April 5, 2012

What is Compulsive Eating?

Written by Rachel Eddins

Compulsive Eating

Feeling Out of Control with Food?

Upon first glance, eating should be one of life’s simple pleasures. Once you’ve scratched the surface, it seems you’ll uncover an endless list of pitfalls.

From calories to ingredients, from quantity to quality, there’s plenty to ponder. But what does it mean when eating becomes compulsive eating…and what can we do about it?

What is Compulsive Eating?

Everyone experiences those times when they eat past the point of feeling full. Compulsive eating is more of a pattern.

Strictly speaking, the diagnosis may be binge-eating disorder and it may involve eating when not hungry, eating too rapidly, and choosing to eat alone due to shame.

Compulsive eaters feel compelled to eat by cues other than hunger. Some describe it as feeling like an addiction, a food addiction.

Other symptoms of compulsive overeating include:

  • An acute awareness of abnormal eating habits and focus on body weight
  • History of dieting and weight fluctuations
  • Hoarding and hiding food
  • Depression or mood swings
  • General fatigue
  • Either a loss of sexual desire or embracing a trend of promiscuity
  • Obsessive thinking about food – thinking about what you might eat later, thinking about what is available, and thinking about what you’ve already eaten
  • Consuming large quantities of food when not hungry on a regular basis
  • Feeling as if you can’t stop eating
  • Feel loss of control around food
  • Feeling compulsive with certain high fat/high carb foods

>Binge-eating disorder is a mental and physical condition that requires treatment. It is nothing to be ashamed of but also not something to be downplayed.

The Physical and Emotional Impact of Compulsive Eating

Compulsive eating lowers your quality of life in many intertwined ways. Of course, it can contribute to a broad range of physical conditions, e.g. heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, high cholesterol, and stroke.

On a parallel track, the binge-eating disorder can condition your mind to treat food/eating similarly to substance abuse. The act of eating is euphoric and temporarily masks the shame, depression, anxiety, and loneliness one feels.

This is a recipe for addictive behavior. It’s easy to feel out of control and set the cycle in motion.

Are you binge eating? Could you have binge eating disorder? >This quiz assesses binge eating behaviors and severity, which can indicate an eating disorder.

Compulsive Eating Feels Addictive

You might feel as if you are addicted to food. You might be, but not in the way that you think. With food, it’s the process of using food that becomes addictive.

For example, you might eat sugar to soothe pain and over time that process becomes an addictive cycle. You crave sugar when you feel pain. In a sense, it’s like using food as a drug.

If you are feeling compulsive with food, you might feel out of control and frustrated with yourself. It’s important to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with you. Your brain is working to soothe and comfort you when you’re in distress.

Everything is working as it should. What’s needed is to heal the source of the stress and find new ways to soothe. This is how therapy can help.

Why can’t I stop overeating? Isn’t it just a question of willpower?

Compulsive overeaters often wonder “I’ve already had enough, I feel full, why can’t I stop eating?”

It takes extraordinary willpower to keep trying to go on diets or make changes to eating patterns. If willpower were the only issue, this problem would have been solved long ago!

Willpower is actually a finite resource in our brains and can get used up by all of the mental tasks we do in a day as well as emotions such as anxiety or depression.

The reasons behind emotional eating/compulsive eating are always complex, and are typically about both past and present stressors, biochemistry, and genetics.

Often, people have a long history of using food to meet needs other than hunger, including distraction, soothing and companionship. To change eating habits permanently, these needs must be met in new ways. Otherwise, the person will revert back to emotional eating/compulsive eating as soon as a stressor occurs.

5 Ways to Address Compulsive Eating

1. Understand What is Happening

Compulsive eating is not about lacking self-control or being lazy. It’s likely a blend of brain chemistry and emotional distress.

You can’t change this with affirmations alone. You have a diagnosable disorder that needs your attention as much as if were an upper respiratory infection.

2. Skip the Pep Talks

Whether it’s a well-meaning loved one or self-imposed rituals, pep talks are not in the healing protocol. While positive thinking is always helpful, again eating disorders are not about laziness or lack of will.

3. Take Lots of Tech Breaks

Societal pressure has always played a huge role in body image. Social media has ramped that up in the past decade.

Carefully curated posts cloud your head as you scroll, scroll, scroll. There is an established connection between social media and negative body image.

Give yourself a chance by scheduling in non-negotiable tech breaks — several times a day.

4. Create Consistent Eating Rhythms

With the help of a professional (nutritionist and/or therapist), you can find a natural eating rhythm that balances your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

Too much grazing and your body doesn’t experience hunger; restricting or skipping meals leads your body to feel famished and then binge eat. Such structure can go a long way in re-imagining your >relationship with food and eating.

5. No More Diets. Choose “Eating Habits” Instead.

One of the many problems with the concept of dieting is deprivation. It’s a recipe for disordered eating.

Instead, move towards long-term eating habits as a goal. Take the focus off the scale and aim it towards a healthier future.

Knowing When to Ask For Help With Compulsive Eating

Like all issues, compulsive eating appears in degrees. There are instances when it can be managed by diligent self-care. The suggestions listed above may sometimes be enough in mild cases.

However, symptoms of compulsive eating can also become akin to an eating disorder and need the help of a professional or treatment team.

Enlisting the support of a trained therapist is a proven path when dealing with any type of disordered eating. Healing and recovery from compulsive eating is possible.

Please reach out for a consultation soon. Eddins Counseling Group, in Houston, TX, has experienced therapists that specialize in >disordered eating. Call us today at 832-559-2622 or >book an appointment online.

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