On hearing the word ‘addiction’, most people’s thoughts turn to harmful substances such as heroin or cocaine, or even behaviours such as gambling or sex. It is rare for people to think about food, but a food addiction is a very real problem for many individuals. In fact, food addiction or compulsive overeating is a problem faced by many people and it is one that appears to be growing day by day.
But although we all eat more than we should from time to time, there are some individuals who have no control over their food consumption, and this is a problem that can potentially have deadly consequences. There are many reasons compulsive overeating can be dangerous to both mental and physical health. In this article, we want to discuss this mental health disorder in more detail.
What Is Compulsive Overeating?
As previously mentioned, most people will eat more than they should every now and then. There are some who are regularly eating more calories than their body can burn, which leads to them being overweight or obese. However, they do not have a food addiction.
Nevertheless, there are some individuals who have a mental health disorder known as compulsive overeating, or binge eating disorder, that causes them to eat large quantities of food over a very short period. They have no control over the amount of food they consume, and many will continue eating even when full. Most of these affected individuals only stop when physically sick.
Is Compulsive Eating Harmful?
You may be fully aware of other types of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, but did you know that compulsive eating affects more people than these two disorders combined? According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, around 12 million people have some form of compulsive overeating.
Moreover, while illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia can have devastating consequences for both mental and physical health, compulsive overeating can also be deadly if left untreated. Why compulsive overeating is so dangerous to health is something that many do not consider.
Many people simply do not understand that some individuals cannot control their food consumption. It is easy to say that these people should just stop eating and then they would not have health problems, but the issue is far more complex than that.
Food is essential to survival, so we must eat. However, we only need to eat a certain amount of food per day to fuel our body. Unfortunately, those with compulsive eating disorders tend to eat for reasons other than survival. They eat when they are hungry like everyone else, but they also eat when they are full, when they are happy, when they are sad when they are anxious, and whenever they are facing any type of stressful event. They use food as a comfort in the same way that drug addicts will use drugs or alcoholics will use alcohol.
The effect of compulsive overeating is usually obesity, which can lead to many health problems. Most of those who binge eat will feel a sense of shame or disgust after a binge and they will struggle with low self-esteem. Many even have suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Signs of a Binge Eating Disorder
The issue of compulsive overeating is often seen as a taboo topic. Furthermore, because weight is such a sensitive issue, many family members and friends do not want to raise the subject with a loved one who they suspect of being affected.
This can leave many of those affected struggling alone as everyone else skirts around the issue, hoping they are wrong. If you are worried that you may have a binge eating disorder, there are several signs and symptoms that could confirm your fears. These include:
- eating copious amounts of food in one sitting
- continuing to eat when you are full
- feeling as though you have no control over the amount of food you are eating
- feeling as though you are completely detached from yourself when you are eating
- stockpiling food for a binge when you are alone
- being unable to stop eating until you are physically sick
- feeling ashamed or guilty after a binge
- feeling as though your life is not worth living
- eating to relieve feelings of stress.
If the above are symptoms that you can relate to, it is likely that you are suffering from a binge eating disorder and that you need help to get better.
The Effects of Compulsive Overeating
Continuing to suffer from a binge eating disorder means that your health will inevitably suffer. It is important to remember that this is a mental health disorder and that it requires treatment. You probably feel a deep sense of shame when you binge on food, but you have no control over these binges and you do not have to continue living this way.
What you should be aware of though is the effect that compulsive overeating will have on your health if you do not get help. For some people, it may be hard to understand why compulsive overeating is harmful but consider the effects. If you are regularly eating large quantities of food, you will gain weight, and with excess weight comes a host of problems.
Your blood pressure is likely to rise, as is your cholesterol levels. This can lead to illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When you have high blood pressure, you are more likely to suffer a stroke or have a heart attack. If you do not get help, your weight is likely to increase further, which will lead to mobility problems. You will have little energy and you might begin to suffer problems with your sleep; this can, in turn, have even more negative consequences for your mental and physical health.
Getting Help for a Binge Eating Disorder
While addictions to substances such as alcohol or drugs have a simple solution at the heart of very complex treatment – abstinence, the same principle cannot be applied to a binge eating disorder. This is what makes treatment for such a condition much more complicated.
Even though you are addicted to food and your unhealthy attitude towards food is the root of your problems, it is not possible to avoid it altogether. This means you must learn how to live alongside your issue with management rather than abstinence.
Treatment for compulsive overeating involves a lot of therapy to help you gain a greater understanding of your problem and how to overcome it. You must understand what causes your addiction and the triggers that usually send you straight to food.
Treating a binge eating disorder is all about learning how to develop a healthy relationship with food. With treatments such as cognitive behavioural disorder, you will be helped to identify the negative thought patterns that cause you to binge. You will learn to challenge these thoughts and beliefs and will be helped to develop positive coping strategies to replace your maladaptive behaviour.
Eating in secret is something you will need to avoid because this is when the temptation to binge can become overwhelming. So, while you cannot avoid food, you can avoid bingeing. What you should know is that a binge eating disorder can be overcome and you can turn your life around.
UKAT has a number of clinics around the UK, some of which specialise in treating eating disorders such as binge eating disorder. If you or someone you love is affected by this condition, please call us today. We know why compulsive overeating must be treated, and we have the right people who can help. To access a treatment programme, simply get in touch and we will provide information on your options and the next steps you can take. Call today or leave your details here and we will contact you.