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How Do You Treat Compulsive Overeating Disorder?

Compulsive overeating disorder treatment is similar to treatment for other eating disorders. Many times compulsive overeating has underlying issues such as:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder (BED)
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

The outward symptoms of eating disorders take different forms. But the inside pain is similar.

There isn’t a lot of research on compulsive overeating disorder yet. Compulsive overeating symptoms are closest to symptoms of binge-eating disorder. Both disorders involve eating larger than normal amounts of food. People with these disorders may eat to numb emotions. They feel a loss of control when eating. They’re preoccupied with weight gain.

Research on emotional eating , binge-eating disorder (BED) and eating disorders in general finds effective treatment plans often include:

  • Emotion regulation
  • Healthy lifestyle education
  • Mindful eating
  • Family therapy
  • Body image work
  • Mental health treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Aftercare

Emotion Regulation

Eating disordered behaviors can be a way to cope with emotions. You may not be aware that you’re using food to cope with painful feelings. Compulsively overeating could be how you detach from emotions. People with eating disorders often have past trauma that feels overwhelming. Bingeing, restricting and other disordered eating becomes a survival strategy. Research shows suppressing emotions may fuel binge-eating episodes in people with BED.

Emotional regulation helps you manage strong emotions in healthy ways. You’ll learn to identify intense feelings. You’ll learn ways to manage those emotions without compulsively overeating. Types of emotion regulation may include:

  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Journaling
  • Therapy
  • Exercise
  • Noticing physical symptoms of strong emotions
  • Taking a break from an emotionally charged situation
  • Healthy self-talk

Healthy Lifestyle Education

You may be so deep in your eating disorder it’s difficult to remember what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Bingeing episodes usually involve sweets and other unhealthy food. You might be lacking important nutrients that help your body function. You might be overweight, which can make exercise difficult.

Treatment helps you replace compulsive eating with healthy eating. You’ll learn about nutrition and foods that make you feel good. You’ll also learn how fitness and moderation can be more effective weight management approaches than dieting.

Mindful Eating

People with eating disorders have a hard time with hunger feelings. You may not be able to tell when you’re physically hungry or if you’re having “emotional hunger.” Compulsive overeating can also make feeling full confusing. In treatment, you’ll relearn the physical feelings of hunger and fullness.

Mindful eating is a type of mindfulness that can help you get in touch with sensations of hunger and fullness. You’ll learn to separate emotional hunger from physical hunger. You’ll pay attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food. Mindful eating helps you learn to appreciate food and how it nourishes your body.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is an important eating disorders treatment. People with eating disorders often have challenging relationships with loved ones. Family therapy can help you begin healing emotional wounds from childhood. A therapist will help you and your loved ones discuss difficult topics. You’ll learn ways to communicate better. You’ll also learn about setting healthy boundaries.

Body Image Work

A poor body image feeds eating disorders. The messages you receive about appearance through the media, caregivers and peers can have long-lasting effects. People with eating disorders often have an unrealistic view of their bodies. They see a much bigger person in the mirror than everyone else sees. They hone in on perceived flaws and greatly exaggerate them in their mind.

A big part of eating disorder recovery is learning to like your body. This also means gaining a realistic view of your body. Eating disorder treatment centers usually focus on body image work. They help you see what’s really there, and learn to like it. Body image work may include these activities with a focus on your feelings about your body:

  • Journaling
  • Art therapy
  • Mirror work
  • Psychodrama

Mental Health Treatment

Some research shows around 97% of people with eating disorders also have another mental illness. Compulsive overeating could be your way of trying to cope with mental illness symptoms. Bingeing may temporarily provide relief from anxiety or depression symptoms. Self-medicating with food is a vicious cycle and does not fix the problem.

Eating disorder treatment centers usually provide treatment for co-occurring disorders. You’ll get treatment for compulsive overeating and psychiatric symptoms at the same time. For example, some people may have depression that causes their compulsive overeating, or vice versa. When you receive treatment for the depression as well as treatment for compulsive overeating at the same time, the possibility for success is greater. If you manage mental health symptoms, you may feel less of an urge to numb with food.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Some types of therapies are particularly useful with unhealthy eating behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help address unhelpful thinking patterns. You’ll learn to challenge thoughts about your body, weight and self-worth. You’ll learn about the relationship among thoughts, behaviors and feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy will teach you better ways to think and cope with life’s stressors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy draws on CBT and mindfulness principles. It encourages you to acknowledge thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. You’ll learn to not judge them. DBT teaches you to notice thoughts and let them go without attaching emotion to them. It also helps you increase your tolerance to stress and communicate with others more effectively.


Eating disorders can be relapsing conditions. It’s important to have long-term support. Residential treatment centers usually offer continuing care planning. This helps you stay strong in eating disorder recovery after you’ve left inpatient treatment. Continuing care might include connecting you with resources like:

  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Physicians
  • Psychiatrists
  • Dieticians
  • Support groups

Get the Help You Deserve

You may feel like it’s hopeless and you’ll never be able to stop compulsive overeating. But change is possible. We see healing happen every day at The Ranch. Call 844-876-7680 to find out how we can help you reinvent your relationship with food, and yourself.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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