This is the second post in a series on the issues (the first was on emotional eating) that led me to overeat and develop bad habits that caused me to become obese. In these posts I try to examine the problems and issues I had with food in the years when I was becoming obese.
One thing that caused my obesity that I’ve never told anyone about was my problem with compulsive eating.
It’s hard to explain compulsive eating to people who don’t do it. It’s something I feel like a lot of people don’t understand. Although I’ve moved on from it for the most part I’m not even sure I understand why I did it or what caused me to develop this particular disordered eating habit.
What is compulsive overeating?
Let me allow Wikipedia to define compulsive eating first:
Compulsive overeating, also sometimes called food addiction, is characterized by an obsessive/compulsive relationship to food. An individual suffering from compulsive overeating disorder engages in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or bingeing, during which they may feel frenzied or out of control, often consuming food past the point of being comfortably full. Bingeing in this way is generally followed by feelings of guilt and depression. Unlike individuals with bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to compensate for their bingeing with purging behaviors such as fasting, laxative use or vomiting. Compulsive overeaters will typically eat when they are not hungry. Their obsession is demonstrated in that they spend excessive amounts of time and thought devoted to food, and secretly plan or fantasize about eating alone. Compulsive overeating usually leads to weight gain and obesity, but not everyone who is obese is also a compulsive overeater.
In addition to binge eating, compulsive overeaters can also engage in grazing behavior, during which they return to pick at food throughout the day. This results in a large overall number of calories consumed even if the quantities eaten at any one time may be small. When a compulsive eater overeats primarily through bingeing, he or she can be said to have binge eating disorder. Where there is continuous overeating but no bingeing, then the sufferer has compulsive overeating disorder.
My experience with compulsive overeating
Reading the definition makes me want to cry. I wish I had told someone that I did ALL of these thing years ago. It probably would have saved me a lot of pain and a lot of time. I just felt so much shame and guilt over my actions that I refused to admit them and in the end I only hurt myself. If I just had admitting doing these things I could have gotten the help I needed instead of having to claw my own way out.
For this particular post I want to save the bingeing part for another post and just address the other parts of compulsive eating that I suffered from, even though these things are related.
A lot of the time I was one of those compulsive overeaters who grazed and ate over long periods of time. I would obsess over food and feel the need to eat it until it went away. If something was in my house and I knew it was there I would think and obsess about it until I finally gave in to the thoughts and started eating it – even if I wasn’t hungry. I would eat it a little bit at a time, trying to convince myself it was okay if I did it that way, I just needed to eat it to make it disappear.
I remember so many times my mom would buy cookies “for my brothers” and leave them on the counter in the kitchen. I would look at them and wonder why she bought them but just move on. A few hours later I would be obsessing about the cookies and secretly plan to sneak back into the kitchen and grab a few when no one would see me. I would do that and take the cookies to my room or another empty room and eat them. I would repeat this process several times within the same day! By the end of the day the cookies would either be gone or almost gone and my mom would wonder where they went. I always blamed my brothers. After all, three boys eat a lot, right?
Covering my tracks was easy, or so I thought. After years of sneaking food and compulsive eating I guess I was good at being sneaky. I knew when to get food and how to hide it. I think everyone knew eventually what I was doing and sometimes I would even admit it. “Who ate all the granola bars? I had a whole box!” I would admit it was me and then make a joke or something to divert attention. Whenever food would go missing I would be the first one to be blamed and although it hurt, it was usually true.
I ate because something in my brain told me I needed to eat everything. If it was gone I would be fine. So I ate all the food without thinking of the calories or caring much what it was or what it did to me. I was obsessed with food and knew it had to disappear for me to clear my mind. So I often ended up getting rid of it by eating it. I ate because quite frankly I couldn’t stop thinking about the food. I knew that once it was gone I couldn’t think about it because it wouldn’t be there to torture me with it’s existence.
That obsession over food that led me to compulsively eat thousands of calories without ever being hungry. I would often find myself eating and having an internal battle because part of me really didn’t want to be doing it (because I knew I would gain even more weight) but the other part of me said I needed to (to make myself feel better emotionally). I felt out of control.
Some quotes from other websites, when I now read them, are so clearly descriptive of my behaviors then that it scares me no one every noticed:
People suffering with Compulsive Overeating have what is characterized as an “addiction” to food, using food and eating as a way to hide from their emotions, to fill a void they feel inside, and to cope with daily stresses and problems in their lives.
People suffering with this Eating Disorder tend to be overweight, are usually aware that their eating habits are abnormal, but find little comfort because of society’s tendency to stereotype the “overweight” individual.
Or when I read the signs/symptoms:
- Binge eating
- Fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily
- Self-deprecating thoughts following binges
- Withdrawing from activities because of embarrassment about weight
- Going on many different diets
- Eating little in public, while maintaining a high weight
- Believing they will be a better person when thin
- Feelings about self based on weight
- Social and professional failures attributed to weight
- Feeling tormented by eating habits
- Weight is focus of life
In high school I fit every single one of those bullet points, except the multiple diets one. I’m not trying to diagnose myself (or my former self) with an eating disorder since I’m not a professional or whatnot, but every time I read about compulsive eating it takes me right back to where I used to be, to who I used to be.
I know longer eat because of the impulses that tell me I need to get rid of food or use it to cope. I’ve learned how to control them, how to react to them, how to deal with them. But they haven’t completely gone away. I know that if I bake a cake and sit in on the counter I’m probably going to think about it and want to eat it until it’s gone, and in a stressful moment I still might succumb and allow that to happen. But the difference now is that I don’t eat it. I don’t put myself in that situation if I can help it. I know the foods that trigger that kind of thinking and I know how to limit my exposure to them.
Compulsive overeating is definitely one reason I became obese. Binge eating is another reason, and like I said, is related to compulsive eating. But I’m saving that for next installment since this is already so long. Thank you blog readers, for a little bit of sharing therapy today.
Help with compulsive overeating
I’ve learned a lot through a variety of resources to help me overcome my past compulsive overeating. The best thing I recommend for this is finding a therapist local to you who specializes in disordered eating. I’ve been to two therapists who both helped me so much.
I also recommend reading as much as possible about compulsive overeating. The more you understand something, the more you can control and overcome it. The following books about compulsive overeating can help you understand and work on getting past it.
If you struggle with compulsive overeating too, please don’t despair. You aren’t alone and you aren’t a failure. It’s something you can overcome and control!
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