Friday, November 12, 2010

Compulsive Overeating Disorder: Addicted to Food

Compulsive Overeating Disorder is characterized by excessive overeating or binge eating.  Many refer to it as an addiction to food.  People dealing with this usually eat in secret and probably keep it hidden so well that no one around them realizes how severe the situation may be.  Unlike bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not purge after a binge session.  All eating disorders are unhealthy and traumatic for those suffering from them, but Anorexia and Bulimia are the two most publicized disorders.  There are obvious, visual signs of anorexia and bulimia.  However, as most compulsive overeaters hide their actions, the only visual sign is that they are perhaps overweight.  Not all overeaters are overweight, but when they are, others simply see extra pounds.  Outsiders probably do not realize the emotional torment compulsive overeaters are constantly battling.

I've done a lot of research on compulsive overeating and cannot find a specific reason for why it happens.  Most likely, it stems from emotional issues, internal voids, and/or seeking comfort of some kind.  Binge eating provides a high of sorts.  It is literally like a drug and sometimes impossible to control once started.  In the course of one binge, the person may experience an intense high, comfort, feelings of happiness, and then intense guilt or depression over the amount of food they have eaten.  Compulsive overeaters realize they have a problem and are conscious of their weight but obsess over food so much so that they cannot stop.

Typical Signs of Compulsive Overeating Disorder:

  • Binge eating (no purging)
  • Eating in secret
  • Obsessions with food
  • Emotional connection to food
  • Eating when not hungry 
  • History of dieting
  • Depression
  • Guilt

Why am I writing about this?  
For the first time in my life, my compulsive overeating is catching up with me and I'm forcing myself to confront it.  Unless I am honest and face this head-on, I am not going to be able do this.  Right now, for example, I cannot stop thinking about the box of brownie mix in my pantry.  I've been trying to lose weight and have successfully managed to diet for the past 5 days.  Every second has been a struggle, but I am about to crack.  This is exactly why dieting doesn't work with compulsive overeaters.  We deprive ourselves, give up, and binge again.  If I allow myself, I'll bake those brownies and have every crumb devoured within the 5 minutes after I pull them from the oven.  That is... only after I eat about 1/3 of the batter.  

I know why I do what I do, so I'm going to share.  I hope that by publicly acknowledging this problem, it will be a little easier to fight.  However, if you know me and are reading this, please do not attempt to discuss this with me or give me pitying looks.  If someone acts like they feel sorry for me or stares at me, thinking... "I wonder how much crap she ate before she came here," I assure you the postpartum anger in me will lash out and take a swift kick to your rear.  

This will be a rather long post, and I hope I do not lose respect from my loved ones after they read some of the disgusting, horrible things I've done....  

Since I was a child, I've (literally) been obsessed with Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  When I say "obsessed", I mean it.  I think about them 24/7.  I stress about when I'll be able to enjoy them again.  When I have the opportunity, I buy boxes upon boxes and bags upon bags.    In high school and throughout college, I would binge 3 entire boxes of cake rolls at a time (anytime I was upset or depressed).  I would buy bags of Reese's cups and eat 2-3 bags at once.  Yes, BAGS.  I have tons of stories, but the most disturbing happened when I was a sophomore in college.  Get ready to judge me....  I was in my dorm room by myself and had just gone out to buy 3 boxes of cake rolls (again).  I had eaten 2 boxes, the high was gone, and the guilt was setting in.  I was so disgusted with myself and depressed and wanted to stop so badly.  I couldn't.  I just kept eating.  I had gotten a pack or two into the third box and got so disappointed and angry that I spit the chewed pieces I was eating back into the box. This was supposed to prevent me for trying to get to the other, unopened packs.  I then took the box to the large trash can at the end of the hall and dropped it in.  After sitting in my room for a few hours, obsessing over the rest of the cake rolls that I knew were safely sitting in their plastic wrap, I checked the hall, made sure no one was around, and retrieved them.  I realize how horrifying this sounds, but I genuinely could not stop.  

I have been doing these things for years.  I used to drive around to 3 or 4 fast food restaurants when I was alone and order meals at each one.  I would quickly eat them before meeting friends or going back to my apartment.  While teaching, I kept bags of Reese's in my desk and scarfed them down between classes and during my prep periods.  I can go on and on.  The main points to grasp:  everything was hidden, at the first bite, I would feel as if everything in the world was finally OK, and every bite would be followed by overbearing guilt and depression.  I don't think anyone ever knew.  Until I got pregnant, I wasn't THAT fat, so it isn't like I was a 400lb woman walking down the street.  Even when I was thin, I was doing this.  In the past, I would binge and either not eat for a few days or just workout enough to balance it.  It's different now.  It's all catching up with me, and I'm having an incredibly difficult time getting rid of it.  I binged throughout my pregnancy (I know, I know) and wasn't able to stop eating or workout excessively.  Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was on a modified bed rest and could only work 4 hours a day.  I was eating more than ever, still binge eating, and not getting ANY exercise.  

It's always been a battle, but it seems harder now.  I'm a stay-at-home mom in the middle of nowhere.  I'm trying... but it's tough.

I have enough of a background in psychology to understand why I turn to food as a crutch.  I try to fill voids originally created by my biological father.  My first 2 memories with sneaking food have to do with a Reese's candy bar and a package of cake rolls.  Go figure.  I don't remember how old I was, but I couldn't have been older than 4 when I stole the Reese's.  My dad had taken me with him to the Village Pantry in town.  As we were leaving, I swiped the Reese's.  He saw it when we got in the car.  He was sooooo angry, and made me take it back inside.  The second instance happened a few years later, after my parents had gotten divorced.  Those first few years, my sister and I would go to my dad's every other weekend, but he wasn't around very often.  We were left with our stepmom who thought we were too fat and locked us out of the house.  She wanted us to get exercise.  She was very controlling.  I don't blame her now.  My dad shouldn't have dumped us on her.  Anyway, they used to keep a box of cake rolls in the top cabinet above the oven.  One day, when Dad was gone, and our stepmom was in a different room, I grabbed a dining room chair, climbed up on the oven, and sneaked a pack of cake rolls.  I put everything away and ran to my room.  I will never forget the sensation I got when I bit into that first cake roll.  In that split second, everything was OK.  My dad wasn't a negligent ass, my stepmom wasn't evil, I didn't miss my mom, nothing else mattered.  I had just escaped into that wonderful chocolate, creamy treat.  

I don't really know where to go from here.  I can blame everything on my dad, but ultimately it's my responsibility to take care of myself.  All of this time, I have been allowing food to have complete control over me.  My world revolves around it, and I go through withdrawals when I can't have what I want.  I sincerely believe I'm dealing with this like a drug addict.  I wish I could run off to a rehabilitation center, but I can't.  I have to figure this out and deal with it myself.  I hope I can get a grip on it, but realistically, I know I'll be battling it forever.  

If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from Compulsive Overeating Disorder, visit the links below for more information.  This is a real issue and more common than one might think.  There are treatment centers all over the country and psychologists in your area who are trained to help.


  1. ... Happy to report that writing about this actually helped last night. I didn't cave. No brownies were had. :)

  2. thank you so much for sharing and writing about this particular subject. This really hit home for me big time, as you probably already knew. I admire you so much for doing the research on this and putting it all out there for everyone to see. I needed to know where to start with my own issues, so these websites are a good start.

  3. I appreciate this post so very much. You're so brave for your honesty and I admire that and wish you best of luck in overcoming your struggle. I have the same problem right now: I'm addicted to food. It's gotten sooo much better just from researching on the internet and finding similar stories everywhere. I think just being able to discuss it is an enormous help as well. Thank you for your post! Best of luck xoxo, Colleen