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compulsive overeating

What is compulsive overeating?

Compulsive overeating is a psychological illness characterized by the sufferer frequently eating excessive amounts of food, sometimes even when they are not hungry. Most of the overeating does not take the form of binges but the sufferer may pick at food or “graze” throughout the day.

Compulsive overeating is not the same as binge-eating disorder, although both involve consuming large quantities of food. The psychological aspects of compulsive overeating make it stand apart from binge-eating disorder. Sufferers of compulsive overeating may feel relief or joy after eating, as it helps feel a void inside of them. Sufferers of binge-eating disorder tend to feel guilt, disgust and depression after binging (similar to sufferers of bulimia). A sufferer of compulsive overeating tends to obsess and think about food far more than a sufferer of binge-eating disorder. They may plan their day around what, when and where they are going to eat.

According to The Eating Disorders Sourcebook (Costin, Carolyn), approximately one in five young women report that they have had a binging relationship with food. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness estimates that 1-4% of the US population suffers from binge-eating disorder, and men make up about 40% of these numbers. They also report that the onset of binge-eating disorder usually occurs during the late adolescence or early twenties. However, it should be noted that binge-eating disorder can affect anybody, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

Facts and statistics for binge-eating disorder

Causes of compulsive overeating

As with other eating disorders, there is no pre-determined cause of compulsive overeating and the reasons for the onset of the disorder may vary from person to person. Is it not uncommon for compulsive overeating to lead to bulimia. Compulsive overeating is a spontaneous illness associated with low self-esteem. The binges are distractions that allow the sufferer to not think about the real root of their problems.

Causes of eating disorders

Behavioral signs and symptoms

Somebody suffering from compulsive overeating will often eat in secret when they are alone. Binges may occur at night and the sufferer may hoard food in their bedroom or in other hidden locations. A sufferer may consume many thousands of calories during a binge which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

A sign that is frequently overlooked is financial difficulty. The cost of food for sufferer can be many times that of the average person.

Other symptoms include avoiding social situations (particularly situations involving food), feelings of depression and anxiety, and eating to deal with negative emotions.
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Physical signs and symptoms

There are many physical symptoms associated with compulsive overeating. Most of the symptoms are long term unless the sufferer is also purging (but not purging often enough to be clinically diagnosed with bulimia). Purging can have immediate consequences as well as long term ones. Some of the physical signs and symptoms associated with binge-eating disorder include:
  • Weight gain, often leading to obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Chronic kidney problems or kidney failure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Skin disorders
What these symptoms mean

Diagnostic criteria (DSM IV)

There is currently no diagnostic code for compulsive overeating because the DSM believes more research is required. However, they do offer some guidelines (but still no diagnostic code) for binge-eating disorder .

1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating, including eating an abnormally large amount of food and feeling a lack of control over eating.

2. Binge eating that’s associated with at least three of these factors: eating rapidly; eating until uncomfortably full; eating large amounts when not hungry; eating alone out of embarrassment; feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after eating.

3. Distress about binge eating (this would likely not apply to compulsive overeating).

4. Binge eating occurring at least twice a week for at least six months.

5. Binge eating not associated with inappropriate methods to compensate for overeating, such as self-induced vomiting.

Diagnostic criteria for all eating disorders