Compulsive overeating is where someone feels compelled to eat when they are not hungry and cannot stop when they have had enough. It affects more people than both anorexia and bulimia and usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. According to the sources below…
- Most, but not all, begin to eat compulsively after a period of dieting
- Most put others first and attend to the needs of other people and not themselves
- Most, but not all, have some difficulty knowing or expressing their needs
- Many, but not all, lack clarity about how they feel and cannot manage their feelings properly
- Most, but not all, have low self worth
- Most, but not all, need to be liked.
A binge eating episode typically lasts around two hours, but some people binge on and off all day long. Binge eaters often eat even when they’re not hungry and continue eating long after they’re full. They may also gorge themselves as fast as they can while barely registering what they’re eating or tasting.
How it feels:
“I can’t quit food. It is there every day, watching me and testing me at every meal. I can compulsively eat subtly throughout the day, either eating meals twice as large as they should be, or just eating continuously. I may eat the equivalent of six meals in a day, but any one person may see me eat only about three, so it goes unnoticed.
Buying food or eating out with friends can be an immensely uncomfortable experience. I imagine the thoughts of people next to me, urging me to stop, telling me to pick a salad instead of cake.
I also binge eat. I’m not talking about eating a large meal, then sitting happily bloated on the sofa with my trousers unbuttoned. I find myself in an empty house, grabbing as much food as I can, eating more and more. Immediate gratification quickly turns to shame and guilt. I lie in bed feeling sick and dizzy, resisting the urge to make myself throw up.
Telling me I’m fat and that I should stop overeating will not help me. I need support to work through deeper problems causing the pain that makes me eat.
Every stretchmark on my body is a physical reminder of the pain I have, in the same way a self-harmer would view their scars. I feel mocked by every shop that fails to provide clothes I can fit into. I wish every person who sniggers about me could experience how it feels to be hated by the media, society and themselves just because they literally carry their pain”.
(From the Guardian’s ‘What I’m Really Thinking’ column).
- Do you feel out of control when you’re eating?
- Do you think about food all the time?
- Do you eat in secret?
- Do you eat until you feel sick?
- Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
- Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
- Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?
If you answer ‘yes’ to all or most of these, it might be time to seek help from your GP or a health professional. Others have come through it and it’s not something to be ashamed of.
Here are some places/links that may help:
Emotional eating: a guide to what it is and how to challenge it
If you’re struggling, don’t condemn yourself. Find someone safe and tell them how you feel. Naming the issue before Jesus and others is incredibly powerful. The Guardian writer above felt the burden of “carrying their pain” themselves. As Christians, that’s not something we ever need to do.