Compulsive Eating – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Compulsive eating is a condition in which the person loses control of when, what and how much food he/she takes. If a person has compulsive eating, he/she overeats food in large amount even if he/she is full already. The person having compulsive eating feels an uncontrollable urge to feed on more, and eats much faster than other people around them. The person might eat a large quantity in a short time period, or keep having something constantly throughout the day. These people generally eat alone due to urge of overeating, and have sense of guilt and shame after overeating.

How Common Is Compulsive Eating?

Compulsive eating can occur in anyone regardless of age, sex. body weight and size or any other personal attributes. However, studies show that women are twice likely to have compulsive eating than men. As per a report by Overeaters Anonymous (OA), women who have compulsive eating see the food as a means of comfort and way out for emptiness and low self-esteem.

What Causes Compulsive Eating?

Many factors contribute in developing compulsive eating in a person:

Biological factors

Eating is a response to our hunger and appetite. One of the causes that can result in compulsive eating is imbalance in our hunger and appetite. If by any means, our brain has been sending us message that we are always hungry, we can overeat even if our stomach is full. Lowered serotonin levels in the brain can also contribute in development of compulsive disorder. Studies also show that heredity and genes can also influence the overeating habit in people.


Unhealthy dieting can be a major cause of compulsive overeating. Cutting off a large portion of food, and restricting oneself from eating will magnify the desire to eat. This can lead to compulsive eating gradually.

Psychological Factors

Eating food can provide temporary relief when one is stressed out, sad, unhappy, frustrated, bored, disappointed and alone. Eventually, people can develop compulsive eating if they start munching on more food seeing it as a solution for their loneliness and depression.

What are the symptoms of compulsive eating?

Following signs can be warning signals that you may have compulsive eating.

  • Having strong and uncontrollable urge to eat large quantities of food
  • Overeating at a short time period, or having constant snacks in a large amount
  • Eating more rapidly than others
  • Overeating to the extent of getting sick
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Eating alone most of the times
  • Felling shame and guilt after eating
  • Frequent change in the choice of diets
  • Depression and feeling distressed about own eating habits

When to get help from a doctor?

Compulsive eating is not a mental disorder. However, continuous compulsive eating can result in other mental disorders like binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. If you’re overeating, then a few positive changes in your lifestyle and routine can help you manage your compulsive eating. If the above symptoms happen multiple times a week, and continue for more than six months time, you should consult with a doctor.

Changing your lifestyle

Stop dieting or any other diet routines

Dieting is not the solution to stop the eating urge. In fact, many studies show that starving yourself up is just another way to increase your desire to eat. If you’re following any kinds of dieting routine, you need to stop it immediately.

Don’t keep tempting foods at home

Do not keep any kind of foods that are tempting in your reach. Temptation leads you to feed on that food more. Try to control the desire to buy that extra packet of chips for the late night snack.


Start healthy habits of exercising. Even simple exercises like brisk walking can help to strengthen your metabolism. Consequently, you can control the weight gain, throw out the extra calories you’ve been taking in and relieve stress.

Start a food journal

Most of the times, if you have compulsive eating, you lose the control of eating while you’re munching on and immediately feel shame for overeating afterwards. You can start writing and recording when, what and how much you ate a day in a journal. You’ll see for yourself the eating pattern you’re having, and make a plan to control it.

Have proper sleep

If your body feels tired, give it rest. Sleeping helps to maintain great energy level. Many times, people with compulsive eating see food as a means of energy and comfort for the body. Don’t mistake your tiredness for hunger if you haven’t been getting enough sleep. Instead of this, just get enough proper sleep.

Distract yourself

Involve yourself in other regular activities and get distracted. You can call a friend to meet up, or take your dog for a walk. You can also involve in your hobbies like dancing, cycling or painting. The aim is to replace eating with other activities.