What is Compulsive Overeating? How is it different from Binge Eating Disorder?

Compulsive Overeating differs from Binge Eating Disorder in that individuals who engage in compulsive overeating regularly consume more food than they need or want due to feelings other than hunger.

Compulsive Overeating is not marked by the same degree of severity as Binge Eating Disorder in terms of feelings of lack of control, guilt, shame, physical discomfort, or intensity of overconsumption in a short period of time. An example of Compulsive Overeating is regularly having extra servings of food at a meal even if the individual is already full.

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating include:

  • Feeling compelled to eat more despite already being full or not hungry at all;
  • Feelings of guilt or depression associated with desire to eat more;
  • Feeling unable to stop eating when already full or overly full.

Contributing Factors to Compulsive Eating

Common underlying causes of overeating include depression, anxiety, unresolved trauma issues, fear, feelings of low self-worth, anger, frustration, and boredom. Sometimes, people have learned to use food and food-related preoccupations to distract themselves from other painful emotions or fixations.

Compulsive Overeating and Drug and Alcohol Use

Individuals struggling with overeating may experience a wide range of primary mood disorders (mood disturbance that drives the overeating behaviors) as well as secondary mood disorders (unpleasant emotional experiences that arise as a result of the behaviors and self-judgement about the behaviors).

In addition to primary depression and anxiety, individuals struggling with compulsive overeating may experience guilt, shame, social isolation, and other unpleasant feelings.

They may try and address these feelings with alcohol and drugs, which sometimes provide short-term escape from the difficult emotional experiences. The cycle of compulsive overeating, unwanted feelings, drug and alcohol use, and guilt or shame can become a disabling cycle for affected individuals.

How to Recover From Compulsive Overeating

Recovering from Compulsive Overeating is an important journey for many individuals. Recovery is possible through compassionate, comprehensive treatment programs that help patients learn to identify and understand the triggers of the compulsive behavior, and develop new, healthy ways of resolving difficult feelings.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, in addition to complementary therapies such as mindfulness meditation, can help patients recover from compulsive overeating.