Overeating is a behavior that, while generally not a medical problem, in some cases is a symptom of an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder or bulimia.
In more general terms, “overeating” refers to the persistent consumption of excess food in relation to the energy that the person expends, leading to weight gain and often to obesity. This may be a brief or short term process (many people overindulge generally during festivities or while on holiday) or a longer term process which can be more hazardous to a person’s health.
Simple overeating can be helped by avoiding high-fat, high-calorie snacks, not eating when you’re not hungry, controlling the size of your portions, and limiting your intake of sugary drinks like soda.
Binge eating, which is also called compulsive overeating, is different from simply overeating now and then. Those with binge eating disorder feel a compulsion (a powerful urge) to overeat. They regularly eat unusually large amounts of food and don’t stop eating when they become full. With binge eating a person feels out of control and powerless to stop eating while they’re doing it.
Men and women who are overeaters will sometimes hide behind their physical appearance, using it as a blockade against society. This characteristic is very common in survivors of sexual abuse. They feel guilty for not being “good enough,” shame for being overweight, and generally have a very low self-esteem. They use food and eating to cope with these feelings, which only leads into the cycle of feeling them ten-fold and trying to find a way to cope again.
Those who tend to overeat usually find that the problem progresses into a more serious eating disorder. Because of this, counseling is recommended for even simple overeating problems to prevent further complications.
Overeating vs. Binge Eating
About one-third of all Americans are overweight, and not all of them are binge eaters. Most of us find ourselves eating too much at one time or another. At Thanksgiving, or other special occasions, it is very common for us to consume 1,000 or more calories at a sitting, and often to continue eating even after we feel full. Often we feel we have made a bit of a pig of ourselves. But that does not mean that every American has binge eating disorder. What separates overeating from binge eating disorder is the following:
- The binge eating episodes occur regularly, at least twice a week for six months.
- The binge eater finds the episodes very upsetting. If there is no emotional upheaval over the meal, it is not a binge eating disorder.
- The binge eater does not like to eat in public. To him, eating is a private behavior. To most other people, eating and mealtime is a time to be shared and enjoyed with friends and family.
- The binge eater does not feel normal physiological cues like hunger and being full. He eats more from emotional cues, such as anger and sadness.
About 80% of persons with eating disorders who seek professional help recover completely or make significant progress. All in all, eating disorders are behavior patterns that display very complex emotional conflicts, which need to be resolved for the person to have a healthy relationship with food.