You may feel like there’s something wrong with your eating patterns. But you’ve never thought of yourself as someone who needs help. You’re not too thin and you don’t vomit. You chalk it up to not having self-control. The fact is you don’t need to “look the part” to have an eating disorder. Compulsive overeating can be a serious condition. If you’re worried about your eating habits, learn more about compulsive overeating.

Signs and Symptoms

Compulsive overeating signs and symptoms can fit with other eating disorders. People with binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa may have compulsive overeating symptoms. People with these eating disorders may also struggle with vomiting or laxative abuse. Compulsive overeaters don’t use these activities to prevent weight gain. Compulsively overeating may not always be a binge. It can also mean eating throughout the day and night. In this case, you’re still eating much more than the number of calories you need in a typical day.

Compulsive overeating disorder signs and symptoms include:

  • Eating much more in a typical day than most people consider “normal”
  • Feeling out of control when eating
  • Eating well past the point of feeling full
  • Waking up during the night to eat
  • Zoning out when eating
  • Eating quickly
  • Binge eating
  • Eating small amounts of food all day long
  • Life revolves around weight and food
  • Eating small or normal amounts of food in public and bingeing when alone
  • Always trying new diets
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating
  • Shame and guilt after eating
  • Self-worth tied to weight
  • Believing everything would be better if thin
  • Hiding food
  • Compulsive eating behaviors like eating out of the garbage

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms of compulsive overeating, you need help. Compulsively eating is often a warning sign you have emotional pain. Eating patterns can be a way of coping with difficult feelings.

Contributing Factors

Compulsive overeating disorder signs and symptoms are not in the DSM-5. It most closely resembles binge-eating disorder. It can also fit some of the criteria of OSFED. Many times people with eating disorders have similar underlying issues no matter what the diagnosis. Different types of eating disorders are ways to cope with challenging experiences. Some of these may include:

Negative Body Image

Sometimes compulsive overeating is part of a diet cycle. You feel bad about your body. You’re ashamed of your weight and eating habits. You go on a diet but the restricting backfires. You end up having a binge episode on the food you’ve been denying yourself. Many people with compulsive overeating symptoms are also regular dieters. Dieting and compulsive overeating often feed each other.

Emotional Issues

People often say, “I eat my emotions.” They eat as a way to soothe themselves from time to time. People with compulsive overeating disorder do this almost every day. Many times they don’t know that’s why they’re overeating or having binge episodes.

Emotional pain often drives eating disorders. Some experiences that contribute to eating disorders include:

  • Sexual abuse, especially as a child
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Seeing a sibling, parent or caregiver be physically or emotionally abused
  • Trauma from unhealthy attachment styles with caregivers

One compulsive overeating sign is going on “autopilot” when you eat. You may feel numb when you eat large amounts of food. This might be a way of dealing with emotional pain surfacing from the past. The problem is the pain is not going away and the relief is temporary. That’s why compulsive overeating treatment must address the issues behind your eating patterns.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Other mental health disorders are common in people with eating disorders. One study examined over 2,400 women in residential treatment centers for eating disorders. It found 97% of eating disorder patients also had another mental illness.

When you have two or more mental health conditions it’s known as co-occurring disorders. Eating disorder treatment will need to tackle disordered eating as well as psychiatric issues in these cases. It’s nearly impossible to recover from one condition without addressing the others.

Compulsive overeating symptoms can be a way of coping with mental health disorders. Binging on certain foods can temporarily increase brain chemicals. These can be the same chemicals involved in depression and anxiety. A binge episode may provide temporarily relief from some of your symptoms.

Why You Need Compulsive Overeating Treatment

Eating disorders rarely get better on their own. They are serious medical conditions. The physical and emotional wounds of eating disorders run deep. Eating disorder treatment is complex. It often takes special types of therapies and eating disorder experts to work through the underlying issues. Many people also need treatment for co-occurring disorders. Research shows some people need residential treatment to recover.

Putting off treatment also keeps increasing your risk of the damaging effects of compulsive overeating. These can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Bone issues
  • Stroke
  • Mental disorders like depression

Your problems with food aren’t all in your head. Compulsive overeating disorder can be just as debilitating as anorexia and bulimia. Your struggles are just as real. The good news is that you can get better. With dedication and evidence-based eating disorder treatment it’s possible to release the hold weight and food has on you.

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Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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