Compulsive overeating is characterised by an addiction to food. An individual suffering from compulsive overeating disorder engages in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binging, during which they may feel frenzied or out of control. They will eat much more quickly than is normal, and continue to eat even past the point of being uncomfortably full. Binging in this way is generally followed by a period of intense guilt feelings and depression. Unlike individuals with bulimia, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to compensate for their binging with purging behaviours such as fasting, laxative use or vomiting. Compulsive overeaters will typically eat when they are not hungry, spend excessive amounts of time and thought devoted to food, and secretly plan or fantasize about eating alone. Compulsive overeating almost always 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 behaviour, during which they return to pick at food over and over 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 binging, he or she can be said to have binge eating disorder. Where there is continuous overeating but no binging, then the sufferer has compulsive overeating disorder.

Left untreated, compulsive overeating can lead to serious medical conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and clinical depression. Additional long-term side effects of the condition also include kidney disease, arthritis, bone deterioration and stroke.



Binge eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which a subject:

  • periodically does not exercise control over consumption of food
  • eats an unusually large amount of food at one time (on average, 1500 calories).
  • eats much more quickly during binge episodes than during normal eating episodes
  • eats until physically uncomfortable
  • eats large amounts of food, even when they are not really hungry
  • always eats alone during binge eating episodes, in order to avoid discovery of the disorder
  • often eats alone during periods of normal eating, owing to feelings of embarrassment about food
  • feels disgusted, depressed, or guilty after binge eating

Binge eating is an element of another eating disorder, bulimia nervosa. The formal diagnosis criteria are similar: at least two binges per week for an extended period of time.[1] In binge eating disorder, by contrast, the person does not purge, fast or engage in strenuous exercise after binge eating. Additionally, people with bulimia are typically of normal weight or may be slightly overweight (the purging, etc., have little to no effect on the subject’s body fat), whereas people with binge eating disorder are typically overweight or obese.

Binge eating disorder is similar to, but it is distinct from, compulsive eating. People with binge eating disorder do not have a compulsion to overeat and do not spend a great deal of time fantasising about food. On the contrary, some people with binge eating disorder have very negative feelings about food. As with other eating disorders, binge eating is an expressive disorder – that is, the disorder is an expression of a deeper psychological problem.

It is actually hotly contested whether binge eating disorder has its own diagnosis. Some believe that it is a milder form, or subset of bulimia nervosa, but others argue that it is its own distinct disorder. Currently, the DSM-IV categorizes it under Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), simply stating that more research is needed.