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Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeaters are people who feel compelled to eat when they are not hungry and who cannot stop when they have had enough. We know that 1 out of every 2 people who seek help for their weight problems eat compulsively. Compulsive overeating is not the name of an eating disorder. It is a term that sufferers use to describe eating patterns that feel out of control and which can feel like an addiction to food that could make them gain weight.

People who describe themselves as compulsive eaters feel that they cannot control their eating and thus they end up eating more than they need. As a result, compulsive overeaters usually struggle to control their weight. Compulsive overeaters have cravings that they cannot master, and may overeat small or large amounts of food, or just pick and nibble some of the time (grazing).

Compulsive overeaters:

  • Eat faster than usual
  • Eat past the point of fullness
  • Eat when not physically hungry
  • Eat alone or in secret
  • Feel upset or guilty after overeating
  • Feel that they are abnormal
  • Feel that they are "taken over" or "driven" as if another presence is in control of their eating
  • Try to compensate for overeating by dieting or restraining food or purging (in the latter case they are suffering from bulimia).

Compulsive overeating is thought by many to be a dieting disorder or food addiction. Some experts, including physicians, think of it as a bad habit. Compulsive overeaters do not have lack of willpower but they have more cravings for food and stronger cravings. Compulsive overeaters eat for comfort. Compulsive overeating is a stress disorder, a body image disorder, and possibly an emotional problem.

Sufferers' descriptions might include comments like the following:

  • I cannot control myself. I'll open the fridge and eat. No matter what time of day, even if I've just finished breakfast or dinner. I'll still search for food. I'm not necessarily hungry, I'm just addicted - it's like a drug. The more I have the more I want. I eat it so quick, like there's no tomorrow. And it's always in secret. I even bring food to bed, and in the morning I put the wrappers in an outside dustbin so no-one knows what I've eaten.
  • If I know that my family and husband are going out, I'll make up an excuse to stay home, that way I can eat and eat and eat.
  • I'm so disgusted and ashamed of myself. I hate myself for doing it. I know it's wrong while I am doing it but I will carry on. That is what I can't understand, while I'm bingeing. I know what I'm doing but I don't stop. Food is ruling my life. I just wish I could take it or leave it. But it's never enough.
  • I eat properly in front of other people and eat masses when I get home and on-one can see me.
  • I go backwards and forwards to the fridge looking for something to satisfy me and nothing seems to.
  • I start a diet on Mondays and by 11 o clock I am eating cookies, saying here I go again.
  • I am fine for a while then I say just one bit of chocolate won't hurt then it's like I've blown it so who cares and I will start again tomorrow.
  • I eat in the car before I get home stuffing my face and if people knew what I was doing I couldn't bear it.
  • I get this craving in my head and my mouth for chocolate and I can't relax until I have had it.

The consequence of feeling fat and feeling terrified of weight gain leads to constant attempts to compensate for taking in unwanted calories by dieting, starving, taking slimming pills and so on. Sadly these strategies usually make the eating problem even worse. There are some overeaters who feel so hopeless about their weight that they give up trying to control it. I'm fat anyway, so why bother, they might say as they reach for another piece of cake.

Mirasol's Compulsive Overeating Treatment

The first part of treatment consists of a thorough assessment with professionals who understand eating disorders and who identify the kind of compulsive eating that be going on. A full eating history will allow the professionals to identify the specific events and challenges that predispose clients to the problem. The assessment also pinpoints what is keeping clients stuck right now.

Treatment will then be directed to the clients' physical and emotional issues which maintain an unhealthy relationship with food.

Treatment of compulsive overeating is more than giving clients positive relationships with food. Mirasol treats the "whole person" and our outcomes include all or some of the following:

  • Dealing effectively with your feelings
  • Eating comfortably in a wide variety of situations
  • Managing problem situations like parties and Christmas effectively
  • Sleeping well and feeling healthy
  • Managing stress and being happier
  • Handling personal relationships well
  • Building self worth
  • Being able to say "no" to food and people when it's necessary

At Mirasol we take great care to understand a women's entire history of behaviors so we can determine if there are co-occurring conditions that play a role in treatment and recovery from compulsive overeating.

Compared to other psychiatric disorders, those who are compulsive overeaters experience significantly more childhood obesity and more exposure to negative comments about weight and overeating. Psychiatric conditions that might co-occur with BED may include: depression, panic and anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, bi-polar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

At Mirasol we have learned that most women with BED do have unidentified co-occurring disorders or compulsive behavior patterns. These underlying conditions may often trigger overeating

Mirasol Treats Compulsive Overeating Effectively

Mirasol utilizes the complete history taken about a woman including her psychological testing to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. The client is a part of this process, as she gives her input to her treatment team. A resident having her own treatment team is one of the unique features of treatment at Mirasol. The client will have weekly individual sessions with her primary therapist, nutritionist, psychiatrist, aftercare counselor, and nursing staff, and other members of her treatment team to update her treatment plan.

Body image treatment where we can help a person think more kindly of their body is an important part of treatment and will effect self esteem. Treating body image helps a person be kind to themselves with food and predicts recovery from the eating disorder.

FREE Eating Disorder Support Group!

FREE weekly eating disorder support group for adults struggling with food issues, staffed by therapists from Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers. Thursdays from 5:30-6:45 pm at 3116 N Swan in Tucson. For more information, call 520-546-3200 or email Ann at support@mirasol.net.

"Mirasol is light years ahead of any other program in the country."