Signs of compulsive overeating

    * Binge eating, or eating uncontrollably even when not physically hungry

    * Eating much more rapidly than normal

    * Eating alone due to shame and embarrassment

    * Feelings of guilt due to overeating

    * Preoccupation with body weight

    * Depression or mood swings

    * Awareness that eating patterns are abnormal

    * Rapid weight gain or sudden onset of obesity

    * Significantly decreased mobility due to weight gain

    * History of weight fluctuations

    * Withdrawal from activities because of embarrassment about weight

    * History of many different unsuccessful diets

    * Eating little in public, but maintaining a high body weight

    * Very low self esteem and feeling need to eat greater and greater amounts.


During binges compulsive overeaters consume as much as 5,000 calories and up to 60,000 calories per day, which results as an addictive "high" not unlike those experienced through drug usage, and a release from psychological stress. In bulimics, this high may be intensified by the act of purging. Researchers have speculated there is an abnormality of endorphin metabolism in the brain of binge eaters that triggers the addictive process. This is in line with other theories of addiction that attribute it not to avoidance of withdrawal symptoms, but to a primary problem in the reward centers of the brain. For the Compulsive Overeater, the ingestion of trigger foods causes release of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. This could be another sign of neurobiological factors contributing to the addictive process. Abstinence from addictive food and food eating processes causes withdrawal symptoms in those with eating disorders. There may be higher levels of depression and anxiety due to the decreased levels of serotonin in the individual.

There are complexities with the biology of compulsive eating that separate it from a pure substance abuse analogy. Food is a complex mixture of chemicals that can affect the body in multiple ways, which is magnified by stomach-brain communication. In some ways, it may be much more difficult for compulsive overeaters to recover than drug addicts. There is an anecdotal saying among Overeaters Anonymous members that "when you are addicted to drugs you put the tiger in the cage to recover; when you are addicted to food you put the tiger in the cage, but take it out three times a day for a walk."

The physical explanation of compulsive overeating may be attributed to an overeaters' increased tendency to secrete insulin at the sight and smell of food, though medical evidence supporting this is controversial. Some researchers also attribute it to excessive neurological sensitivity in taste and/or smell.