By Tracy Olgeaty Gensler, MS, RD, Best Life Diet nutrition expert
January 12, 2009
Eating is supposed to be an enjoyable experience that leaves you feeling satisfied and energized. But for many people, eating is a stressful event: It can cause feelings of guilt and shame, and it can overpower all other thoughts.
These are all signs of compulsive eating, a serious but treatable eating disorder. Use the information below to figure out if you or a friend might have the condition, and learn what you can do about it.
How to Tell If There's a Problem
If you think you or a friend might have this problem, there is something you can do. First, you must identify the problem. Use the questions below as a guideline; If you answer yes to any of them, you may be a compulsive overeater.
Do you eat until you feel stuffed or uncomfortable?
Do you eat when you're not hungry?
Does stress, emotional upset, anxiety or depression cause you to overeat?
Do you feel unable to stop eating?
Do you become anxious or worried while you are eating?
Why It's Important to Get Help
Overeating can lead to weight gain, which may trigger a host of other health problems, including high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Compulsive eating is not just a problem for overweight people. The condition can affect your self-esteem and leave you feeling out of control. What You Can Do
Pick up a pen. Try keeping a food journal for at least a week to get in touch with the feelings and circumstances that are making you reach for food. Before and after you eat, gauge your hunger and describe what's happening and how you feel. This will help you identify which situations trigger eating.
Choose your comforts carefully. People who overeat often report that they mistake stress, anxiety or insecure feelings for hunger. If your food journal reflects that you turn to food when what you really need is some emotional comfort, you'll have to come up with healthier ways to soothe yourself. Try these suggestions from Dr. Adrian Brown, a psychiatrist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center:
Take a bubble bath.
Go for a walk around the block.
Listen to your favorite music.
Call a friend.
Surf the Web.
You may need to reexamine your list and add to it from time to time.
Learn what true hunger feels like. Again, make use of the hunger scale to help you identify true hunger. This will help you limit your eating to times when you're physically hungry.
Seek help, if necessary. If you find that none of these strategies help, you should consider making an appointment to see a qualified health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker. There are a few different treatments for the condition, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and drug therapy.