The heroine of Insatiable, high school student Patty, eats tons of fast food and sweets. For the duration of the attacks, it’s as if her mind shuts down and she finds herself surrounded by chocolate wrappers after them. Like 2.5 percent of men and 3.5 percent of women, Patty has compulsive overeating. Many go on diets, banning “bad” foods, but only make it worse. Let’s find out what compulsive overeating is, how dangerous it is, and how to deal with it.
What Is It
Compulsive overeating is a condition when a person eats a lot of food in a short time: even when not hungry and can not stop, although already full or even full. After three burgers, two big packets of chips, a cake, and a couple of dozen candies, one feels deep guilt, shame, and powerlessness. But trying not to eat so much intensifies the attack.
It’s an eating disorder with repeated bouts of overeating. The criteria call for them to occur on average at least once a week for 3 months. A compulsive binge eating episode is when so much food is eaten in a certain period of time that is definitely more than most people would eat in the same period of time under the same circumstances. Usually two hours is taken as such a period. Context is important. Excessive for a normal meal may be considered normal for a celebration or holiday meal. The episode of overeating is not limited to the specific context and setting. Overeating can unfold in the restaurant and continue when you return home.
One of the criteria is loss of control. The person cannot stop, even though he or she understands that he or she must, otherwise he or she will hurt himself or herself. But the chocolate bars are absorbed anyway, with cake, a couple of cheesecakes, and ice cream lined up behind them.
Some people describe a dissociative state during or after episodes of overeating – a “falling out” of reality where they don’t remember eating the food. The loss of control associated with compulsive overeating isn’t absolute; for example, a person continues to eat while the phone rings, but stops eating if a spouse or roommate enters the room unexpectedly.
In an attack of gluttony, people with this disorder eat much faster than usual. They choose a secluded place or wait until everyone has left to eat alone. The person doesn’t feel physically hungry, but emotionally demands a huge slice of pizza and half a pound of chocolate jelly beans.
In compulsive overeating, people don’t use inadequate compensatory behavior. They don’t induce vomiting or drink laxatives or exhaust themselves with fitness and starvation, as is the case with bulimia nervosa.
The main victims of compulsive overeating are young people and adolescents. Most of them have not formed an adequate self-image, and the opinion of others about them is often more important than their own. Therefore, they react to high levels of anxiety with compulsive actions – they eat ice cream, for example, or chips, and then go on hunger strikes or mono-diets.
Compulsive overeating is prone to people who lack effective emotional regulation skills. They have an overdeveloped habit of pampering themselves instead of the skill to support and take care of themselves. They have a low tolerance for emotional discomfort, frustration and “bummer” states.
Many people snack on huge portions of snacks, drink liters of tea and coffee at work, and open a huge jar of ice cream to read books, download 20Bet app, or watch TV. Some are afraid of the figure and believe that the love of endless snacks with crackers – compulsive overeating. It’s impossible to say unequivocally: it’s important to consider how much time a person eats a lot of snacks, what motivates him to do it and how he feels about it.
In a narrow sense, you shouldn’t classify it as compulsive overeating. But it’s important to anticipate the undesirable consequences of such “endless” drinking without thirst, if there are any. This is the “intolerance” of discomfort in the form of boredom. So there is an emotional plot in “compulsive drinking,” too.
Who Is at Risk
The cause of compulsive overeating has not been identified. But doctors at the Mayo Clinic have talked about risk factors. And weight is a relative marker. Most people with compulsive overeating have obesity, but most people with obesity don’t have compulsive overeating.
People with psychological problems are prone to it. Living in distress, insecure, self-doubting, and complexes about their appearance. Many of them try diets to lose weight, but they do not succeed. They call compulsive overeating “breakdowns”, thinking they are helpless and not motivated enough to lose weight.
Heredity is another factor. If a person’s parents, brothers or sisters suffer from compulsive overeating, they are more likely to have this problem. Most likely it isn’t so much a matter of genes, as in the upbringing and eating culture in the family. Those who have received unpleasant comments about their figure or appetite from family members are more likely to overeat.
Regarding the causes of this disorder there is no consensus. Its development is influenced by family distress – high expectations of parents of the appearance of the child, conflictual relationships. A possible factor may be sexual abuse and sports activities that emphasize slimness and thinness, genetic predisposition.
Compulsive overeating is more common in people with diabetes. In the first type, when life depends on nutrition, a person has to monitor his diet more carefully and calculate bread units. This is tiring and ruins the quality of life. At the second type, when demonic efforts bring modest results because of insulin resistance, willpower also quickly runs out – you want to eat everything and forget about calories, sports, and regime.
The most frequent precursors of overeating are a heavy unpleasant bad mood: sadness, melancholy, irritation, dysphoria. Other triggers are intrapersonal stressors, dietary restrictions, negative feelings related to weight and body shape and boredom. In the short term, overeating mitigates the factors that triggered the episode, but there will be delayed consequences – negative self-esteem and dysphoria.”
How to Treat
A person with compulsive overeating is recommended to see a psychologist. It’s important to find a specialist with specialized higher education, and not a girl from Instagram after a three-month course who “experienced the same thing, now I will help you too.” Sometimes therapy is enough, but more often the person needs medication.
The first line of prescriptions is therapy. It’s needed to identify problem areas closely related to overeating, to reduce episodes of overeating, to learn mindful eating and to regulate one’s emotions. When there is overweight, behavioral weight loss therapy is involved. This is a moderate reduction of calories, exercise, improve the quality of nutrition and acquire healthy eating habits. As for medications, they often prescribe antidepressants, antiepileptics and medications for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
Some people choose to fight overeating with willpower. But they don’t know that willpower is a limited resource, and everyone has a different reserve. Usually it isn’t enough to stop an attack of compulsive overeating, but feelings of guilt and powerlessness increase manifold.
Others make the switch to health nutrition. They divide foods into good and bad, sit on diets and food systems, and participate in blogger marathons. Often, a low-carbohydrate diet or avoiding certain foods altogether is mistaken for proper nutrition. Adherents of this system are waiting for the choice of a bogatyr standing at the crossroads of epic stone: if a person loses it – even deeper into their experiences and a sense of powerlessness, worthlessness, but if he can withstand and build a magic healthy diet in his life, risks earning orthorexia – excessive love of the right foods. And then – a disorder of food restriction or anorexia.
Others choose intuitive eating. Psychologists make good money on it, because the rule is the same – eat whatever the body wants. Books are written about intuitive eating and marathons are based on it. It’s a normal eating pattern for a healthy person, but not for someone who has compulsive overeating and impaired eating “intuition.”
Intuitive or anti-diet eating started gaining popularity some time ago. If a person has no problems with eating behavior, then it suits him. However, this eating pattern is contraindicated for people with eating disorders, including compulsive overeating, because their natural mechanisms for regulating hunger and satiety are impaired and their eating behavior is upset. Intuitive eating increases the risk of worsening these pathologies. It’s important to consider that intuitive eating implies that a person has constant access to a variety of food, and not the consumption of what is used to eat in the fridge. So intuitive eating is often inaccessible to people in our country for economic and social reasons.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat
Compulsive overeating reduces quality of life. The person is constantly thinking about the problem. His appearance deteriorates, he is forced to wear clothes that hide his figure. Barbed remarks of others and advice to lose weight wreak havoc on his already low self-esteem. The person isolates himself, loses friends, doesn’t seek out relationships, and doesn’t prove himself at work.
Compulsive overeating often leads to type 2 diabetes. They eat a lot and move little, so they gain weight. And excess fat leads to insulin resistance and even more weight gain. Over time, this condition transforms into diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux, snoring at night.
Sometimes compulsive overeating is combined with other mental disorders. It’s found in people with depression, bipolar affective and anxiety disorders, substance use problems. So it’s not overeating as a symptom that’s being treated, but what led to it.
The most common comorbidities are specific phobias, social phobia, depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse or addiction. And these rates are higher than in the general population. For example, the lifetime prevalence of specific phobias in the general population is 12%, while the prevalence of compulsive overeating is 37%.