What is Compulsive Eating?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke
A compulsive eater consumes food without self-control.
A compulsive eater consumes food without self-control.

Compulsive eating is the psychological addiction to eating food for reasons other than hunger. People who are compulsive eaters may use food as a coping mechanism for emotional issues, such as grief, depression, low self-esteem, or stress. They may know what they are doing is unhealthy, but typically cannot easily stop the behavior on their own.

While some people may simply overeat because they are unable to resist certain foods, compulsive eating is different because its core issue is not just the taste of the food. A person who is a compulsive eater will go through manic episodes of eating as much food as possible as quickly as possible and often will not even enjoy the taste of the food in the process. He or she will also continue eating long after feeling full to the point where it may become unpleasant or painful. It can either occur regularly or be triggered by a certain event or emotion.

Compulsive eaters eat even when they are not hungry.
Compulsive eaters eat even when they are not hungry.

People who exhibit this type of behavior may have anxiety about eating around other people because they are worried they will not have the self-control to stop eating once they start. They may conceal any evidence of their eating habits, such as sneaking around to purchase food or hiding any food wrappers. Compulsive eaters may also stash food in secret hiding spots so they can eat it in alone in secret.

Compulsive eaters typically have weight issues.
Compulsive eaters typically have weight issues.

Victims of sexual abuse or assault may be more likely to start compulsive eating than other people. They may use excessive amounts of food in order to gain weight as a subconscious way of making themselves more physically unattractive to keep predators away. When they gain weight, compulsive eaters may end up feeling bad about themselves, either because of the way they look or because they feel like they have no self-control, and they may continue eating as a way to temporarily feel better.

Compulsive eating can be treated as a psychological disorder.
Compulsive eating can be treated as a psychological disorder.

Since compulsive eaters typically consume more food than their bodies need, they are usually overweight or even obese, which can cause possible health complications. Being at an unhealthy weight makes a person more likely to have high blood pressure or cholesterol, which can lead to heart attacks. They may also be at a higher risk of developing kidney disease or having a stroke.

A child who lives in an unstable environment may develop an eating disorder.
A child who lives in an unstable environment may develop an eating disorder.

Compulsive eating is generally treated by a professional therapist addressing the underlying emotional aspects that may contribute to a person’s desire to use food as a way to medicate his or her emotions. A therapist will help a person change the way he or she views food in order to see it as purely a physical need. Treatment may combine therapy sessions on how to reduce the addictive behavior along with nutritional advice on how to safely lose any extra weight.

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