What is a Compulsive Eating Disorder?

A compulsive eating disorder is any condition that involves an abnormally intense relationship with food. Anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa are all types of compulsive eating disorders. All of these disorders are characterized by strong feelings of lack of control, guilt, or shame along with extreme attitudes towards food, body image, and weight. Someone who suffers from a compulsive eating disorder might use food, exercise, or binging to soothe negative feelings or to fill a personal void, much as an alcoholic might drink for these same reasons.

Anorexia nervosa is a type of compulsive eating disorder where a person starves him or herself because he or she has an intense aversion to being fat. This condition is diagnosed when a person’s body weight falls to more than 15% below the normal range for her his or her height. People with anorexia nervosa might become obsessive about food by counting calories or fat grams, by being extremely careful about what and how much they eat, and by over-exercising when they feel they have eaten too much. They also might avoid social situations that involve food or develop rituals around eating. People with this disorder can have heart failure, impaired kidney and liver function, or even starve to death.

Compulsive overeating, also called binge eating disorder, is a compulsive eating disorder where the sufferer eats whether or not he feels hungry. People with binge eating disorder are often obese although they may not eat much in public. Although they might be intensely self-conscious about their weight and suffer low self-esteem from being fat, they often have no control over their eating, and tend to overeat when they are feeling stressed or upset. Compulsive overeaters have serious risks to their health, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Bulimia nervosa is another type of compulsive eating disorder. Like anorexics, sufferers of bulimia nervosa can have an intense fear of being fat. They binge eat, and then attempt to control their weight by purging themselves. Purging is usually done by inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives, or over-exercising. Bulimics usually are not extremely thin, and often the compulsive binging and purging behaviors increase as the body learns to compensate for the nutrient and calorie loss. Bulimics risk severe mineral loss, tearing in the throat and esophagus, damage to tooth enamel, and damage to internal organs.


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