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How to identify compulsive overeating in your loved one


In the same way that some people can't resist another drink or the urge to smoke, compulsive eaters suffer from an addiction to food.

It can be a difficult condition to spot, as it may seem that your loved one simply likes to eat - which is not uncommon or even dangerous for most people. But for a compulsive eater, the behavior is usually indicative of a bigger problem that might require professional treatment.

Sneaky behavior

Often referred to as binge-eating disorder, compulsive overeating is usually characterized by sneaky, secretive behavior when it comes to food. Does your loved one hoard food and hide it? Does he or she eat alone and try to hide the evidence from roommates or family members? Does this person lie about how much they eat? "Normal" eaters don't feel the need to cover up their eating habits, so if you notice secretive behaviors, it's possible your loved one is trying to hide what could be seen as shameful habits regarding food.

Frequent dieting

Compulsive eaters are usually compulsive dieters, too. They tend to yo-yo between binge episodes and periods of deprivation, where they either try new diets or attempt to restrict their calories beyond what is healthy. Since the dieting is eventually followed by compulsive eating, however, weight loss usually doesn't occur.

Using food as a coping mechanism

Most of the time, compulsive overeating is rooted in emotional or psychological avoidance issues. Food is the coping mechanism, which gives an individual temporary feelings of pleasure and comfort. If your loved one seems to be suffering from anxiety or depression, it's possible that compulsive eating is just the method being used to bandage up the wounds. Helping this person get to the root of his or her issues, however, will be the ultimate solution.

Getting help

If your loved one has symptoms of compulsive eating, encourage this person to seek medical help as soon as possible. Research has shown that binge eaters may also be more prone to mental health problems and alcoholism - which could cause additional complications if the conditions aren't treated. A primary care doctor or mental health professional can refer you to resources or treatment centers in your area.

Source: Mayo Clinic