Understanding Compulsive "Overeating"
The simplistic idea that emotional eating, or compulsive "overeating", are about people consuming food as an unhealthy coping mechanism for combatting stress, or negative feelings, often leads the sufferer to feel even worse about their struggle. Although these aspects of the condition may be present, these ideas overlook the impact of diet culture, weight shaming and internalized weight shame that often are a significant part of the person's painful struggle.
Living With Compulsive "Overeating"
These painful behaviors associated with compulsive "overeating" occur even though sufferers feel horrible both physically and mentally after an indication of the grip they have on the person's psyche and the need for this struggle to be taken seriously and with great compassion and also an understanding of the dynamics at play.
However what is most important to understand is that emotional eating is as much about not eating enough as it is about emotional eating episodes. Addressing compulsive “overeating” constitutes a greater opportunity to help individuals with self-care in the many ways focus on self-care can help a person heal and find peace and wellness.
The following emotions often trigger these emotional eating episodes: (6)
- Poor self-esteem
Living with this condition is challenging because it is often difficult to understand, unless the practitioner has a grasp of the bio-psycho-social origins of disordered eating and the destructive impact of diet culture. Compulsive eating behaviors may appear to resemble drug addiction cravings and obsessive thinking in compulsive eating conditions mimic those of those with a substance use disorder. (5)
However, treatment for struggles around this condition are vastly different from treatment for substance use disorders, and involve the journey of embracing the process of engaging in self-care, understanding health at every size principles, getting onto the pathway of mindful and intuitive eating, and combating diet culture.
Often those struggling with this condition will seek out weight loss treatment or diets. This is a sad reality and speaks to the importance of greater psycho-education about the destructive impact of dieting and diet culture and the opportunity to help sufferers embrace a new approach with food that can lead to long term peace and joy in their relationship with food/body and self.
The impact of the restrictive mindset and the painful experience of weight cycling can also impact a person's mental state, worsened by:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Poor body image
These lead people to avoid social engagements where food will be present or other social expectations cause them to feel alienated from others. So not only does this impact overall well being, but also the quality of relationships can be profoundly impacted too, because individuals don't feel comfortable telling others about their condition nor do they feel able to engage socially due to their internal struggle.
History of Compulsive "Overeating"
Historically in some communities of providers , Compulsive "overeating" is seen as a subgroup of being “overweight” and food addiction and does not have a DSM classification of its own. (5)
Compulsive "overeating" has been around for a long time, yet, there is tremendous misunderstanding within the eating disorder field about what this term really means and how to approach a person who may be struggling.
It is often interchanged with BED even though it is a separate experience and does not have its own DSM 5 diagnostic category. BED was recognized in 1959 as a mental health condition associated with disordered eating habits. (7)
However, it was not until 2013 that BED finally made its way into the DSM 5. There are many reasons why this is the case, but suffice to say that the field of eating disorders is still learning and growing and there is much room for greater understanding of this complex behavior leading to significant psycho-social pain, and medical consequences as well.