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Nutrition Ambition: Compulsive overeating: A recipe for disaster

Emily Nixon | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 17th, 2011

At some point, we've all pushed back our chairs at the dinner table with a groan, made one too many trips back to the buffet or changed the notch on our belt after a holiday feast. The act of consuming large portions of food at once is a big part of many cultures; feasts have been a traditional form of celebration since ancient times. In fact, overeating has become an almost culturally accepted ritual, from the famous "All You Can Eat" buffets to the familiar tub of Ben and Jerry's that all postbreakup women in "chick flicks" consume. Usually we just laugh and sleep it off, but what exactly is it that distinguishes normal eating from a full-blown disorder?

Binge-eating disorder, sometimes known as compulsive overeating, is characterized by repeated occurrences of binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time), where the eater feels a lack of control in his or her actions. This is not to be confused with bulimia, where the person purges following their binge. Binge eating often begins in early adulthood as a response to unresolved emotional feelings or experiences kept inside. The causes cannot be pinpointed and vary widely depending on the person's unique case, as is the case with most mental disorders. Triggers usually include loneliness, stress, personal problems and restrictive dieting.

People suffering from binge-eating disorder frequently try to hide their actions and feel ashamed. Their binges go on in secret, and the binges are often associated with entering a trance-like state, where they eat in an almost altered state of consciousness. Some common practices of compulsive overeaters include:

- Lack of control or a sense of desperation while eating
- Stealing other people's food
- Eating discarded food
- Eating in secret
- Eating at night
- Feeling temporarily soothed while eating, followed by regret
- Intense urges or cravings for particular foods
- Restrictive dieting following binges

In short, people with binge-eating disorder use food as a means to suppress or diminish painful emotions, much like how alcoholics use alcohol. Unfortunately, both binging and drinking alcohol only provide temporary relief from much deeper problems. Compulsive overeating can be a dangerous disorder, as victims of it often fall into vicious cycles of binge-eating followed by periods of shame and self-starvation or dieting, which trigger additional binges.

Binge-eating disorder is like any addiction: it has both physical and emotional consequences, and should be taken seriously. Those afflicted with the disorder should seek treatment immediately so they can learn strategies for dealing with their feelings and actions on an individual basis. Compulsive overeating is not an issue that should be ignored because of shame or stereotype. Instead, it should be dealt with head-on in order to improve the quality of life of the person suffering. If you're feeling out of control, The National Eating Disorder Information Centre can help. Visit for more information.

Food is here to fuel us; to give us life and energy. It can bring people together, and is meant to be enjoyed as much as it is meant to nourish our bodies.
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