Managing Compulsive Eating: Four Pieces of Advice for Compulsive Overeaters

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Eat Often

One of the main causes of eating disorders is obsessive dieting, and compulsive eating is no exception. Many compulsive overeaters are also compulsive dieters, they may try to skip meals or avoid snacking throughout the day. Then, they become so hungry that they give in and eat “just one thing” - which then leads to a binge session. Managing compulsive eating successfully entails eating regularly throughout the day, snacking on healthy, satisfying foods. Foods like fruits, whole grains, low-fat protein, and starchy vegetables (e.g., corn, peas) can fill you up enough to avoid compulsively overeating, while still giving your body the low-calorie nutrients that it needs to stay healthy.

Create a “Plan B”

What will you do when you feel the need to binge? If you don’t have a plan, you’re setting yourself up for failure. When you feel the urge to reach into your freezer and scarf down a gallon of ice cream, telling yourself “I shouldn’t do this” will probably do little good in convincing you to stop.

Having an alternate plan, however, can help you avoid compulsive eating. Write up a list of alternatives that can take your mind off of food, such as calling a friend on the phone, listening to some of your favorite music, going shopping, or reading a good book. When you feel the need to “cheat,” take out your list and choose one of the options on it.

Be Flexible

Does your dietary plan for the day include an exact number of baby carrots that you are allotted for a midmorning snack? If so, you’re probably being a bit too rigid with your planning. If you end up eating two extra carrots, you may feel that you have failed, and this feeling can cause you to go “all out” and eat whatever you feel like.

Instead of being stuck in this scenario, give yourself room to be flexible within a healthy diet. For example, you might allow yourself to have “some carrots dipped in hummus” as a morning snack, without specifying the amount. If you find yourself grabbing a cookie in addition to the carrots, avoid becoming depressed or giving up. Instead, look at the treat on your schedule for that day (such as a small dessert after dinner), and adjust it accordingly.

Consider Medication or Therapy

If none of the above tips works (or in conjunction with the above tips), you can see attempt some therapy sessions or some medication. One method used to treat compulsive overeating is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on many of the topics mentioned in this article. You can also try intrapersonal psychotherapy, which examines whether your relationship problems with others may be contributing to your tendency to overeat. Alternatively, you could try nutritional therapy, in which a dietitian helps you make up a healthy eating plan and change your eating habits.

Medications such as antidepressants have been shown to help certain people who overeat compulsively. Talk to your doctor about whether they can help you in managing compulsive eating.


The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overating Workbook by Carolyn Coker Ross, MD