Compulsive Eating Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

compulsive eating disorderCompulsive eating disorder, also known as binge eating disorder, is an eating disorder categorized by the loss of control over one’s eating habits and habitually binge eating without attempting to purge through induced vomiting, excessive exercise or otherwise. Those with this disorder may feel as though they have lost all control over their diet and typically have a low self esteem. If you fear you are suffering from this compulsive eating disorder, it’s important to understand the symptoms and how you can get treated.

Signs and Symptoms

Although the two are commonly used interchangeably, signs and symptoms differ from each other. Signs are aspects of a disorder that can be seen by a practitioner, while symptoms are aspects of a disorder that must be described by the patient. It’s important to note that compulsive eating disorder stems so much deeper than simply having an eating problem. Those suffering from this disorder use food as a form of medication for their own self-esteem and emotional problems. While some people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their problems, others turn to food. When this spirals out of control, compulsive eating disorder develops. Some signs and symptoms of this eating disorder include:

  • Binge eating even when you’re not hungry
  • Eating faster than the usual person
  • Constantly worrying about weight
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment
  • Hiding food in various places around your room or house
  • Depression, anxiety or other mood disorders
  • Fluctuating weight
  • A string of unsuccessful dieting attempts
  • Having a high body weight even though you eat very little around other people
  • Feeling guilty after eating a lot
  • Using food as a go-to treatment for any problems

While those with bulimia nervosa may have a lot of the same symptoms, those with compulsive eating disorder do not attempt to rid the body of the calories consumed. Because eating becomes habitual, much like in a drug addiction, the same amount of food may not be satisfying. This results in constantly eating more and more food to get the same dopaminergic affect.

Effects on the Body and Mind

When those with this disorder eat large amounts of food, it can have the same effect as alcohol on an alcoholic or nicotine on a cigarette smoker. The initial feeling can be almost euphoric, but afterwards turns to guilt and shame. This temporary euphoria takes them away from any emotional problems that they may be suffering from, and offers a release from daily stress. It truly takes the form of an addiction; when food is ingested, dopamine is released. Unfortunately, continuous overeating can take quite a toll on the body. If left untreated, compulsive eating disorder can cause:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Stroke

The more overweight a person is, the higher their risk of many different life-threatening diseases. Most people with this disorder realize that their eating patterns are abnormal and feel shame in their inability to control them. They hide their habits from others, and often will not want to speak out and get help. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of this disorder and get help if you or a loved one is suffering.


compulsive eating disorderTreatment of this type of eating disorder does not simply include telling the person to eat less and putting them on a strict diet. The problem lies deeper than food, and often includes a mood disorder or self esteem problem that is causing the disorder to spiral out of control. This is why treatment commonly includes frequent visits with a psychiatrist, who helps determine the underlying problem and solve emotional difficulties first. The patient may have any of a number of psychiatric disorders, including

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar
  • Sleep disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Substance Abuse
  • Codependence
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Because of the wide range of possible mental disorders involved in the eating disorder, treatment varies depending on the patient. The eating disorder cannot be treated until the mental disorder is treated. A psychiatrist may initially gather all information he or she can about the patient – problems at school, home, work or in relationships, medical history, psychiatric history and any signs or symptoms that loved ones have noticed. From there, the patient may have to see their family doctor, a physician specializing in eating disorders or a dietician along with a psychiatrist. If any severe health problems have developed as a result of this disorder, they may be referred to another type of specialist.

There is no direct “cure” for this disorder, no medication that can be given to stop compulsive overeating (although some medications may be prescribed for psychological disorders). Patients may be involved in a handful of different types of treatment, such as:

  • One-on-one psychiatrist sessions
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Dietary planning and support
  • Trauma recovery
  • Expressive therapy (including dance therapy, art therapy and recreational therapy)

An important part of recovery is learning how to love yourself again. By increasing your self-esteem and realizing your self-worth, emotional and eating disorders can be overcome. Group therapy allows patients to realize that they are not alone in their disorder, and gives them a judgement-free environment to discuss their feelings and problems with others experiencing the same symptoms. One-on-one therapy allows patients to discuss anything that they don’t feel comfortable discussing in a group session, and helps them realize and treat underlying psychiatric problems. By combining these types of therapy with help from a dietician, healthy eating patterns can slowly resume while confidence is being restored.

The Big Picture

Compulsive eating disorder tends to be more chronic than anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa due to its addictive nature. Recovery is possible, but it takes cooperation and dedication from the patient and their loved ones. Once the person suffering from this disorder is released from therapy, there is still a long road ahead of them. Both the patient and those who they live with must work together to continue on the path to a healthier diet and a higher self-esteem.

If you fear as though you are suffering from this disorder, seek help. Treatment is available. If you want to learn more about overcoming binge eating and take control over your life again, join the hundreds of students who have signed up for Udemy’s helpful course.