Obsessive Compulsive Eating: Understanding And Treating It

Obsessive compulsive eating is increasingly reported as a mental disorder. Many people in the public are familiar with the concepts involved with obsessive compulsive disorders and eating disorders. This disorder often appears less dramatic than some other eating disorders, but its effects are often terribly disturbing to the people who suffer from episodes of obsessive compulsive eating.

Defining the Terms

The name of this disorder is impressive in size. Understanding it requires some understanding of the basic terms. This vocabulary gets thrown around a lot in modern psychology and it is easy for people not in mental health professions to confuse one disorder with another without careful analysis of the terms.

Sometimes professionals refer to it simply as food addiction. This is a good description of the basic underlying problem, but it does not address the complex emotional issues that usually accompany a manifestation of this disorder.

Obsessive Compulsive

This disorder should not be confused with some of the many obsessive compulsive disorders that afflict people around the world. There is a similarity only in the way that subjects with obsessive compulsive eating disorder feel fixated on a certain subject, in this case, food.

Subjects with this malady are fixated in an unusual and often overpowering way on food and its consumption. During particular episodes of this ailment, people will sometimes feel as if they have lost control of themselves with regard to eating. Even when they are not eating, subjects with this eating disorder will spend a lot of time planning their next meal and thinking about eating again.

Eating Disorder

An eating disorder can manifest itself in various ways. The general description of all these maladies is an unusual eating habit. Most people today are probably aware of the two most well-known eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These disorders basically involve rejection of food in one way or another.

Victims of obsessive compulsive eating disorder, however, are not usually concerned about their weight in the same way nor are they likely to think as negatively about food. Instead, they simply want to eat all the time. They eat when they are not hungry.

Often, their eating takes on the classic characteristics of a binge. They eat long past the point when their hunger is satisfied. Sometimes, they complain that they will eat even when it is making them physically uncomfortable.

Obsessive Compulsive Eating Disorder and Binge Eating

It is also easy for people to mistake this syndrome for binge eating disorder. There are definitely similarities.

However, binge eating typically only involves behaviors, which result in occasional binges. Compulsive eaters definitely binge periodically.

However, they also find themselves eating all the time. They do not always binge, but they are always trying to eat or thinking about eating. In fact, these repetitive thoughts about eating can drive them to distraction and impair performance in their occupations, their social lives and in their romantic relationships.

Dangers of Obsessive Compulsive Eating Disorder

Many people who suffer from this ailment are also obese or approaching obesity. However, it is not a necessary marker of the illness and some people of average weight have this disorder as well. The dangers of obesity, both long-term and short-term, are well known at this point.

They include:

  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • hypertension
  • sleep apnea
  • kidney disease

However, there are unseen mental and emotional effects associated with this syndrome as well. Most people who suffer from this malady also struggle with emotional problems. Those emotional problems are either created or exacerbated by the disorder itself.

Therapists find that they are successful at treating obsessive compulsive eating through various forms of talk therapy about 80% of the time. Once the emotional issues are dealt with, the food factor becomes easier to control.

This makes food addiction very similar to other forms of substance and behavior addictions. People seek to compensate for pain in one area of their lives with pleasure in another. The out of control eating in this illness is often just a sign of out of control pain in some other aspect of the subject’s life.

Compulsive Eating as a Phenomenon in Developed Countries

Compulsive eating has gained attention primarily in developed countries. There are good reasons for this. Obesity is a problem even among people who do not suffer from any mental illnesses. The abundance of food, especially high-calorie processed foods, in these countries has led directly to inordinate weight gain among the general populace.

In countries which do not have such food supplies, people are not able to seek outlets for their emotional problems in food. Therefore, it should not be surprising that obsessive compulsive eating is one manifestation of mental illness.

Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Eating

In 80% of cases, this disorder can be successfully treated with forms of talk therapy in outpatient settings. Successful treatment means the relief of the binge-eating episodes and the resumed control over choices about eating. It also means that the underlying emotional issues have been dealt with and resolved as far as psychological analysis goes.

Many people may choose to continue therapy even after their eating disorder is resolved because they have deeper, emotional problems with which they continue to need help.

Some patients are not so successful or present such symptoms that they never even try outpatient therapy. There are inpatient facilities available for these subjects.

These facilities are often located in rural or suburban areas so that patients can get away from their usual environment and concentrate on resolving their issues. These facilities also allow professionals to take direct control of nutritional intake and prevent any more episodes of binge eating.

Such a facility will not prevent a person from fantasizing about food to avoid coming to grips with their emotional problems. These distractions continue as long as the underlying issues remain. For that reason, it is necessary to accompany such exclusion from society with therapy as well.

Therapists and other health professionals generally have great success with this disorder, given the opportunity to treat it. Many people with this disorder also suffer from depression and may need additional forms of treatment to deal with that problem, including anti-depressant medications.