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Compulsive Overeating And Bingeing

Described as an obsessive or compulsive association with food, compulsive overeating, or food addiction, involves frequent periods of uncontrolled eating. During these episodes, individuals often feel out of control, consuming food past the point of feeling full, and then feelings of guilt, shame and depression may follow.

Unlike the eating disorder bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to counteract their bingeing with vomiting or use of laxatives and as a result overeaters are often overweight or obese. There are two types of overeaters – those who ‘graze’ constantly and those who binge.

Negative Self Image

There are different schools of thought regarding the cause of compulsive overeating, with genetics, upbringing and chemicals being blamed. Certainly sensible eating habits can be established from an early age and genetics can be feature in eating behaviour. Many overeaters have a stable background where food is concerned and it is self-esteem that can trigger an abnormal preoccupation with food.

Feeling unloved or unworthy can create a situation where an individual eats excessively to feel better about his or herself, and when the situation fails to improve, self-image becomes more negative. As the cycle remains uninterrupted, the problem increases until the individual has no control over eating habits whatsoever. Unconsciously, food is often equated with love.


Binges can result in a temporary release from psychological stress through release of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is thought to contribute to feelings of happiness and good health. This release is similar to the addictive high experienced by drug abuse. As with other addictions, withdrawal symptoms occur creating high levels of anxiety and depression, which are resolved by yet another binge. As the addiction progresses it takes more and more food to create the high.

Overeating And Health

As the body becomes less able to handle the large quantities of fat, salts and carbohydrates ingested through overeating episodes, nutritional imbalance starts to occur. As the disorder progresses, fatigue and a severe deficiency of essential nutrients develop, followed by raised cholesterol and acid reflux. Exercising becomes more difficult.

Unfortunately, if left untreated, compulsive overeating can lead to diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea and hypertension with long-term effects such as kidney disease, arthritis and stroke. Major depression may also occur as feelings of self-esteem plummet. Muscular and joint problems may follow as a result of increased weight and stress to the body.


Compulsive overeating is treatable once the individual accepts that a problem exists. Counselling and therapy are recommended, as the emotional problems lying behind the disorder must be resolved in order for a healthy attitude to food to be created. Along with medical and nutritional counselling, psychotherapy or talk therapy techniques can be employed to improve mental health and help instil a healthy association with food.

Beating a food addiction can be difficult. Taking the first steps towards finding out why food has become such an important issue and addressing negative self-image issues will set the sufferer on the correct emotional path to recovery.

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