Compulsive overeating

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Compulsive overeating (or food addiction) is a compulsive behavior characterized by excessive food consumption. Professionals address this activity either with behaviour therapy or food-addiction model.[1]


An individual suffering from compulsive overeating engages in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binge eating, during which they may feel frenzied or out of control, often consuming food past the point of being full. The term binge eating as slang means eating when not hungry. The clinical term means that and much more. A person who engages in binge eating may eat between 5000-15000 calories in one binge. This explains the fact that some will cancel their plans for their next day because they "feel fat".[2]

Bingeing in this way is generally followed by feelings of guilt and depression. Unlike individuals with bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to compensate for their bingeing with purging behaviors such as fasting, laxative use, or vomiting – although they can have the same feelings of guilt. Compulsive overeaters will typically eat when they are not hungry, and quickly spiral out of control at some point during a food consumption episode. Their obsession is demonstrated in that they spend excessive amounts of time and thought devoted to food, and secretly plan or fantasize about eating. Compulsive overeating usually leads to weight gain and obesity, but is not the only cause of obesity. While compulsive overeaters tend to be overweight or obese, binge eating does not discriminate on body weight.

In addition to binge eating, compulsive overeaters can also engage in grazing behavior, during which they return to pick at food throughout the day. These things result in a large overall number of calories consumed even if the quantities eaten at any one time may be small. When a compulsive eater overeats primarily through bingeing, they can be said to have binge eating disorder.

Left untreated, compulsive overeating can lead to serious medical conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and major depression. Additional long-term side effects of the condition also include kidney disease, arthritis, bone deterioration, and stroke. Other negative effects may include the amount of money that is wasted on food and feelings of low self-esteem that usually accompany bingeing.

Signs and symptoms[edit]


During binges, compulsive overeaters may consume from 5,000 to 15,000 food calories daily, resulting in a temporary release from psychological stress through an addictive high not unlike that experienced through drug abuse. In bulimics, this high may be intensified by the act of purging. Researchers have speculated there is an abnormality of endorphin metabolism in the brain of binge eaters that triggers the addictive process. This is in line with other theories of addiction that attribute it not to avoidance of withdrawal symptoms, but to a primary problem in the reward centers of the brain. For the compulsive overeater, the ingestion of trigger foods causes release of the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. This could be another sign of neurobiological factors contributing to the addictive process. Abstinence from addictive food and food eating processes cause withdrawal symptoms in those with eating disorders. There may be higher levels of depression and anxiety due to the decreased levels of serotonin in the individual.[3]

Some food addicts are more interested in what food is served at social gatherings than the actual gathering, after a while they are always thinking about what the next meal will be; food is at the forefront of the person's mind. And when deprived of it, the person can engage in actions similar to those of cocaine addicts, uncontrollable search for the substance and engaging in stealing from others or lying in extreme cases.[4][5][6]

Dopaminergic models[edit]

It has become increasingly clear that food addiction is more associated with dopamine receptors in the brain, than any other neurotransmitter. Dopamine is related to reward systems in the brain and food addiction is the cause of compulsive overeating, now called in the DSM 5, Binge Eating Disorder. Food addiction has been thought until now to be a sugar and salt addiction, but more studies on this have been made but are not available to public access, and withdrawal symptoms are lowered dopamine and Acetylcholine levels, which explains why a person can not keep motivated on keeping "clean".[improper synthesis?][7][8][9][10][11][12]

The physical explanation of compulsive overeating may be attributed to an overeater's increased tendency to secrete insulin at the sight and smell of food, though medical evidence supporting this is controversial.[13] Research has found a link between the sugar and fat content of foods and bingeing behaviors.[14]


Compulsive overeating is treatable with nutritional assistance and medication. Psychotherapy may also be required, but recent research has proven to be only useful as a complementary resource, and short term effectiveness on middle-severe cases.[15][16]

Antidepressant fluoxetine is the only medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (2012) for the treatment of an eating disorder, that being bulimia nervosa. This medication has been prescribed for the treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. Off label medications such as other SSRIs and several atypical agents such as mianserin, trazodone and bupropion[17][18] have shown some efficacy. Anti-obesity drugs[19] were also proven very effective, although some of the drugs used in the study at that time were removed from the market, such as Sibutramine. Sibutramine is a reuptake inhibitor of norepinephrine, serotonin, and, to a lesser extent, dopamine, that is thought to cause weight loss by increasing satiety. It was removed from the worldwide market in 2010 due to increase risk of cardiac events.[20] The study suggests that anti-obesity drugs, or moderate appetite suppressants, may be key to controlling BED.

Many eating disorders are thought to be behavioral patterns stemming from emotional struggles that need to be resolved in order for the sufferer to develop lasting results and a healthy relationship with food. Compulsive overeating (along with anorexia and bulimia nervosa) is a serious problem and can result in death in severe cases. However, with treatment, which should include talk therapy, medical and nutritional counseling, it can be overcome. Several Twelve Step programs designed to help members recover from compulsive overeating and food addiction exist today.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ho, Karen S. I.; Nichaman, Milton Z.; Taylor, Wendell C.; Lee, Eun Sul; Foreyt, John P. (1995). "Binge eating disorder, retention, and dropout in an adult obesity program". International Journal of Eating Disorders 18 (3): 291–4. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(199511)18:3<291::AID-EAT2260180312>3.0.CO;2-Y. PMID 8556026. 
  2. ^ Goldsmith, Toby D. (2013-01-30). "Bulimia: Binging and Purging". Psych Central. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  3. ^ Kriz, Kerri-Lynn Murphy (May 2002). The Efficacy of Overeaters Anonymous in Fostering Abstinence in Binge-Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa (PhD Thesis). Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. [page needed]
  4. ^ Sheppard, Kay (1993). Food Addiction: The Body Knows. ISBN 978-1-55874-276-5. [page needed]
  5. ^ "Are You a Food Addict?". Food Addicts Anonymous. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  6. ^ "Food Addiction - Signs, Symptoms & Treatment". Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  7. ^ Baik, Ja-Hyun (2013). "Dopamine signaling in food addiction: Role of dopamine D2 receptors". BMB Reports 46 (11): 519–26. doi:10.5483/BMBRep.2013.46.11.207. PMID 24238362. 
  8. ^ Baik, Ja-Hyun (2013). "Dopamine Signaling in reward-related behaviors". Frontiers in Neural Circuits 7: 152. doi:10.3389/fncir.2013.00152. PMC 3795306. PMID 24130517. 
  9. ^ Davis, Caroline; Loxton, Natalie J.; Levitan, Robert D.; Kaplan, Allan S.; Carter, Jacqueline C.; Kennedy, James L. (2013). "'Food addiction' and its association with a dopaminergic multilocus genetic profile". Physiology & behavior 118: 63–9. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.05.014. PMID 23680433. 
  10. ^ Klump, Kelly L.; Racine, Sarah; Hildebrandt, Britny; Sisk, Cheryl L. (2013). "Sex differences in binge eating patterns in male and female adult rats". International Journal of Eating Disorders 46 (7): 729–36. doi:10.1002/eat.22139. PMID 23625647. Lay summaryScienceDaily (May 1, 2013). 
  11. ^ Jennings, J. H.; Rizzi, G.; Stamatakis, A. M.; Ung, R. L.; Stuber, G. D. (2013). "The Inhibitory Circuit Architecture of the Lateral Hypothalamus Orchestrates Feeding". Science 341 (6153): 1517–21. doi:10.1126/science.1241812. PMID 24072922. Lay summaryScienceDaily (September 26, 2013). 
  12. ^ Frank, Guido K.W.; Reynolds, Jeremy R.; Shott, Megan E.; O'Reilly, Randall C. (2011). "Altered Temporal Difference Learning in Bulimia Nervosa". Biological Psychiatry 70 (8): 728–35. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.05.011. PMC 3186835. PMID 21718969. Lay summaryScienceDaily (July 15, 2011). 
  13. ^ Weiner, Sydell (1998). "The addiction of overeating: Self-help groups as treatment models". Journal of Clinical Psychology 54 (2): 163–7. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199802)54:2<163::AID-JCLP5>3.0.CO;2-T. PMID 9467760. 
  14. ^ Avena, N. M.; Rada, P.; Hoebel, B. G. (2009). "Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have Notable Differences in Addictive-like Behavior". Journal of Nutrition 139 (3): 623–8. doi:10.3945/jn.108.097584. PMC 2714381. PMID 19176748. 
  15. ^ "Binge-eating disorder Treatment at Mayo Clinic - Diseases and Conditions". Mayo Clinic. 2012-04-03. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  16. ^ Johnson, Bankole A.; Ait-Daoud, Nassima; Wang, Xin-Qun; Penberthy, J. Kim; Javors, Martin A.; Seneviratne, Chamindi; Liu, Lei (2013). "Topiramate for the Treatment of Cocaine Addiction". JAMA Psychiatry 70 (12): 1338–46. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2295. PMID 24132249. Lay summaryScienceDaily (October 25, 2013). 
  17. ^ White, Marney A.; Grilo, Carlos M. (2013). "Bupropion for Overweight Women with Binge-Eating Disorder". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 74 (4): 400–6. doi:10.4088/JCP.12m08071. PMID 23656848. 
  18. ^ Calandra, Carmela; Russo, Rina Giuseppa; Luca, Maria (2011). "Bupropion Versus Sertraline in the Treatment of Depressive Patients with Binge Eating Disorder: Retrospective Cohort Study". Psychiatric Quarterly 83 (2): 177–85. doi:10.1007/s11126-011-9192-0. PMID 21927936. 
  19. ^ "Obesity Treatment at Mayo Clinic - Diseases and Conditions". Mayo Clinic. 2013-06-07. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  20. ^ McElroy, Susan; Guerdjikova, Anna I.; Mori, Nicole; O'Melia, Anne (2012). "Pharmacological management of binge eating disorder: Current and emerging treatment options". Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management 8: 219–41. doi:10.2147/TCRM.S25574. PMC 3363296. PMID 22654518. 

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