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 disorder (BED). With therapy, it is possible to gain control over this condition and manage the impulse to repeatedly 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. Anyone might eat too much once in a while, and it does not mean that you have an eating disorder.

Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorders are characterized by overeating, but they also involve 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:

Effects of Overeating

If you overeat frequently, it 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: 

Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeating has many similarities to BED. However, it is usually diagnosed as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the guide that mental health professionals use to diagnose psychiatric conditions.

A classification of OSFED refers to eating disorders that cause significant problems, but do not meet the strict criteria for the diagnosis of another eating disorder. For example, someone may have symptoms of compulsive overeating less frequently or for a shorter duration of time than the criteria for BED.

Compulsive overeating refers to eating more than you need on a frequent and chronic basis. Someone with this condition will eat a lot of food quickly, even if they aren't hungry. One definition of compulsive overeating is that it 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 
  • Frequently binging on food

Binge Eating Disorder

As defined by the DSM-5, BED refers to eating significantly more food than would be considered normal within a limited amount of time on a frequent basis.

BED is a serious condition that makes 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 BED usually does not purge or use other methods to try to remove or burn the extra calories.

Symptoms

The symptoms of BED may 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 eating in front of others 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 BED can lead to the consumption of thousands of calories at one time. If you have symptoms of either of these conditions, it is important that you work with a healthcare professional to overcome the problems and to manage your food intake. 

Solutions

One of the first steps in managing compulsive overeating or BED is determining how many calories you need per day based on your age, weight, activity levels, and other health considerations.

Eating regularly throughout the day might 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 healthier 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