Compulsive Overeating Signs & Dangers

Compulsive overeating, which is also known as compulsive eating, is defined as the presence of specific behaviors that include an individual consuming vast amounts of food in order to cope with the problems or emotions that burden them. Different than bulimia nervosa, those who engage in compulsive overeating do not follow up their eating with purging behaviors, causing them to feel as though they are not actually struggling with an eating disorder. When an individual causes herself to vomit after eating, she can generally recognize that such a behavior can damage her health, and the compulsive need to keep doing so can lead to both physical and psychological harm.

Compulsive overeating is typically confused with binge-eating. However, those who are grappling with binge-eating disorder will continue to consume a great deal of food in one sitting, while those who eat compulsively might not overeat at each meal. However, because of the consistency in which individuals are overeating, even small portions can lead to overeating.

While the presence of compulsive eating can damage one’s life, there is treatment that can help those who struggle with the debilitating symptoms so that they can learn how to obtain healthy eating habits and develop positive self-worth.

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Statistics

Statistics for compulsive overeating are lacking, but rough estimates show that nearly 2% of the population is afflicted with compulsive overeating behaviors, while 8% of the population that are obese engage in compulsive overeating.

Causes and Risk Factors for Compulsive Overeating

The causes and risk factors for developing compulsive overeating behaviors have been linked to those that cause drug and/or alcohol addiction. Consider the following:

Genetic: Genetic factors, such as those with biological family members who have compulsive overeating behaviors, are at a greater risk for partaking in similar behaviors than those who do not have that same background.

Environmental: There are many environmental factors that can impact one’s likelihood of developing a compulsive overeating problem. For example, going through a traumatic event, being the victim of abuse or neglect, or being in an environment where a substantial amount of attention is put on dieting, weight, and food can all increase one’s likelihood of developing compulsive overeating behaviors.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of eating disorders or compulsive overeating behaviors
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Low self-esteem
  • Experiencing a traumatic event

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating

Some of the many signs and symptoms that one might exhibit when partaking in compulsive overeating can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities one once enjoyed
  • Participating in unsuccessful dieting attempts
  • Eating alone
  • Eating uncontrollably, even when not hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than is considered normal
  • Hiding food
  • Making self-defeating statements about how much food one eats
  • Social isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Weight gain
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Preoccupation with body weight
  • Minimized or complete loss of sex drive
  • Preoccupation with food

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Compulsive Overeating

If left untreated, the long-term effects of compulsive overeating can be damaging to all areas of one’s physical and psychological health. Some of these effects can include:

  • Arthritis
  • Bone deterioration
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke

Co-Occurring Disorders

While compulsive overeating is not a diagnosable disorder, the behaviors and patterns that develop when someone is battling with this condition can often present with other mental health issues, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
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