What Is Compulsive Overeating?

Overeating is having too much food at once, and almost everyone has done this at some point. However, compulsive overeating is an eating disorder that has similarities with binge eating. With therapy, it is possible to gain control over this condition and manage the impulse to regularly eat excessive amounts of food.

Woman seating on the kitchen floor at night eating

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What Is Overeating?

Overeating is consuming more food than you need and more than your body can use to make energy. Eating too much once in a while can happen to anyone, and it does not mean the person has an eating disorder. Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorders are characterized by overeating but include other symptoms and criteria.

Reasons for Overeating

The motivation to overeat varies from person to person. Some people simply enjoy the taste of certain foods and have a hard time stopping. Others eat too much because of stress or negative emotions.

Some common reasons for overeating are:

  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social pressure 

Effects of Overeating

Overeating frequently can lead to health problems and other consequences. You may experience bloating, gas, or other types of stomach discomfort when you eat too much. In addition, you may feel embarrassed about overeating.

Overeating may cause: 

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes 
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol 

Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeating has many similarities to binge eating. However, it is usually diagnosed as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED), which was previously called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). OSFED refers to a condition that does not meet the strict criteria for the diagnosis of another eating disorder.

According to the DSM-5, a person diagnosed with an OSFED—like compulsive overeating—can have eating behaviors that cause significant problems but do not meet all of the criteria for an eating disorder, such as binge eating. For example, someone may have compulsive overeating but at a lower frequency or less time than the criteria for binge eating.

Compulsive overeating refers to eating more than you need frequently and chronically. Someone with this condition will eat a lot of food quickly and even if hunger is gone. Compulsive overeating usually happens at least two times a week for several months.

Symptoms

It is common for someone with compulsive overeating to eat alone instead of with others. Many people hide this condition and do not feel comfortable discussing their eating patterns.

The symptoms of compulsive overeating include:

  • Eating a lot more in private than in public 
  • Eating more food than you need
  • Eating if you are no longer hungry 
  • Eating a lot of food quickly 
  • Feeling depressed after overeating 
  • Feeling upset about your eating habits 
  • Binging on food frequently 

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is recognized in the DSM-5. It refers to eating more food than normal on a frequent basis and eating until uncomfortably full. Someone with this condition also tends to eat fast even if there is no hunger.

BED is a serious condition that can make people feel like they cannot control their overeating and binging. They may also feel shame, guilt, or be upset after each overeating episode.

However, someone with a binge eating disorder usually does not purge or use other methods to try to remove or burn the extra calories.

Symptoms

The symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating more food than normal 
  • Eating faster than normal 
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full 
  • Eating more than you need even if you are not hungry
  • Eating alone 
  • Feeling uncomfortable or avoiding eating with others 
  • Feeling embarrassed about how much you eat 
  • Stealing or hoarding food to eat
  • Frequent dieting
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and normal activities 
  • Fluctuating weight 

How to Manage Food Intake

Compulsive overeating and binge eating can lead to the consumption of thousands of calories at one time without following up to purge the food or increase calories burned. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to overcome these conditions and manage food intake. 

Associated Health Problems

Taking in too many calories increases the risk of obesity, cancer, and other health problems. This is why the first step is to determine how many calories you need per day based on your age, weight, activity levels, and other reasons.

Eating regularly throughout the day can help decrease the amount of food you take in altogether. To manage your portions, pay attention to serving sizes and nutrition labels. Eat slowly, use smaller dishes, and eat at the same times every day to develop a schedule.

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle with overeating, compulsive overeating, or binge eating, it is essential to reach out for help. It can be difficult, but it is important to talk to a doctor about your eating habits and share your concerns. There are resources and treatments that can help you manage your eating disorder. It is possible to overcome these conditions and lead a healthy life.

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Article Sources
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  1. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. What is overeating? How to control your portions. Updated November 21, 2018.

  2. National Eating Disorders Association. Other specified feeding or eating disorder.

  3. University of Rochester Medical Center. Understanding compulsive overeating.

  4. National Eating Disorders Association. Binge eating disorder

  5. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Just enough for you: About food portions