What Is Compulsive Eating?

On your journey to health you may hit several bumps in the roads and some bumps may be bigger than others and take more time maneuvering, as is the case with the issue regarding compulsive eating, you might be asking what is compulsive eating and if it is a bump you might come accross. In this post I want to explain what compulsive eating is, what it is not, how it can affect your weightloss efforts, and how to overcome it.

What is and isn't Compulsive Eating

To start off we have to look at what exactly compulsive eating means. There are a lot of terms and a lot of definitions to this topic and it is important to understand the differences. The first distinction I want to make is that just because you overeat at time, it does not mean that you overeat compulsively. Compulsion is described by Oxford Dictionaries as:

"The action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint. An irresistible urge to behave in a certain way."

Therein lies the big difference between a person choosing to overeat and a person compulsively having to eat; the irresistible or forced urge to do so. There are other terms that I feel are important to understand; Binge Eating, Binge Eating Disorder, Hyperphagia, Food Addiction.

Binge Eating is "The consumption of large quantities of food in a short period of time" and sort of like Binge Drinking can be experienced by anyone without necessarily being part of a disorder although, binge eating is often part of an eating disorder called Binge Eating Disorder which is a clinically diagnosed psychological disorder characterized by behavioral emotional symptoms such as :

"Signs and symptoms

If you have binge eating disorder, you may feel embarrassed and ashamed about your eating habits, and try to hide your symptoms by eating in secret.

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating and compulsive overeating Inability to stop eating or control what you’re eating Rapidly eating large amounts of food Eating even when you're full Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret Eating normally around others, but gorging when you’re alone Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes

Emotional symptoms

Feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating Embarrassment over how much you’re eating Feeling numb while bingeing—like you’re not really there or you’re on auto-pilot. Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating Desperation to control weight and eating habits"

Hyperphagia is the technical term for "an abnormally great desire for food:excessive eating."

Food Addiction is a debated term since there isn't consensus on whether overeating can be categorized as an addiction just like Alcohol or Narcotic addictions. More and more studies are showing that "Despite similarities, BED and “food addiction” may represent unique yet overlapping conditions" and " many have adopted the perspective that an apparent dependence on highly palatable food - accompanied by marked emotional and social distress and deficiency – is, in essence, an addiction disorder."

The main point to gather here is that the act of overeating in these cases is not a controlled choice. We all overeat at times, maybe we have one plate too many or one too many cookies but a person who eats compulsively may not have control in those situations and rather than be satisfied after eating the extra cookie, may go on to eat the rest of the box.

How Does this Relate to your Health Journey?

So what does this mean to you? Well... if this isn't something that you struggle or have ever struggled with then CONGRATS you don't really need to worry about this, although it still helps to understand it so you can help those if your life that do. If on the other hand you do experience moments like this whether they are rare or often, this is an issue that will highly affect your health journey.

I personally struggle with these symptoms. For years food has been my emotional outlet and many times a bag of chips and a coke has been my only way out of a panic attack. I've always had issues with food, from being a kid who didn't eat enough and was underweight to being an adult who binge eats and is overweight. In reality, as lonely as these experiences can feel, they are a lot more common than we think and millions of people suffer from this issue in this country.

With the growing rates of obesity it is becoming more and more important to recognize that the reason many people can't lose weight is not because we eat too much but because there are real psychological reasons behind our overeating."Advocates of the ‘food addiction' hypothesis argue that its acceptance could lead to an important shift in our perception of and responses to obesity, both clinically and in public health policy, and it could have implications for the treatment and prevention of obesity and the chronic diseases that follow." The very hard and painful truth is that you won't succeed in your weight loss efforts if you don't address this issue. Compulsive overeating is often characterized by "(1) habitual overeating; (2) overeating to relieve a negative emotional state; and (3) overeating despite aversive consequences" meaning that even if you have every intention of doing what's best for your body you may still disregard the negative consequences during a binge episode.

I have struggled with losing weight, not because I don't know how or it's too hard but because all of my great work kept being interrupted by these episodes. I kept relying on the strength of my will. Maybe you have done so as well. I know what it is like to hide food and hide the shame that I felt from going off plan. I think probably more of us have dealt with this shame than are willing to admit and because of this we fall off the wagon and give up our efforts to get healthy. Such a strong and overpowering feeling can't be beat, or can it???

How to Overcome Compulsive Overeating?

I am of the thought that we cannot succeed without first taking into consideration our mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Without putting in that type of work, our bodies alone, cannot do it. I have tried, I have lost the weight by focusing solely on the phsysical aspects of nutrition but lets be honest about how many of us have been able to uproot our diets and lost the weight only to gain it right back? Life doesn't stop because we have decided to eat healthier and when we go through something emotionally difficult our plan easily goes out the window. In order to ensure success our plans have to include how to deal with our emotions, our thoughts, and our behavior that may lead us to fall so that when it happens we can get back up.

I am not going to lie and say it is easy because for me it has been incredibly difficult but I have never felt stronger than I do now. There are several things to think about if you feel that this is an issue for you. The first step may be to talk to a doctor or psychologist because you may have Binge Eating Disorder and may need professional help or, like me, your issue may stem from other psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, trauma, or OCD. Getting this process started will help you in so many ways. For some it will be as simple as taking medication and for some different types of therapy may be needed. The most common therapy used is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) which relies on addressing patterns between your behavior, thoughts, and emotions and creating plans of action to change those patterns. For some, who may feel that their experience is stronger and has more of a hold on their lives, OA (Overeaters Anonymous) may be the path to take.

Regardless of the path you decide on some of the work will be the same such as learning about the patterns that lead to the behavior, learning new ways to address those situations, and learning what led to them in the first place. Once those things are figured out the rest will rely on our willingness and our persistence to keep getting up after each fall.

Remember that not everyone is on the same journey as you and it will be hard to see others on the same meal plan or the same fitness regime struggle less than us but you have to realize that they are not on the same journey as you. You are overcoming something they don't need to think about and that means that you are still progressing and the unseen work and effort is still there fueling you to achieve long term success. Don't give up!!!


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