Understanding Compulsive Overeating

What is Compulsive Overeating?

Compulsive overeating disorder (COD) is when someone compulsively overeats to the point of pain or self-loathing.

While overeating, they may feel out of control, guilty, shameful or some other negative feeling. When the overeating is taking place, the individual will feel out of control.

The frequency of the compulsive overeating session does not define whether or not an individual has this disorder or not.

You could compulsively overeat daily or once a month and still fall into this category of disorder.

While we all overeat at times, what defines whether or not it’s an unhealthy event is how you feel during and after the episode of overeating.

If you overeat one night and it doesn’t make you feel any certain (negative) way about yourself, you most likely possess this compulsive behavior. 

How is Compulsive Overeating Similar to Binge Eating Disorder?

Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder(BED) are similar when it comes to the binge session that takes place.

Someone with either disorder will experience the same feelings and lack of control while they’re overeating.

They may binge to fill some sort of void/to make themselves feel better. People with either of these disorders usually learn to do this in the early stages of their lives.

overeating disorder treatment

They discover that eating food makes you feel good so they develop poor eating habits and an unhealthy relationship with food. 

It’s important to seek treatment for compulsive overeating disorder as it can lead to serious results later in life.

How Compulsive Overeating is Different from BED

The difference between compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder is purging. Purging is an occurrence that takes place with someone with BED.

Someone experiencing compulsive overeating does not have the urge to purge after a binge/session of overeating. Purging can be done in a number of ways.

Typically, people think of purging as the act of vomiting following a binge eating session. While this is often true, other practices such as extreme exercise or fasting for long periods of time take place as a purge as well.

Basically, BED is a cycle of compulsive binging, feeling guilty about the food/calories consumed, then taking some sort of extreme action to “make up” for eating. 

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Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating Disorder

Symptoms of compulsive overeating could vary by individual. The most commonly seen symptoms are as follows.

  • Eating when you’re not hungry. Eating when not hungry is a part of what distinguishes an eating disorder. The individual may have just eaten or will continue to eat even after they are full. Similar to BED, they will feel unable to stop eating and will continue until they are in pain and are forced to stop.

  • A low sex drive. A low sex drive can occur as a result of feelings of shame, guilt or other forms of self-loathing. This is simply because the individual is ashamed of their eating habits and it consumes their mind. This makes it difficult to “get in the mood” and they will not want to be vulnerable with anyone.

  • Eating what most would consider a large amount of food, often. Since this is a compulsion, they will feel like they must eat a large amount of food. They know it is more than they should be consuming but their compulsion does not allow them to stay in control and have a reasonable portion of food.

  • Eating alone. Since feelings of shame or guilt usually occur when overeating takes place, people suffering with COD will often prefer to eat alone. 

  • Hiding food around the house. Hiding food and eating it in secret is common for the individual with COD. They will not want other family members to know that they are eating so much or so often. 

  • Eating all throughout the day. Compulsive overeating doesn’t always look like a single binge session. If someone is constantly eating or snacking all throughout the day, most days, they may be struggling with COD. It all depends on why they are eating and how they feel during or as a result of their eating.

  • Regular consumption of a “midnight snack”. Again, this goes back to many factors such as frequent eating or not wanting to eat around other people.

Causes of Compulsive Overeating Disorder

While the direct cause is usually unknown case by case, several factors usually come into play. It’s important to note that each situation will be different depending on the person’s background and experiences.

Let’s take a look at a few typical causes of compulsive overeating.


Abuse can come in a variety of forms as we all know. While physical abuse is the most obvious, verbal and emotional abuse do just as much damage.

If someone is abused for long enough or has a poor sense of self, they may start to believe that they deserve to be abused.

Not only can the abuser make them feel as though they are not worthy, but the individual may start to hate themselves in the process as well.

Whenever someone is being abused and not receiving help, there is usually some sort of negative outlet for the pain. Sometimes people may resort to hurting themselves or others.

They may also start eating compulsively as a way to try to comfort themselves. If this is the case, compulsive eating may quickly develop into binge eating disorder.

This is because compulsive eating will temporarily comfort them or give them a sense of control. They will then be followed by guilt, shame and possible self-loathing which could result in an immediate purge.

Even after the abuse has come to end, the results may be lasting if the individual suffering does not get treatment.


Someone struggling with any level of anxiety may turn to food as a comfort mechanism. When someone is experiencing anxiety, they feel an instant and intense sense of anxiousness.

This can cause them to overthink real and imaginary scenarios, avoid social situations, be unable to commit to plans and so forth.

If someone is not actively engaged in treating their anxiety, they may turn to any form of comfort such as drugs, alcohol and compulsive/binge eating.

This does not mean that they will develop BED. They simply care about calming their anxiety and may or may not experience the guilt/shame of the binge that is experienced in binge eating disorder.

overeating disorder treatment


Similar to anxiety, people suffering with depression may turn to food as a form of comfort. It’s easy to fall into this trap but it could progress quickly and develop into something much more dangerous that the occasional ice cream binge when you’re not feeling that great.

Genetic makeup

If you’ve read some of the other articles on the blog, you may know that disorders can be passed down in our genes.

This typically occurs with personality traits that lead to anxiety disorders or tendencies of depression. If a parent possesses an anxious personality and develops a disorder, the child could very well do the same.

This can also occur from environmental conditioning. For example, if a parent had extreme anxiety, depression or OCD (to name a few), they will behave a certain way because of that.

In turn, their child will be subjected to their irrational and inappropriate behavior.

They may grow up to adapt those traits especially if they spent a lot of time with the parent(s) in a situation such as being homeschooled or traveling a lot where establishing outside relationships was more limited than usual.

Fortunately, if the child has an eagerness to branch out on their own once of age, they may be able to think for themselves and adapt new behaviors.

This takes a lot of work and is a very conscious choice but it can be done. Some children of parents in situations like this go their whole lives without change which could keep unhealthy traits going on for generations.

If this is the case, the child will most likely develop certain disorders based off of their experiences and personality. Compulsive eating and even BED may develop as a result of going without treatment. 

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It may seem funny to think that a disorder and serious life changing problem could come from simply being bored, but it absolutely can.

With individuals who lack self control around food or those who do not have a strong sense of health, developing the compulsion to overeat may be a result of continuous boredom.


Similar to abuse, trauma can have serious emotional, mental and physical effects. Untreated trauma usually leads to anxiety and/or depression. It can also lead to the development of personality disorders.

In all of these potential cases, compulsive overeating may be an effect of the other symptoms and experiences the suffering individual is going through.

Overeating Disorder Treatment

Just like the other disorders we’ve been discussing lately, the use of therapy and sometimes medication is the recommended overeating disorder treatment approach.

Typically, medication is only used when there is a use to control/treat symptoms such as anxiety and/or depression. 

Psychodynamic psychotherapy “talk therapy”

Psychotherapy is the oldest form of therapy known. This is used for a variety of disorders and emotional support. Psychotherapy is great for working through the daily struggles that individuals with compulsive overeating disorder may be facing. 

Depending on the severity of the individual’s overeating disorder, treatment through therapy can be a short process or can last for years.

According to research and this article the majority of people in psychotherapy typically see helpful results. The professional skills and knowledge a therapist has can help rewrite destructive patterns of behavior.

This will lead to better outcomes in every area of the patient’s life such as relationships, their job, and even their relationship with themselves.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy “talk therapy”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a form of psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), although its focus is slightly different.

CBT specifically targets eliminating negative thought patterns.

This focus may be an appropriate treatment if someone has self-esteem issues that affect a variety of areas in their life such as their eating habits.

By working with someone to eliminate negative thoughts/beliefs, you open a door to endless possibilities for yourself and recovery.

overeating disorder treatment
compulsive overeating disorder treatment via therapy

There are also a variety of other eating and  personality disorders that benefit from CBT. By being willing to work on destructive behavior patterns, you can eliminate the narrative in your mind and change your actions!

CBT is a great way for people to take control and change their lives.


The last suggestion for compulsive overeating disorder treatment is medication.

As previously mentioned, medication may be an option of treatment for someone suffering with compulsive overeating if they’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression as well.

There are several antidepressants that are approved for overeating disorder treatment when appropriate scenarios call for it.

If you think this is something you could benefit from, talk to your doctor about which one could help you! 

Health Concerns from COD

Obviously, compulsively overeating is not good for you. It doesn’t feel good physically and the person experiencing it does not feel good about themselves.

But what about long term effects? Here are a few of the top health concerns.


Unlike BED, when someone is struggling with compulsive overeating disorder, they do not purge the food they ate. This results in unhealthy amounts of food being processed through the body.

As a result, the person will start to gain weight and will reach an unhealthy state of obesity if they continue to overeat on a regular basis.

Type-2 Diabetes

When to overeat, you’re at risk for developing type-2 diabetes. This is because when you eat anything, the food you consume is changed into sugar for energy.

Having too much sugar in your blood is what puts people at risk for becoming diabetic. On top of that, your body will start to resist the positive effects of insulin.

Insulin is the amazing hormone that is responsible for clearing the sugar out of your bloodstream.

When an individual is constantly overeating, their body never has a chance to regulate and they will eventually develop the disease unless treatment, a healthy diet and exercise are pursued. 

Heart Disease

Heart disease is also known for developing due to obesity. Weight gain typically causes high blood pressure which then damages the heart.

When your heart doesn’t function properly, you could be at risk for a number of serious concerns such as heart failure.

Check out this helpful article to learn more about the daily effects that overeating has on your body.

A Tips to Avoid Overeating

  • HERE is a link to the National Eating Disorders Association’s support helpline. They have options for online chat, text or phone call. You can also suggest online therapy. 

  • Replace pleasure with pleasure. Find something healthy that can be your new outlet. A relaxing outdoor activity can be a great way to distract yourself when you have the urge to binge PLUS you won’t be near food! Some people enjoy a long walk accompanied by their favorite podcast. While it’s not the same sensation as eating, it’s a healthy place to start that will get your body moving a little bit. Exercise of any kind can have amazing effects! The healthier your body is, the healthier your mind can be.

  • As mentioned earlier, HERE is a link to get started with an online therapist which includes 20% off the first month. Certified counselors can help you pinpoint what is causing the compulsions to binge and will help you work toward recovery! Imagine no longer feeling the urge to overeat! 

If this topic resonates with you or someone you love, please do not hesitate to reach out to the helpful people at the National Eating Disorders Association.

Or if you’re ready, speak to a therapist and start working toward a better you today! You deserve to live a healthy, happy life with peace of mind.

Compulsive overeating disorder treatment is possible but it’s up to you to commit to your health.

Choosing to take one small step today could bring amazing results for the rest of your life!

More from the Blog…

Resources and Helpful Articles

This article from healthline.com – More on the difference between COD and BED

Overeaters Anonymous  – Support community


Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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