eating – There is a reason why certain dishes are called ”comfort foods”. A good meal can make you feel better when you are sad, angry, or lonely. But if that’s your general coping strategy, you may risk developing a binge eating disorder.
- Stress eating – Stress is detrimental to one’s health, and it knows how to push people into harmful behaviors. When stressed, some people drink or smoke, while others resort to binge eating. As eating cannot change the circumstances which cause you to feel stressed, no amount of food is enough to relieve you from the pressure.
- Irregular eating – Skipping meals and eating without any routine will make you constantly hungry. So when you sit down to eat, you may need to replenish all those skipped meals at once. Such irregular eating patterns are highly likely to lead to eating disorders.
What signs can show that you’re overeating?
The first step toward treating eating disorders is acknowledging that you have developed one. That may not be so easy, considering that irregular eating patterns and a constant feeling of bloatedness and sleepiness have become normalized for many people. That’s why in this part, we present to you several key signs you are overeating:
You eat faster than the people around you
Nothing says binge eating disorder more than eating speed. If you finish your portions before the people around you barely get to half of theirs, that’s a clear sign of overeating. Also, when you consider that the hunger neurotransmitter is always some ten to fifteen minutes late behind the stomach, you get to eat much more before you start feeling full.
Your heart races when you eat
Digestion is not an easy task for your body. It requires effort from both your stomach and your heart, as it has to pump more blood to support the process. So if you consume a lot of food at once, especially if you do it fast, your heart must rush to pump all the blood needed. So your heart starts racing, causing abnormal heart rhythms.
You feel trouble breathing after meals
One of the most common signs you are overeating is when meals leave you out of breath, but not in the sense that you are left breathless as how good the meal was, but that you are literally out of breath, you have trouble breathing. If a meal leaves you feeling as if you were running or exercising, you have most likely overate.
You feel out of control when eating
When people do something compulsively, they practically have no control over their actions even though they are doing them consciously. Such is the case with the binge eating disorder as well. So if eating brings you into a state of nervousness or even panic where you don’t have control over your appetite, that’s a clear indicator of compulsive overeating. Therefore, appetite suppressants may be a good option. If you wondered does phentermine burn fat or just suppress appetite – the answer is no; phentermine does not burn fat but it is an excellent appetite suppressant when taken correctly.
You pay no attention to the food and don’t enjoy the flavors
When binge eating, people often do it automatically, without even being aware of what they are doing. That goes so far that sometimes they may not even know what exactly they are eating in the spur of the moment. That may not necessarily indicate any eating disorders as distractions such as TV frequently cause you to pay no attention to the food. However, it can still easily make you overeat.
You eat out of boredom
This has become an everyday thing for most people, so it may not necessarily signify a binge eating disorder. Eating only when hungry is frequently out of people’s schedules for several reasons. Sometimes people have fixed lunched breaks, so they eat whether hungry or not as they don’t have another occasion during work hours, but other times they eat just to fill up free time. So although this may not mean an eating disorder, eating out of boredom means that you are overeating. If your body needed food, you would’ve felt hungry. Because of that, we highly suggest that you try following a 2200 calorie meal plan.
You eat to cope with emotions
This is one of the most important signs you are overeating. It is the feeling of hunger that should trigger you to eat, not emotional feelings. However, eating is a common coping method, but it can quickly turn into compulsive overeating. There’s nothing wrong in reaching out for your favorite treat when you feel emotionally down, but turning it into a habit to use food as a coping method can cause severe problems that may require treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
8 ways to prevent overeating
If you recognize your behaviors among the abovementioned signs you are overeating, you have started wondering what steps to take to get rid of the habit. There are several easy tips that you can incorporate into your everyday life. However, if you are exhibiting a sign of severe compulsive overeating, it is highly advised to consult a professional as you may need eating disorder treatment.
Find your preferred portion size
You cannot overeat if you have a more or less fixed amount of food designated for each meal. The first step towards developing a binge eating disorder is allowing yourself no limitations as to how much you can eat. But if you’ve determined your preferred portion size, you are saving yourself the possibility to eat more than actually suits you.
Don’t skip meals
Skipping meals will not make you stop overeating. Quite the opposite, it will leave you hungry and make you crave much more food when you sit down to eat. That makes you prone to losing control during your meal and resorting to binge eating. You may opt for a protein bar in case you don’t have time for meals, but make sure to keep track of how many protein bars a day you take. Therefore, don’t skip meals. Stick to your preferred portion size and eat regularly.
Limit the foods which are easiest to overeat
Having a lot of high-calorie and nutrient-depleted foods in your diet could also be among the signs you are overeating. You have most likely never heard of someone binge-eating broccoli or lettuce. The most commonly binged on foods are sweet and salty snacks and other highly processed products. The more of them are present in your diet, the more likely you are to overeat; that’s why you should aim to limit those foods. Regularly following a meal plan can be your best option in order to do so.
Increase your fiber intake
Fiber is an indigestible matter found mostly in vegetables. Fiber-rich foods are highly filling yet relatively low in calories. So if you add more fiber-rich foods to your diet, you will be able to get full easier without actually consuming much food. In addition to that, fiber is highly beneficial for digestion.
Drink enough fluid
The average person in the West doesn’t drink as much water as their body needs. That leads to constant mild dehydration, and that chronic thirst is frequently wrongly interpreted as hunger. So instead of drinking water, people opt for salty and sugary foods, further dehydrating themselves. Water and fluids such as coffee and teas don’t have calories but take up space in the stomach, making you eat less. Therefore, make sure to stay adequately hydrated in order to prevent binge eating.
Focus on the food you eat. Pay attention to how quickly it fills you up; you’ll know how much more you should eat and when to stop. Distractions such as TV and mobile phones shift your focus away from the food, which results in mindless, compulsive overeating.
If you are about to start your meal, the Chinese will tell you ”màn màn chī”. That is a common expression, and it literally means eat slowly. There is a lot of wisdom behind this phrase, as slowing down when eating really is beneficial. Not only does it bring relief to your stomach and heart, but it also gives you more control over how much you eat.
Listen to your body
And last but not least, be observant of the signs your body is sending you. Eat when hungry and stop when full. But make sure to eat slowly to give your body time to send you signals that you are full. If you follow your natural needs, you will never develop anything like a binge eating disorder.
Overeating has become a relatively common occurrence for many people, but in reality, it’s not such a harmless phenomenon. It doesn’t just make you feel tired and bloated and deteriorate your body image but also puts you at risk of severe health issues. It can also develop into chronic eating disorders. So if you’d like to find out more about compulsive overeating and how to identify and prevent it, schedule a call, and we will answer any question you have. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work
in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers.
Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients.
This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009. It’s possible you’ve been overeating and didn’t even know it. Shutterstock Many of us are likely to admit that at the start of the pandemic we were letting ourselves indulge in our favorite comfort foods. However, now that working from home is becoming the new normal for many Americans—especially for those who live in large metropolitan areas and are non-essential workers—it may be time to reevaluate what normal snacking looks like for you. Our bodies all operate differently, however, there are few telltale signs that may indicate you are eating more than your body needs. First, it’s important to understand the difference between calorie quality versus calorie quantity. «The myth of calories in equals calories out has been busted and we now know calorie quality matters more than calorie quantity,» says Sydney Greene, MS, RD. «Think about it, 100 calories worth of Cheetos is not the same as 100 calories worth of broccoli.» In the health world, Cheetos are often referred to as empty calories as they don’t have any nutritive value. On the contrary, broccoli contains satiating fiber and even some protein as well as vitamins and minerals. «The body actually has to expend energy to digest the broccoli whereas simple carbohydrates, like those in Cheetos, are broken down quickly and then stored as fat,» says Greene. «The key is to use foods that the body has to work to break down.» Now, here are three signs that you’re eating more food than your body actually needs. Shutterstock Perhaps the most obvious sign of overeating is continuous weight gain. Greene says if you notice the number on the scale is constantly increasing, it’s likely that you’re either eating too many foods with low-quality calories or you’re eating too big of portions. «I suggest keeping track of what you are eating during the day in a journal,» she says. «Pay attention to see if you are grazing throughout the day or eating large portions.» Shutterstock «Physical and emotional hunger are different and it takes practice to know the difference,» says Greene. For example, if food is always at the forefront of your mind and you find yourself lingering around the pantry and refrigerator often, «chances are there might be something deeper going on emotionally and it might be wise to explore other ways to self soothe,» she explains. Shutterstock Have you ever thought that feeling full and feeling satisfied hold two different meanings? While a big salad can make you feel full, some people don’t always find it to be the most satisfying, which then may cause them to eat another meal or load up on snacks. The key is to incorporate a variety of nutrient-dense foods that you like in each meal. «I recommend eating meals you enjoy rather than focusing on meals you ‘should’ eat,» says Greene. «You will be less likely to overeat or over snack later in the day.» In general, she says to switch your focus from calories to, instead, the quality of the foods you’re eating. If your plate is filled with complex carbohydrates, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats then you’re more likely to walk away from each meal feeling satisfied. «For those who are number-driven, instead of counting calories focus on counting grams of fiber,» she says. «[You] need at least 30 grams of fiber per day and most of the population only consumes half of this.» Now, it’s time to make a more conscious effort to reach for more high-quality snacks. Cheyenne Buckingham Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Read more about Cheyenne
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