Compulsive overeating is a common type of eating disorder that involves a person regularly eating large amounts of food over a short space of time until they are left feeling uncomfortably full.

Find out what this condition is, the symptoms and signs of compulsive overeating, as well as the health risks of this eating disorder.

What is Compulsive Overeating?

Compulsive overeating is also sometimes known as binge eating disorder (BED). This is a type of eating disorder where the person will have recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in an uncontrolled manner, usually to the point of discomfort or distress afterwards. People with this disorder feel a loss of control during binge episodes and experience feelings of guilt, shame, and emotional stress afterwards.

It’s important to note that compulsive overeating is a complex condition influenced by many different factors, including biological, psychological, and social factors.

Binges are often planned in advance and are usually done at a time when the person is alone. Sometimes, binge eating may include special binge foods. Compulsive overeating can happen in men and women of any age, however, it most commonly starts during the late teenage years or early 20s. It can also lead to the development of other behavioural addictions.

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating

There are several signs of compulsive overeating. Below is a list of these signs and symptoms that you can look out for:

  • Binge eating episodes: People struggling with compulsive overeating will engage in episodes of excessive eating, often referred to as binges. These episodes involve consuming large amounts of food in an uncontrolled manner and feeling a lack of control over their eating behaviours.
  • Emotional eating: Compulsive overeating is often associated with emotional and psychological problems. People may use food as a way to cope with negative emotions, stress, boredom, or to seek comfort. Eating may temporarily alleviate emotional distress, leading to a cycle of emotional eating and, therefore, making the problem worse.
  • Eating unusually quickly: A person with compulsive eating typically eats very quickly.
  • Feelings of Guilt: After a binge eating episode, the person will commonly experience feelings of guilt, shame, and self-disgust. They may also feel depressed, anxious, or experience a loss of self-esteem due to their eating behaviours.
  • Physical health problems: Compulsive overeating can lead to several physical health issues such as weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and digestive problems. It can also contribute to psychological and social difficulties.
  • Preoccupation with food: People with compulsive overeating will often have an ongoing preoccupation with food. Thoughts about food, eating, and body weight may consume a significant portion of their daily thinking.
  • Eating in secret: Some people with this eating disorder may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their eating behaviours. These feelings can result in them eating in secret or isolating themselves during binge episodes, such as eating at night.

Causes and Triggers of Eating Disorders

There are many things that can cause or trigger eating disorders. Below is a list of the most common causes and triggers of eating disorders:

Genetics and Inherited Behaviours

There is evidence to suggest that certain genetic and biological factors may be a factor in causing individuals to develop eating disorders. Having a family history of eating disorders or other mental health conditions can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.

Psychological Problems

Certain psychological factors can contribute to the development of eating disorders. These may include things like low self-esteem, perfectionism, poor body image, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, or difficulty coping with emotions.

Social Influences

Certain societal and cultural pressures can significantly impact body image and attitudes towards food and weight. Media representations of thin bodies as an ideal, societal emphasis on appearance, and unrealistic beauty standards can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Dieting and Restrictive Behaviours

Strict dieting or engaging in extreme weight loss practices can act as triggers for the development of eating disorders. Restrictive eating patterns and rigid rules around food can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and an increased risk of developing eating disorders.

Traumatic Experiences

Individuals who have experienced trauma may be at a higher risk of developing eating disorders. Trauma can influence body image, self-esteem, and coping mechanisms, leading to disordered eating patterns as a way to regain control or cope with emotions.

Family and Interpersonal Factors

There are several family and interpersonal factors that can also lead to eating disorders. Dysfunctional family dynamics, strained relationships, a history of teasing or bullying related to body weight or appearance, and a lack of support can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Health Risks of Compulsive Overeating

There are several health risks involved with compulsive overeating. Below is a list of the most common health risks associated with these behaviours:

Weight Gain and Obesity

Excess weight can increase the risk of developing several health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and joint problems.

Cardiovascular Issues

The excessive intake of calories, particularly from high-fat and high-sugar foods, can contribute to higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

Compulsive overeating, especially when accompanied by weight gain and obesity, increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This condition affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and can have some serious long-term health consequences.

Digestive Problems

Eating large quantities of food during binge episodes can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux, bloating, stomach pain, and discomfort. It can also contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Getting Help for Compulsive Overeating

Treatment for compulsive overeating usually involves a combination of therapy, support groups, and potentially medication, depending on individual needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive overeating, it is advisable to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health specialist who specialises in eating disorders.

Eating disorders can also lead to the development of other behavioural addictions, such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, or gambling problems.

You don’t have to live alone with your eating disorder. If you are showing signs of compulsive overeating, simply speaking out about your struggles in the first place is the first step towards recovery.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: May 25, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.