Just about everyone overeats occasionally.  However, if you frequently find yourself feeling out of control when it comes to food, you may have an eating problem.

Compulsive eating means that you frequently reach for food when you are not physically hungry.  Your body becomes too full, and you often feel guilty about eating.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) means that you often find yourself eating large amounts of foods in a short period of time, with a feeling of being out of control.  Typically you are alone while bingeing, and you end up feeling uncomfortably full, guilty and even disgusted with yourself for overeating.

Emotional eating means that you use food as a primary way of making yourself feel better when something is bothering you.  People use food to deal with all kinds of feelings – such as boredom, stress, anger, loneliness and sadness and even happiness.  Words used to describe how food helps to deal with uncomfortable feelings include: comforting, distracting, numbing, calming and soothing.

Weight gain is a common side effect of compulsive eating and binge eating because you are ignoring your body’s natural signals for physical hunger and fullness.  However, you cannot tell a compulsive or binge eater just by looking at someone: there are people who are at higher weights who are normal eaters, and there are people at lower weights who struggle with compulsive eating or BED.

Shame is a common feeling experienced by overeaters.  Often there is shame around feeling out of control with food and for not being “thin enough.”  This may lead you to try to lose weight through dieting and other weight management techniques.  However, even though most diets work in the short-run, statistically 95 – 98% of people will gain back the weight over time (in fact, about two-thirds will end up heavier than their pre-diet weights.)  As the weight returns, you may even feel more shame for once again “failing” to stop overeating and to become thinner. 

Imagine that your doctor told you that there was only a 5% chance that the medicine prescribed to you would cure your illness. Would you blame yourself if it didn’t work?  Of course not!  But that’s exactly the chances of a diet working…and why it’s so important to understand that: You haven’t failed your diet; you diet has failed you.

The following statements are typical of people who struggle with overeating:

  • I frequently eat when I am not physically hungry.
  • I think of foods as either “good” or “bad.”
  • I often feel guilty after eating.
  • I have gone on diets, but the weight came back.
  • I often feel too full or physically uncomfortable after eating.
  • I eat when I am stressed or unhappy.
  • I frequently think about food (and weight) even when I’m doing something else.
  • I overeat when I’m alone.
  • Food is a frequent source of comfort.
  • If I ate what I really wanted, I would gain a lot of weight.

If you find that many of these statements describe you, consider seeking help and/or reading more about how you can work toward ending compulsive and binge eating. 

Stay compassionate with yourself

There are many reasons that people develop compulsive and binge eating, including the deprivation of diets, the use of food for emotional comfort as well as social, cultural, and physiological components. 

By learning to become an attuned eater (also known as an intuitive eater) you can reconnect with your natural hunger and learn new ways to take care of yourself without turning to food. 

You can develop a healthy relationship with food, your body and yourself.