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Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Everybody engages in overeating episodes from time to time, especially at social events, potlucks, and other celebrations. But for some, it becomes a part of life, triggering guilt and hindering daily activities. Known as compulsive overeating, this problem quickly escalates to a problematic level and likely indicates other deep-rooted mental health problems.

Compulsive overeating disorder can affect men, women, and adolescents for many reasons. For some, it becomes a way to manage daily stress, while for others, it takes the shape of an addiction. Regardless of the underlying addiction, compulsive overeating is a serious disorder and must not go unaddressed. Living with this problem can be highly discouraging, challenging, and isolating; nobody deserves to keep battling it for years.

Fortunately, there are many eating disorders rehab that acknowledges compulsive eating disorders and understands their complexity and the suffocating effects they can have on a victim’s life. These rehabs offer comprehensive and customized treatment plans to heal from the disorder at the root and manage its acute symptoms. With innovative treatment modules and compassionate patient care, it becomes possible to restore all aspects of the self, including mind, body, and spirit.

People who overeat chronically may have a psychiatric condition called compulsive overeating disorder. Some shared features of this disorder include the following:

  • Eating large amounts of food
  • Eating despite not feeling hungry
  • Eating too quickly, often to the point of discomfort

Many people commonly have a food binge now and then. However, compulsive eaters binge on food at least two times a week for a period of six months to get a positive diagnosis. In many of these people, compulsive overeating disorder starts slowly. For example, a child may occasionally turn to food for comfort when upset, but they learn that food helps soothe their upset emotions over time.

Some people also develop compulsive overeating disorder secondary to the negative comments they receive from others about their weight. Others may indulge in it following a phase of restrictive dieting or a traumatic event. For instance, an individual whose parents were either too controlling or absent throughout most of their childhood may never have good role models for eating and end up developing a compulsive eating disorder.

Compulsive overeating disorder is usually an umbrella term that commonly indicates one of the following two problems.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by consistent and frequent episodes of compulsive eating. During these eating episodes, an individual loses control over their food intake and ends up eating in extreme discomfort. Most often develop shame, guilt, helplessness, depression, and self-loathing following a binge eating episode. Why people develop BED is currently unknown; however, researchers believe the causes are likely biopsychosocial and involve psychological and environmental factors.

Food Addiction

Food addiction, or food obsession disorder, is a behavioral disorder that includes compulsive overeating due to a chemical dependency on foods, particularly the ones high in sodium, sugar, or fat. The addiction is well-rooted in the effects of these foods on the brain’s reward system, which are comparable to the effects of other addictive substances, like cocaine and heroin.

Food addiction is quite similar to binge eating disorder in that both disorders force the victims to engage in compulsive overeating. However, the only difference is that the chemical dependency of a food addict lies on specific foods only. Moreover, when these addicts fail to access highly palatable foods, they tend to experience withdrawal symptoms like intense cravings, panic attacks, and distorted instincts.

Compulsive eating is quite common and acceptable if done from time to time. But how can someone know when these harmless and infrequent actions have become seriously problematic behaviors? While it may be difficult to tell sometimes, the following red flags may hint at an underlying problem:

Physical Symptoms

  • Weight gain
  • Low energy
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Arthritis

Psychological Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Mood disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Contemplating thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Behaviors associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Behaviors linked with a borderline personality disorder.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Consuming high quantities of food in a short time duration
  • Rapid eating 
  • Failure to adhere to diet restrictions
  • Continued overeating past satiety despite consequential health issues
  • Losing control after eating certain trigger foods
  • Following different eating habits in public versus when alone
  • Experiencing feelings of comfort and pleasure while eating
  • Experiencing anxiety, irritability, or panic attacks due to the unavailability of food

If you suspect that you or someone around you is living with the compulsive overeating disorder symptoms described above, try seeking professional help from an eating disorder treatment rehab.

Multiple factors play a possible role in perpetuating compulsive eating habits in an individual. These include environmental, psychological, and biological factors explained below in detail.

Biological Factors

Biological factors include hormone levels, gender, nutrition, and genetics. Some common biological factors associated with compulsive overeating disorder include type 1 diabetes, a history of dieting, or having a close relative diagnosed with an eating disorder or a mental health issue.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors include things related to temperament and personality that may directly impact mental health. A few psychological traits that may increase the risk of compulsive overeating disorder include perfectionism, rigid thinking patterns, negative body image, and a history of specific mental health issues, such as anxiety.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors refer to cultural and social factors that impact mental health. Some of these factors that may perpetuate compulsive overeating disorder in a person include stigma related to body weight, limited social support, and a history of bullying in the past.

The stigma and shame associated with compulsive overeating can make it difficult for anyone to seek treatment. Most people view these compulsive eaters as careless or lacking willpower and fail to realize that this problem has a psychiatric component. The victims also frequently receive unsolicited advice suggesting exercising more or going on a diet to control the weight gain, which can prove devastating for them. Fortunately, for all such people, professional treatment is widely available.

An eating disorders rehab is the best place to seek help for compulsive overeating disorder. The admission process at a standard rehab dealing with compulsive overeating disorder typically involves the following steps:

Intake Assessment

The treatment process for compulsive overeating disorder begins with a confidential and comprehensive intake evaluation that is highly personalized to identify each patient’s unique story and needs. The assessment comprises a series of exams, interviews, and tests to assess every patient’s history, present health, and future goals regarding compulsive overeating disorder treatment. This process helps mental health professionals assess the severity of the issue at hand, determine the presence of any co-existing disorder, and customize a treatment plan that serves the goals and needs of each patient in the best possible way.

Choosing a Program

The initial intake assessment helps doctors collaborate with the patient and choose a program that best serves their journey to recovery. The following levels of care are typically available for patients with compulsive overeating disorder:

  • Inpatient treatment
  • Residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Extended day treatment
  • Partial hospitalization program
  • Transitional living program

Individualized Treatment

At this stage, the life-changing journey begins for all compulsive overeaters as they enter into individualized treatment that meets their unique goals and needs. A treatment program incorporates several innovative experiential and clinical approaches, including nutritional therapy and holistic techniques.

In addition to seeking professional treatment, the following self-care tips can help a compulsive overeater beat their eating disorder:

Avoid using any labels

Many compulsive overeaters tend to label themselves for being bad people. This only adds to their stress and ultimately leads to increased overeating episodes. Such people must understand that what they are suffering from is not under their control, and they are already doing their best to overcome it. The same goes when it comes to labeling foods. It is a good idea not to label food items as good or bad. Research indicates that if you eat what you label lousy food, you are more likely to overeat it later.


Whenever you feel like eating, take a moment and reflect on whether you are hungry. Many times, people are so focused on what they want to eat that they don’t think about asking themselves why they want to eat. If you are using food as a tool to cope with something, likely, you are no longer familiar with the cues that signal fullness or hunger. Work on bringing this awareness back to the body to break the cycle of compulsive overeating disorder.

Changing environment

Sometimes, a habit that seems challenging to break merely indicates a behavior on autopilot. Making a tweak in the environment often helps bring the focus back to this behavior to make a more purposeful decision. For example, avoid using it if you always sit in a certain sport to overeat.

Fulfill cravings in moderation

Completely banning food often forces people to overeat later on. So if you are craving a food item, despite not feeling hungry, allow yourself to have it in a small quantity.

Avoid following restrictive diets

Overeating and restrictive eating often go hand in hand. Deprivation can easily serve as a trigger for compulsive overeating, just like anxiety, anger, or stress. Hence, experts advise steering clear diet plans that include severe food restrictions.



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