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Compulsive Eating

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 8 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Compulsive Eating Compulsive Eater

Compulsive eating is the phrase used for uncontrollable bouts of eating, especially when the person is troubled by feelings of shame and guilt afterward. After a time, compulsive eaters will become overweight since their eating habits are not in sync with their physical need for food. They eat in an attempt to satisfy psychological, not physical needs. Although compulsive eaters are overweight, it is important to note that not all overweight people are compulsive eaters.

Symptoms

  • Bingeing - eating uncontrollably without physical hunger.
  • Guilt about the quantity of food consumed.
  • Hiding food or eating large quantities of food when alone.
  • Preoccupation with body weight.
  • Depression and/or anxiety relating to weight and/or food.

How Does it Start?

Compulsive eating often begins in childhood and the problem gradually increases over time. Children who are offered food to soothe them when they are upset learn to rely on that source of comfort whenever they are troubled rather than learning to deal with negative emotions. In other cases, children who are not comfortable expressing themselves seek solace in food, which begins the pattern. Sometimes, children who have suffered a trauma or have been abused in some way turn to food as a way to busy their minds with something other than their fear and anxiety. Sadness, stress, anger, and fear are feelings that all people experience. Compulsive eating is a way for some people to avoid these feelings that make them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the food provides only a temporary reprieve and the negative emotions will return, coupled with the guilt and shame felt because of the compulsive overeating.

Taking Control

Regaining control over compulsive overeating takes time and can be complex. Dieting for weight loss can offer relief from the physical complications of being overweight, but until the underlying emotional issues are dealt with, dieting alone is usually not an effective solution. Typically, compulsive overeating will win out over weight loss plans and the person will regain the weight, often even more than what was lost.

Most compulsive overeaters do best when under the guidance of a well trained professional who can help to uncover the feelings that the person is trying to suppress when they overeat. Recovery is a gradual process of lifestyle changes and learning to accept the negative feelings are a natural part of life and that they will inevitably pass in time. Once the person is able to find alternate outlets for their emotions, their dependence on food lessens.

Common Misconceptions

Unfortunately, public opinion of overweight people is often that they are lazy and unmotivated. For the compulsive overeater, this negative stigma only contributes to their already shaky self esteem, making them feel additional guilt and shame. They are ashamed about their compulsive need for food and they are ashamed of their bodies. The shame leads to more overeating, which merely compounds the problem and continues a troubling and unhealthy cycle.

In reality, many compulsive eaters are very motivated to regain control, but once patterns are established, they find that these ingrained habits are very difficult to change. Since the only way that they have ever coped with negative feelings is by eating, they lack the skills needed to find healthy outlets for their emotions. They are not lazy or unmotivated at all, merely uneducated about healthier alternatives and a way to break the pattern.

Helping Your Child to Cope

From the time that they are little, help your children to understand and accept their feelings. When they are frightened or angry, encourage them to talk about it and offer assurances that their feelings are normal and that they will pass. Let them know that everyone, even adults, feel these things now and then, and empower them to find ways to express their feelings. Never expect your children to suppress their feelings in order to put on a brave front. It is okay to be scared, angry, or anxious. Do not offer treats as a way to feel better, instead talk to them about possible solutions to their problems.

If you think that your child is a compulsive eater, seek help from a professional. It is a good idea to schedule a complete check-up with your child's pediatrician to assess their overall health and condition. From there, you can ask for nutritional advice and a referral for further help, if necessary. By helping your child to take control now you will save them from a life of physical and emotional difficulties.

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