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Food Addiction Facts - Understanding Compulsive Eating Disorder

written by: Roohi Khan • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/9/2011

Uncontrollable eating followed by feelings of guilt and shame, but without the usual purging involved in bulimia. If this is you, it could be food addiction or compulsive overeating disorder.

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    Compulsive eating or food addiction is a disorder where an individual uses food as a means of coping with stress, emotional problems, and daily problems. Unlike bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not follow their bingeing with purging behaviors. And although it leads to weight gain and obesity, not everyone who is obese is addicted to food.

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    How Does it Begin and Why Does it Happen?

    This eating disorder usually begins in early childhood, the time when children are forming their eating patterns. The child, unable to learn effective ways of coping with stress, turns to food for comfort and quickly realizes that food actually helps in soothing negative feelings. This unhealthy way of using food for coping with stress continues as the individual grows up.

    People with compulsive eating are constantly preoccupied with food and are often thinking about eating alone. They use it as a way of blocking out emotional issues, often continuing to eat even after they are full. However, overeating only provides temporary relief for these negative feelings and the individual only ends up feeling shameful and guilty for indulging in this uncontrollable eating.

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    What is Compulsive Eating? Signs and Symptoms

    Food addiction can be identified with the following signs and symptoms:

    • Uncontrollable eating or bingeing, even when an individual is not hungry

    • Eating rapidly and often eating alone

    • Overeating is followed by a sense of guilt and shame

    • Preoccupation with body weight and distorted body image

    • Withdrawing from social activities due to embarrassment about weight

    • A history of unsuccessful dieting

    • Depression or mood swings

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    Long Term Effects of Food Addiction

    It is believed that compulsive overeaters can consume up to 5000 calories at a time and up to 60,000 calories in a day. This amount of excessive consumption of calories is bound to lead to certain medical complications. Irregular periods, dental problems, swollen cheek glands, heartburn, bloating, hypertension, fatigue, nausea, weight gain, arthritis, sciatica, varicose veins, toxemia during pregnancy, and hiatal hernia are some of the medical complications that an individual can suffer.

    Besides this, if uncontrollable eating has led to obesity in the individual, he/she is at an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some forms of cancer.

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    How Can Compulsive Overeating be Treated?

    Although there is no easy way to deal with it, counseling and therapy can help in coping with this eating disorder. Treatment usually involves counseling for underlying emotional issues, medical and nutritional counseling, modifying eating patterns, and a good exercise program.

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    Quick Food Addiction Facts

    • Involves uncontrollable eating followed by self-deprecating feelings of guilt and shame

    • Compulsive overeating is an unhealthy way of coping with stress, emotional problems, and daily problems

    • It usually begins in early childhood

    • Leads to weight gain and obesity

    • It can lead to medical complications including heart ailments, diabetes and even death

    • Proper counseling and therapy can help an individual recover from compulsive eating disorder

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    References

    University of Pennsylvania: COMPULSIVE OVEREATING DISORDER, http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/ohe/library/bodyimage/compulsive.htm

    AllAboutLifeChallenges.org: Food Addiction – Food Obsession, http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/food-addiction.htm