Compulsive overeaters are individuals who suffer from an obsession with food and a compulsion to eat despite the resulting negative effects on their physical and emotional health and well being. They eat to satisfy an emotional hunger, whether this hunger is for love, for comfort or for a sense of control over something in their life. Compulsive overeaters may be a few pounds overweight, or over a hundred pounds overweight. The defining factor is not how much they weigh, but the underlying reasons that they eat.
Compulsive overeating is one of three major eating disorders, the other two being anorexia and bulimia. Compulsive overeaters are addicted to food in the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. It is their substance of choice. Like an alcoholic, their addiction to food as a way of self-medicating to relieve stress, loneliness, emptiness or boredom, can make their lives unmanageable and result in major health problems.
Compulsive overeating is a difficult addiction to treat, because unlike addictions involving alcohol or drugs where the addict must totally abstain from these substances in order to recover, we all have to eat in order to live. Eating in moderation in order to satisfy physical versus emotional hunger becomes the challenge. People may overeat compulsively for a variety of different reasons. Obesity can be something to hide behind, like a protective fat pad. It can be a way of hiding one’s sexuality or avoiding intimacy. This is especially true for individuals who were emotionally or sexually abused as children. Eating compulsively can also be a way of stuffing feelings of rage, depression and dissatisfaction with one’s own life
Overeating results in feelings of guilt and shame, and often self-hatred. Overweight individuals are frequently the but of negative stereotypes and are often labeled as dumb, inefficient or lazy, which further damages their self-esteem. Their activities can be severely restricted. It can become difficult to participate in sports, or even to get up from a chair. Obese individuals suffer from job discrimination. They are ostracized by society and criticized by loved one’s, family and friends.
Psychotherapy (often in combination with a 12 Step Program such as Overeaters Anonymous) provides a safe, nonjudgmental environment that can help individuals in their recovery from compulsive overeating. Getting to the root causes by working through underlying emotional issues, along with helping individuals change their relationship with food and their bodies, can lead to recovery.