Compulsive overeating is a disorder of eating behaviors. People who compulsively overeat will continuously eat throughout the day or experience repeated episodes of consuming very large amounts of food. They are most frequently overweight and males. Compulsive overeating can lead to a host of medical complications and even lead to death. It can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments.

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The exact cause of compulsive overeating is unknown. Some researchers characterize it as an addiction to food. It appears to be an unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with stress, depression, poor self-worth, or painful emotions. Many people that compulsively overeat have low-self esteem and feel that they are “not good enough.” Compulsive overeating usually begins in childhood. Family conflict, over-controlling parents, and parents that do not allow emotional expression are factors that may contribute to compulsive overeating.

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People who compulsively overeat may eat alone to keep their problem a secret. They are usually aware that their behavior and thoughts are not appropriate, but may have difficulty indicating to others that they have an issue. Frequently, the loved ones of a person that compulsively overeats recognize the symptoms and help the individual access treatment.

People who compulsively overeat eat abnormally large amounts of food on a frequent basis throughout the day. They may eat when they do not feel hungry and continue to eat after they feel full. They may feel like they cannot stop eating, control the amount of food that they eat, or how frequently they eat. They may eat alone and hide their compulsive overeating behaviors from others.

People who compulsively overeat may diet in an attempt to control their weight. However, dieting may make them feel deprived and in turn fuels the compulsive eating. They may have a history of weight fluctuations, but commonly are overweight or obese. They may feel ashamed of being overweight. Additionally, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or substance abuse may accompany compulsive overeating.

Over time, untreated compulsive overeating can lead to serious medical complications. Associated medical conditions include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, bone conditions, and depression. The cumulative consequences of compulsive overeating can cause death.

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Treatment for compulsive overeating includes addressing the physical and emotional health of an individual. A foremost goal is to stop the compulsion to overeat. Psychotherapy is helpful for the emotional, thought, and behavioral problems associated with compulsive overeating. It may include individual therapy, family counseling, or group therapy. Nutritional education, structured meal planning, and healthy exercise instruction may be beneficial too. Further, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, or other such medications can help individuals as well.

With treatment, the majority of people that compulsively overeat can resolve their issues and recover or make significant gains. Eating disorders involve complex emotional conflicts that may take time to resolve. People that fully participate in treatment tend to have the best outcomes.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit