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Identifying and overcoming overeating disorders

Shows a diagram of the brain and a series of question marks"I am forever engaged in a silent battle in my head over whether or not to lift the fork to my mouth ..." -- Jena Morrow, Hollow: An Unpolished Tale

Overeating is one of the most common problems in America. It is defined as "excessive eating -- consuming more calories than necessary and generally consuming in large portions that cause a person to feel uncomfortably full." Americans, as a group, tend to eat in excess. Practically a part of the culture, it is the essence of every Thanksgiving dinner.

But why do so many individuals engage in such an unhealthy activity? Like anything else in psychology, the answer is never simple. Here are just a few different forms of overeating:

Firstly there are a number of overeating disorders that are important to identify;
  • Binge Eating-- The binge eater consumes a large number of calories in a short period of time. Most often, they also suffer from bulimia and will force themselves to vomit or take laxatives to purge themselves of the excess calories. Those who are not bulimic, however, tend to be quite large in size.
  • Grazing -- Grazers may not even be aware they have a problem because of the way they eat. They will take in many small snacks or meals throughout the day, which seems harmless. However, the calories accumulate over time, especially if they are not burned off.
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome -- A chromosomal disorder that gives an individual an intense craving for food, often willing to do anything to get their hands on their next meal, the presence of Prader-Willi Syndrome is apparent at birth. Symptoms include floppy limbs, little to no muscle tone, almond-shaped eyes, disproportionately small hands and feet, and undescended testicles in males.
Then there are many more subtle psychological causes for overeating;
  • Boredom -- Many individuals report eating because their mind is unoccupied. Therefore, their thoughts stray to the pantry and the goodies within. Many who eat out of boredom are more successful at reversing the harmful habit because they are more willing to engage in activity, which helps them avoid unnecessary eating.
  • Stress -- For those who are under a great deal of stress or anxiety, food provides a way to "cope" with the problem until another solution can be found.
  • Comfort -- Many people find comfort in certain foods. If other needs go unmet, such as acceptance, companionship, or appreciation, the individuals console themselves or bury their hurt feelings with food.
  • Self-Tranquilizing -- Sometimes food is an effective emotional anesthetic. People who feel vulnerable or unable to handle their emotions may, instead of coping, seek to take away the pain with food.
  • Punishment -- "It's all your fault." "You deserve to be fat and ugly." "No one would ever love someone like you." These are just a few of the thoughts that commonly race through the mind of an overeater. Self-talk is one of the most powerful and destructive weapons; it can be a great asset or worst enemy. For most over-eaters, it's the villain compelling them to continue the harmful behaviors. Feeling unworthy or unwanted, they eat as a way to inflict punishment on themselves.
  • Learned Behaviors -- Oftentimes, if one person is overweight, the rest of the family seems to be similarly afflicted. That's because certain habits are learned behaviors. Family and close friends affect a person's thoughts, preferences, and feelings about food. Individuals can even learn negative eating habits. For example, if the parents were stress-eaters, their children may mimic that habit.
Common Traits of Overeater's
Overeater's probably have a lot in common, regardless of their reasons for eating in excess. Here are just a few traits they may share;
  • Depression or guilt after eating
  • Dissatisfaction with one or more aspect of his/her life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty expressing emotions
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • An unhealthy urge to please others
  • May feel unsure about his/her identity
  • May feel awkward in social situations
While it is rare, many people who suffer from an overeating disorder have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from parents or spouses. Food can be used as an escape in those instances.

How Can I Stop?
There are millions of purportedly "quick fixes" for those who are struggling to curb their eating habits, including pills, special foods and drinks, physical treatments, and hypnotism. All claim to offer the best chance at regulating a person's eating habits. Others offer dieting advice, such as eating slower or consuming foods that are high in fiber.

Real change, however, needs to come from the source, whether by unlearning a learned behavior, avoiding triggers, or dealing with a psychological issue at the root of the problem. By identify the causes of their overeating habits, they can begin to work toward a healthier future. There are also support groups, such as Overeater's Anonymous, that can provide an outlet for pent-up feelings and lead to friendships with those who understand the struggle.

If you are an overeater, learning to overcome your compulsions won't be an easy road, but it is a necessary one. You have only one life, and you shouldn't waste it by spending every day hiding your feelings, punishing yourself, and feeling just plain miserable. There is always help, and therefore hope.

Copyright © Sarah on 2017

Editor's Note: Another excellent article Sarah. I've included some further links below that may be of interest in relation overeating and how to overcome it;
Tips on how to stop overeating
How to recognize and stop emotional and stress eating
A calorie calculator to help you determine how many calories you should be consuming based on your body size and activity level
Tags: health, lifestyle