Am I a Compulsive Eater and How Do I Stop the Cycle?

Am I a Compulsive Eater and How Do I Stop the Cycle?

By Valerie Harding, Team Writer and Social Media Administrator for Region 2 of Overeaters Anonymous

When does overeating become problematic? What can be done to disrupt the negative cycle?

At one time or another, almost everyone has felt completely stuffed from eating too much of their favorite food(s). It happens! However, repeated occurrences can be troubling for some people. Lines between occasional over-indulgence and “problem eating” can start to get blurry when it’s not time to eat, you’re not really hungry, or you can’t seem to stop yourself from reaching into the fridge for a snack.

Here’s some food for thought: Have you ever brought a big bag of potato chips to the couch with the intention of just having a few while you watch your favorite show? Then, suddenly realize that you’ve unknowingly finished off the whole bag? For many, this type of “mindless eating” can be quickly remedied through changes in behavior, accountability with friends or spouse, or even resolutions to “shape up.”

However, for some, these methods don’t seem to work. Even worse — empty chip bag in hand — they may find themselves heading back in the kitchen for more of…something, anything to satiate an overpowering craving to eat. For people struggling with these and other types of food issues, all the willpower available to tackle life’s challenges seems to disappear when it is needed most. At some point, people with the overwhelming behaviors described, realize that they can’t control compulsive eating, and see that it is beginning to affect all aspects of life.

Assessing the Situation

Finding occasional, emotional comfort in food or experiencing pleasure through food doesn’t necessarily translate to having a problem. The important difference recognized between occasional (or even habitual) unhealthy choices and compulsive eating is simply the word “choice.” What sets the compulsive eater apart is their seeming inability to stop, even though they want to. Sadly, and for many without treatment, the problem seems to get worse over time – not better. Though your mind may keep telling you, the food will help lessen stress, anxiety or loneliness, the truth is much different. The problem of compulsive eating and its consequences becomes a source of more stress and anxiety — Why couldn’t we see that? Where was our resolve, our commitment to “do better”?

Emerging remorseful from periods of compulsive eating, it can become tempting for many of us to try to restrict calories or skip meals to compensate and stave off dreaded, inevitable weight gain. The cycle can repeat itself, followed by the start of another period of compulsive eating when we give into the urge once more.

At some point, the ability to manage this problem on your own may seem impossible. Many compulsive eaters have shared their experience – after repeated failures – of feelings of shame, sadness, regret, and isolation. This has often led to lethargy and self-disgust. But many others have found assistance and recovery.

The purpose of this article is to help people determine if they may be compulsive eaters and to provide information about an option for support and recovery for those who are suffering from compulsive eating of all kinds.

Could you be a compulsive eater who could benefit from a path to recovery? As a start, try asking yourself these questions:

Key Questions: Could you be a Compulsive Eater?

  1. Do I eat when I’m not hungry, or not eat when my body needs nourishment?
  2. Do I go on eating binges for no apparent reason, eating until I’m stuffed?
  3. Do I have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about my weight or the way I eat?
  4. Do I eat sensibly in front of others and then make up for it when I am alone?
  5. Is my eating affecting my health or the way I live my life?
  6. When my emotions are intense—whether positive or negative—do I find myself reaching for food?
  7. Do my eating behaviors make me or others unhappy or worried?
  8. Have I ever used diet pills, laxatives, vomiting, diuretics, excessive exercise, shots, or other medical interventions like surgery to try to control my weight?
  9. Do I fast or severely restrict my food intake to control my weight?
  10. Do I fantasize about how much better life would be if I were a different size or weight?
  11. Do I need to chew or have something in my mouth all the time: food, gum, mints, candies, or beverages?
  12. Have I ever eaten food that is burned, frozen, or spoiled; from containers in the grocery store; or out of the garbage?
  13. Are there certain foods I can’t stop eating after having the first bite?
  14. Have I lost weight with a diet or “period of control” only to be followed by bouts of uncontrolled eating and/or weight gain?
  15. Do I spend too much time thinking about food, arguing with myself about whether or what to eat, planning the next diet or exercise cure, or counting calories?

Answering “yes” to just a few of these questions could mean that it’s possible you have, or are on your way to having, a compulsive eating/overeating problem. In order to take pause, and consider getting help, you might start by knowing that you do not have to handle this on your own.

Regaining Physical and Emotional Well-Being

The root causes of compulsive eating are complex. It might seem obvious that increased and progressive dependence upon food for comfort, distraction, or emotional “support” could be a symptom of a deeper problem that a healthy diet or self-discipline can’t address. What might not be so obvious is knowing there is a path to recovery for anyone having trouble or issues around food. There are resources that are free of charge and completely anonymous — with no diets, fees, or weigh-ins. Additionally, there are typically no requirements for attendance or membership necessary – just a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Making Important and Positive Changes

Stopping compulsive overeating can be achieved, but it is very difficult to do it alone. What can make a huge difference is getting involved with others who have found compulsive eating a problem but discovered a way out. There are fellowships available today that offers support in a non-judgmental environment. They carry a message of recovery and hope to those suffering from compulsive eating. By being shown a path to a healthier, physical, emotional, and spiritual life where support doesn’t have to be scary, intrusive, or make you fear being roped in, recovery is possible. There are fellowship meetings available today where there is no obligation to do anything other than listen.

This means that the potential reasons to wait, or obstacles that would normally get in the way of finding relief could diminish. For example, many fellowship meetings are connecting with people who have adapted to the virtual landscape. This means people can access meetings every day of the week, almost any hour of the day. Also, since there is no driving involved, it typically doesn’t take up any more than an hour of one’s time.

Often, simply admitting one’s own struggle and looking into meeting options has brought a sense of relief right away – which increases greatly with nurturing support. Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.’ For many, “the something” we had never done before was reach out for help our compulsive eating. In doing so, many have been able to access help and achieve a life beyond our wildest dreams.


Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and hope, are recovering from compulsive eating. OA welcomes everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively. There are no dues or fees, nor does OA solicit or accept outside donations. More information for Region 2 of Overeaters Anonymous can be found at This region serves Mexico, California, Hawaii, and parts of Nevada.

Patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, OA is non-professional and is not in competition with any weight-loss program or group. Furthermore, OA members are not experts about obesity, weight loss, and compulsive eating/compulsive food behaviors. Those involved with OA simply desire to share their recovery experience with others who may need and desire their help.

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