Compulsive Eating: Serious Health Issues

Compulsive overeaters tend to focus on weight as the only real consequence of their problem eating.  Obviously weight is a serious issue, connected to numerous related medical problems.  It would actually be great news if weight was the only problem caused by compulsive or emotional overeating because in fact, it's merely the tip of the iceberg.  Here are a few more of the ways that this form of eating hurts you:

Depression:  Compulsive overeating correlates very highly with clinical depression, along with several adjustment disorders and low self-esteem.  The emotional quality of life, above and beyond the specific weight problems, is much lower for most compulsive overeaters.  While it may be tempting to write off depressive issues as a direct result of the weight, the fact is that depression is also fueled by the damaging foods that are generally chosen, along with the demoralization of feeling unable to control oneself on a continual basis.

Exacerbation of other medical conditions:  No matter what other medical issues you have, compulsive eating will generally compromise your system further, thus prolonging the intensity, frequency, and duration of your other conditions; this happens due to low quality and inconsistent nutrition, along with increased weight .  You will live with more illness, more pain, more medical expense, and less ability to function than your other medical problems would otherwise dictate.  If you haven't experienced this yet, be grateful while it lasts, because time is not on your side.

Reduced problem-solving ability:  Every moment spent emotionally eating is a moment lost to correcting the problems that caused the desire to eat in the first place.  Over time, many people become less and less able to generate effective solutions to their problems, because the habit of simply turning to food becomes so ingrained and primary.  As a result, more areas of their lives become less satisfactory and more problematic.  For many, this leads to the next problem…

High-stress lifestyle:  Many compulsive eaters live in the same fragmented, chaotic, ineffectual way in which they eat, causing increased stress, anxiety and an overall sense of being out of control.  This is worsened by…

Reduced stress-management ability:  Compulsive eaters usually rely on food for self-soothing and stress-management, therefore displacing more effective choices that would actually make them feel much better than food ever could.  In addition, there is the increased stress of the guilt, shame and remorse associated with the eating.

Loss of self-confidence:  Compulsive eaters live in a near-constant state of failure with food.  Some go on to see themselves as failures in general, inhibiting their interest in taking on new activities that would improve the quality of their lives and health.

Malnutrition:  Compulsive eaters tend to choose processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, at the expense of nutrient intake that would support higher levels of health.  These foods tend to trigger repeat eating, as well as a general feeling of physical malaise to which compulsive eaters become accustomed and consider “normal.”  They literally do not know how bad they feel on a daily basis, because they’ve lost their basis for comparison.

Sedentary lifestyle: Many compulsive eaters have little participation in physical activities of any kind.  They have come to rely on food for every form of satisfaction, entertainment, etc, and also generally feel too sluggish to move anyway, due in part to the physiological effects of the lousy stuff they eat.  Some compulsive eaters reach a stand-still in their lives, having little but eating to look forward to on a daily basis.

As you might notice, the factors above tend to create numerous vicious cycles from which the compulsive eater attempts to escape by turning to food for comfort.  Which makes it worse.  Which leads to more escape in food.  You get the picture.

I’ve met some compulsive eaters whose lives have been nearly taken over by their desire to eat.  I’ve met many, many others whose lives are largely intact, but whose spirits feel crushed by frequent, overpowering urges to self-destructively eat.  You don’t have to be one of these casualties, but you’re likely to remain so until you begin to consider that the damage caused by your eating goes far beyond its impact on your weight.  Help is here, and you are most definitely worth it.

Copyright © 2007, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.


Some other articles you may find useful: 

Are You a Compulsive Eater?  Test Yourself and See...

Basic Strategies for Managing the Urge to Eat

Compulsive Eating and How I Treat It

Essential Truths about Your Body
Fat: Important New Findings
Loving Each Other to Death with Food 
Raising Kids to be Emotionally Balanced with Food 
Why You Love Exercise, but Don't Know It 

Your Weight May Not be the Problem
Self-Help for Intense Anxiety
When is It Time to Consider Psychotherapy? 

Depression Series, Part One: Depression -- Myths and Facts



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