I want to have an honest conversation with you about the food you eat, the way you eat, and your thoughts about what you’re eating on a daily basis.
Do you feel stressed about food? Do you worry about eating too much or about what you eat?
Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be overweight to feel overwhelmed by food. And the reality is, a lot of people have a really unhealthy relationship with the food they eat. People sometimes eat because they’re happy, sometimes they eat because they’re sad, and sometimes they eat when they’re not hungry at all – it’s a compulsion. And when the relationship you have with food starts to feel like it’s out of control, that’s when it is. That’s when the yo-yo dieting kicks in, and when people try to take a quick fix approach to an issue that actually runs a lot deeper than all of that.
Here’s the definition of compulsive eating, sometimes also called emotional eating, stress eating, or food addiction: compulsive eating describes frequent – if not regular, but more on that later – episodes of uncontrollable eating. It’s when an individual continues to eat food long after they feel full and even to the point of making themselves feel sick.
Compulsive eating may sound similar to other eating-related disorders you may have heard of before, like Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Anorexia Nervosa, or Bulimia. According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, the National Eating Disorders Association, and other experts in the space, binge or compulsive overeating include some or all of the following and happen with a fair amount of regularity, about 3 times per week:
Eating faster than usual
Eating past the point of fullness
Eating when not physically hungry
Eating alone or in secret
Feeling upset or guilty after overeating
Feeling that you are abnormal
For more on the classifications and qualities of these various types of eating disorders, I recommend giving this article a read: Binge-Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating: Are They the Same Thing?
My personal definition of compulsive eating lives somewhere in between all of these symptoms, and it’s the severity that determines the ultimate diagnosis and whether or not it is classifiably a disorder. But enough with the technicalities, let’s talk about what the heck this means for you and why you may be suffering from compulsive eating.
Compulsive Eating: Where It All Begins
This might come as a surprise to you, but compulsive eating really stems from a belief, or a fear, that you won’t get enough food. It’s a survival thing, and it usually starts when we’re kids.
Here’s the thing though, most people, especially in our Western society, will not starve. Quite the opposite in fact – we have access to too much food! But our emotional selves – our inner child, the animal inside all of us, and the genetic composition that makes us who we are – is not quite so rational all the time. The good news is – we can all be tamed.
The bad news is, the ‘training’ we’re all exposed to is not the taming we need at all.
So, what to do in lieu of listening to our inner animal? We’re told to diet, and to limit ourselves to the point of deprivation. But guess what? Those animalistic, child-like thoughts, they’re still there. And guess what happens when you keep restricting yourself and telling your inner kid, “No! You can’t have that.” You’ll listen to yourself most, or some, of the time, and when you don’t, you’ll eat – compulsively.
This makes food feel unpredictable. You might even feel like a maniac when these episodes of compulsive eating happen. “Why did I let myself eat that?” you might wonder, and if you’ve ever eaten compulsively before, I’m sure this inner dialogue will sound familiar.