Compulsive eating (also called food addiction) is the compulsive need for and use of food; it's the state of being enslaved to food. Like other addictions, it is characterized by the obsession and compulsion of thinking and behavior associated with food.

An individual suffering from compulsive eating disorder will feel compelled to eat large quantities of food. This feeling is mentally and physically consuming and drives the individual to continue to feel out of control and unable to stop, continuing to eat despite feeling full or sick. While in the midst of over-eating or a binge-eating session, the individual will feel powerless to stop eating, even if they are not hungry. They may gorge themselves so quickly that they cannot taste what they are eating and they may become sick.

Symptoms of compulsive eating disorder usually begin in later adolescence or early adulthood.

Those who struggle with compulsive eating often experience depression, shame, and guilt about their inability to stop overeating. They worry about their lack of self-control and what the food is doing to their bodies, but feel powerless to stop. Furthermore, binge-eating is often done secretly because the individual is scared, guilty, or embarrassed.

Binge-eating disorder is marked by frequent episodes of uncontrollable binge-eating, feeling distressed during or after binging.

Causes Of Compulsive Eating Disorder:

As with any other addiction, there are many theories about the causes, including—but not limited to—genetic predispositions, environment, and psychological trauma. Furthermore,  the following are potential causes for binge-eating:

  • Depression: Mood disorders may cause changes in appetite

  • Dieting: Not eating enough or skipping meals may lead to binging

  • Coping Skills: Food may be used as a means to handle emotions

  • Biology: Everyone has different brain chemistry, drives, and food motivations

Symptoms of Compulsive Eating Disorder:

As with other addictions, it's up to the individual to decide if he or she is an addict; however, there are some symptoms that can help one make that decision. This list is not meant to be comprehensive as each individual’s experience is different.

  • Inability to control the intake of food

  • Being obsessed or preoccupied with food

  • Physical cravings for food

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Feelings of shame, depression, or sadness about one’s eating or weight

  • Irritability and/or mood changes

  • Eating in response to emotions

  • Eating in private/ hiding food

  • Stealing others’ food

  • Avoiding social interactions because of shame about weight or size

  • Eating when full or not hungry

  • Low self-esteem

  • History of unsuccessful dieting and weight fluctuations

Complications of Compulsive Eating Disorder:

Overeating and food addiction can increase the risk of many conditions, including, but not limited to:

Treatment for Compulsive Eating Disorder:

There are many options for treatment of compulsive eating disorder that may be used alone or in combination.

  • Nutritionist/dietician

  • Doctor

  • Psychologist/counselor

  • Eating disorder specialist

  • 12 step fellowships for eating disorders, overeaters, and/or food addicts

  • Therapy

  • Certain medications, like appetite suppressants or antidepressants may also be used in the treatment of overeating or food addiction. All medications should be used under a physician’s supervision.

Home Strategies to Manage Compulsive Eating Disorder:

Eat three small meals a day with snacks rather than gorging on one big meal. Skipping meals may lead to binging later in the day.

Quit dieting. The deprivation and hunger from strict diets may trigger food cravings and binges.

Manage stress in more healthy ways.

Do not buy tempting foods from the store.

Listen to your body when you eat.

Maintain a food diary.

Exercise to release endorphins and lose weight.

Avoid boredom.

Sleep enough.

Find a support system.  There are 12 step programs, therapists, counselors, and other types of support for compulsive eaters.  Like any other condition, support is vital to recovery.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together





Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

Resources for Compulsive Eating Disorder:

Overeaters Anonymous - A 12-step resource center for individuals who struggle with food.

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous - A 12-step recovery program for those who struggle with food and are currently in recovery.

Food Addicts Anonymous - A 12-step recovery program for those who struggle with food and are not currently in recovery.

Compulsive Eaters Anonymous-HOW - A fellowship of individuals who share experience, strength, and hope.

Recovery From Food Addiction - A 12-step program for those who struggle with food, focusing on abstaining from sugar, flour, and wheat.

Food Addiction Institute - A resource for expanding scientific and medical knowledge about food, provide education and information about treatment and resources. - A resource website about compulsive eating, along with a binge eating disorder fact sheet.

In the UK:

Eating Disorder Support - A website dedicated to gathering information about eating disorders, related problems, and treatment options.

In Canada:

Canada Eating Disorder Addiction Treatment - A directory for rehab programs in Canada.

Recovery From Food Addiction - An Ontario-based 12-step program for those who struggle with food.

NOTE: Many of the same 12 step fellowships listed above have meetings in many countries; their meeting locator pages can help someone find a meeting in their area.

Below are links to meeting locator pages:

Overeaters Anonymous - Find a meeting for a 12-step program for those struggling with food issues.

Food Addicts - Find a 12-step program meeting for those struggling with food issues.

Food Addicts Anonymous - Find face-to-face (in person) 12-step program meetings.

Compulsive Eaters Anonymous - Find a 12-step program meeting for those struggling with food issues.