Overeating Help & Treatment
When we refer to the medical condition of overeating, we call it binge eating disorder (BED). This is defined as eating past being full on a regular basis, usually over a short period of time.
They may binge in private, even sometimes doing it at night when their family cannot witness it.
They are also likely to binge on unhealthy food, as this is something they see as ‘off limits’, so instead of eating it in moderation, they hold off on eating it until they cannot resist anymore, and they indulge in a binge eating session.
Why Do People Overeat?
People overeat for many different reasons.
Firstly, binge eating disorder likely has a genetic component. This means that you can be more prone to develop BED if one of your family members has it (1).
You may even naturally have a larger appetite than average, which can make overeating more tempting and less avoidable.
Secondly, certain environmental factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing BED. For example, if you grew up around people who were overeating, it is more likely that you will engage in this behaviour as it is something that has been normalised for you.
You may have even learnt to adopt overeating as a coping mechanism if this is something your parents or siblings did.
If you are an extreme dieter, you may be more likely to overeat. This is because you are pressuring yourself to be a certain weight, and you might start eating to cope with your emotions if you cannot reach your desired weight.
What’s more, you are more likely to be more hungry, and you may not be able to refrain from overeating as successfully if you are extremely hungry.
Finally, certain mental health conditions can make overeating more likely. For example, if you are depressed, you are more likely to binge on food as a way to deal with your sadness and perhaps as an attempt to release dopamine.
Stress can also cause you to eat excessively, as you release lots of cortisol which can increase your appetite, and you may be too distracted to meal plan.
One less common reason that people may overeat is that they are deficient in certain nutrients. When you are not getting the nutrients you need, you may end up feeling incredibly hungry as your body is seeking out these vitamins in food.
This is why you should avoid cutting out certain food types from your diet; you may end up craving them to the point that you binge.
Another unusual reason people may overeat is that they do not have a set routine. When you are waking up at different times and eating at different times, it can confuse your body and you may find that your appetite is affected.
On the other hand, if you generally eat at the same times each day, your hunger cues will be more consistent. This will prevent you from feeling extremely hungry at random times, which can lead to overeating.
What are the Signs Of Overeating?
Most of us do overindulge every once in a while, so how can we tell when we are chronically overeating as opposed to having too much food on an occasional day?
Here are some signs that you are overeating:
1. You regularly eat until you are uncomfortably full
If you are eating past the point of being full on a regular basis, it may be a sign that you are overeating.
Though everyone does this every so often, it is not healthy if you are doing this on a daily or weekly basis, as the ideal scenario would be that you stopped eating at each meal as soon as you began to feel full.
Often, if you have been overeating for a long time, you have adapted to feeling uncomfortably full, so it feels unusual to you to finish a meal without feeling uncomfortable. This is another sign you may be suffering with overeating.
2. You feel as though you cannot control your eating habits
If you feel as though you continue to eat too much despite trying not to, you may be overeating.
Many people who suffer from this make huge efforts to reduce their eating, but they do not succeed as they experience a strong desire to binge on food.
This can be partly because they are used to eating a large amount of food, but it can also be because their appetite is larger than average, they are suffering with a mental health condition, or they are using food as a coping mechanism for their issues.
3. Your eating is often secretive
If you often binge on food in private and save unhealthy eating for when you are alone, you may be overeating.
This usually happens when someone feels ashamed of their eating habits, so they do not want their family and friends to know that they are eating an excessive amount of food.
It can also happen because people can control themselves in public, but when they get home, they are tempted to overeat and do not manage to defeat this temptation.
4. Your yo-yo diet
If you are frequently going on extreme diets and then reverting to eating a large amount, you may be a victim of overeating.
It is a sign that you are attempting to control your overeating, but you are unable to do so in a slow and steady manner, so you resort to intense dieting that only lasts as long as your willpower does.
5. You eat a lot in a short space of time on a regular basis
To be an overeater, you do not necessarily have to eat constantly throughout the day.
Some people who overeat actually consume food infrequently, but when they do eat, they eat an excessive amount.
This includes eating very large portions at meal times, baking or cooking for the family and eating it all, and having junk food binges late at night.
6. You feel guilty about your eating habits
Though it is possible to feel guilty about your eating habits and not be an overeater, it is a sign that you may be struggling, as it may signal that you are aware your eating is unhealthy and therefore you do not want anyone to know about it.
How Can Overeating Affect Your Life?
Firstly, overeating can affect your physical health, which can completely change your everyday life. If excessive eating leads to you being very overweight, you are at an increased risk of developing many different serious conditions, from heart conditions to diabetes.
You are also more likely to feel fatigued on a regular basis if you are overweight, as your heart is working harder to pump blood around your body, so you may experience reduced energy levels and reduced motivation.
In terms of mental health, overeating can make it more likely that you will suffer from certain mental health conditions, such as depression.
Your social life can be impacted if you are a victim of overeating, as you may not have enough confidence to make new friends, and you may not want your old friends to see you in poor physical condition.
You may also avoid events where eating takes place, which means you can end up isolating yourself at home given that eating is a huge part of socialising in many cultures.
People who overeat may also experience problems at work. One reason for this is that they may have less motivation, which means they can end up performing worse at work.
They may also have a lack of confidence which can cause them to underperform and perhaps experience problems with work relationships.
Finally, your financial situation could even be impacted if you overeat. You are more likely to spend more money on your groceries, purchase takeaways, and buy food impulsively when you want to go on a binge and you are in public.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe someone being diagnosed with a mental health condition as well as addiction. For example, someone could be diagnosed with a binge eating disorder as well as depression.
It is widespread for people who struggle with overeating to be diagnosed with another mental health condition. This is partly because if you are genetically prone towards mental illness, you are vulnerable to developing more than one mental illness.
It is also because certain mental health conditions can bring about overeating, and overeating can increase your chances of developing a mental health condition.
The link is more complicated than it may appear – we are not stating that someone who eats a lot will develop depression.
However, the likelihood of this is slightly increased due to the low mood that overeating can bring about, as well as the fact that the individual is probably overeating for reasons relating to their mental health (meaning they are already at risk of developing depression).
Because dual diagnosis is so common in patients who overeat, rehab facilities are often very equipped to deal with this. They will often provide therapies that target both binge eating and other mental health condition.
For instance, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) target trauma, and is, therefore, beneficial for mental health conditions such as PTSD and OCD, while also getting to the root cause of binge eating in clients.
It is possible that when you recover from overeating, you will also recover from the mental health condition(s) you struggle with. For example, you may find that you recover from depression when you improve your relationship with food.
However, this is not always the case, especially when it comes to mental health conditions that are harder to treat.
You may need to have further treatment for specific conditions, and you may never completely recover from them, but you may instead learn how to live with them and make them as manageable as possible.
How Can You Help Someone Who Overeats?
The best way to help someone who overeats is to encourage them to get professional help, as you can only do so much yourself. Please remember that you cannot force them to get help, so if they refuse, do not take the blame if they continue to struggle.
However, try your best to explain the benefits of getting professional help, and the downsides of overeating. Offer to go with the person to their first appointment, whether it is with a psychiatrist or a therapist, as they may feel more confident handling the situation with you by their side.
Try not to shame the person for overeating, as this will discourage them from getting help. Instead, show them that you understand it is not their fault and it is something they are a victim of, yet that you know it is something they could recover from with the help of medical professionals.
In terms of what you can do on an individual level if the person refuses professional help, do not enable the person who is overeating. This means you should not encourage them to eat out at unhealthy restaurants with you, you should avoid buying excessive amounts of food for them, and you should not make jokes about overeating that normalise the disease.
Having said that, you should avoid going to the other extreme, which would involve promoting diet culture and giving the idea that being skinny is the ideal.
Try to keep your conversations about food and bodies neutral, so avoid talk of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food, and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bodies. Instead, talk about food as fuel and as something to enjoy without abusing it.
For more advice about how to help a loved one with addiction in general – not just overeating – have a look at this article designed to help families learn how to support their loved ones.
Types Of UK Treatment For Overeating
Below, we outline different types of treatment for overeating:
1. Self-help meetings
There are self-help meetings you can attend, where you can spend time with people who are also dealing with overeating, and you can provide emotional support to one another.
This will prevent you from feeling ashamed of overeating, as you will realise that people of all backgrounds are affected by it.
A popular example of this is Overeaters Anonymous, which provides in-person meetings as well as online and telephone meetings (2). OA follows the 12 step treatment method that you may be familiar with in relation to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which involves admitting your problem and resolving to give it over to a higher power.
2. Outpatient treatment
If you need a more intense, personalised form of treatment, you may want to find an outpatient programme at a rehab facility in the UK. This would involve being treated with therapy on a daily basis, and returning home at the end of each day.
However, you should only opt for this if you are not dealing with a severe overheating problem. This is because people with severe problems are likely to overeat when they return home, so the treatment ends up being futile as it is not intense enough for the situation.
3. Inpatient treatment
Another option is to live in a rehab centre for a certain period of time. This would also centre around daily therapy sessions, but instead of going home each day, you would stay over with your fellow patients in either a private or shared room.
The most common type of therapy for overeating is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Your therapist will talk to you about your thoughts, feelings and actions relating to food in order to teach you how all of these are linked.
For example, one thought you may have about food is ‘food makes me happy’, which leads to you experiencing happiness when you think about food, potentially causing you to overeat to improve your mood.
However, once you realise that you are trapped in this thought cycle, you can begin to change it, which will affect your feelings and actions.
You could change the thought to ‘food will not solve my problems’, and this would make you less likely to binge as you would be consciously aware that it is not going to cause you to experience long-term happiness.
What are the Stereotypes About Rehab?
Unfortunately, there are many negative stereotypes associated with rehab. This can discourage people who overeat from attending rehab, as they worry that they will have a bad experience.
One common stereotype is that rehab is too expensive for the average person to afford. It is true that rehab tends to be the most expensive treatment option, but this makes sense as it is the most structured, and the most varied.
However, just because it is the most expensive does not mean that it isn’t possible to find an affordable rehab facility.
Treatment centres vary widely in terms of cost, so you could find an affordable facility in your area with our help. You can also opt for certain things that reduce costs, such as sharing a room and attending a local centre so that you don’t have to budget for travel time.
Another negative stereotype is that rehab never works. People believe this as they observe people entering rehab and relapsing soon after they complete treatment. This implies that the therapy provided at rehab hasn’t been sufficient.
Though relapse is not uncommon after rehab, it is significantly less common than it is after a home detox or outpatient treatment. If patients follow the advice of rehab staff when they leave, they have every chance of staying sober.
Even if they do relapse, it does not mean that the treatment has not worked, as recovery is not linear.
Some people believe that rehab is only for people with serious addictions who have no other option available to them. This is because rehab is the most intense type of treatment, which insinuates it is designed for people who cannot be trusted to recover alone.
Yet, anyone can attend rehab, even if they are recently dependent on a substance and they are not yet experiencing a full-blown addiction.
The truth is that it is very hard to get sober alone, even with a mild to moderate addiction, so rehab is the best way for anyone to get sober and stay sober for the rest of their life.
Finally, a stereotype we hear frequently is that rehab is all about group therapy. This stereotype likely comes from the fact that group therapy is a central part of rehab, and that it does not commonly appear in other forms of treatment.
However, group therapy is certainly not the only type of treatment provided at rehab, so rehab is not all about group therapy. There is plenty of individual therapy, and even sometimes family therapy. The great thing about rehab is that it is varied, so there is something for everyone.
Tips For People Who Overeat
The best tip we can give for people who overeat is to try to find out the cause of your overeating. Is it as simple as you restricting your diet, which causes you to experience strong cravings and end up binging?
Is it that you were rewarded with food as a child, and you now cannot separate eating from a feeling of euphoria? Is it that you are struggling with low mood, and you find that eating is a way to cope with your emotions?
Whatever it is that is contributing towards your overeating, if you treat the source, it will be much easier for you to repair your relationship with food. For example, if it’s low mood, you could see a therapist and adopt healthy coping mechanisms for this, and you would be less likely to turn to food as a solution.
Another tip for people who overeat is to plan their meals. One day a week, sit down and decide which meals you are going to eat that week.
It is best to ensure these meals are healthy but substantial, otherwise, you are going to want to snack more. When your meals are planned, it’s easier to stick to a healthy diet as there is less room to be impulsive.
You could even bulk prepare meals, which means you are less likely to eat out or order in as you would already have a meal ready to eat, and you would only waste food if you didn’t eat it.
This may sound time-consuming, but it tends to save time in the long run as you do not have to spend time thinking about what to eat and cooking on a daily basis.
Portion sizes are also very important when it comes to managing to overeat. If you keep your portions reasonably sized, you will not be tempted to eat a huge meal simply because it is on your plate.
You could always keep extra food in the kitchen in case you are still hungry after your meal, rather than putting it all on your plate.
Mindfulness is a great practice that can help people who struggle with overeating. Many of us eat our food very quickly and focus on finishing what we have, rather than savouring each bite.
Try to focus on one bite at a time, and notice how your body feels as you are eating. If you do this, you will quickly notice when you feel full, and you will be able to deal with this by stopping eating.
Keeping track of your eating habits may be useful, especially if you have an accountability partner. This may involve keeping a daily food diary or tracking your food on a calorie-counting app.
However, this can be detrimental to some people, so do not do this if you feel as though it would become an obsessive habit.
Finally, do not despair if you do end up binging on food. Most people do relapse from time to time, and this does not erase any progress you have made. If you shame yourself, it only increases the chances that you will go on a binge.
Instead, try to be kind to yourself and remember that you are on a lifelong journey that will come with ups and downs. Try to figure out why you turned to overeat, and see if there is anything you can do to avoid it in the future.
Is There any Medication Available to Help With Overeating?
Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to people who struggle with overeating, as the better your mood is, the less likely you are to want to binge on food. This is not prescribed to everyone, as not everyone binges as a result of low mood, but it is certainly possible that you will be treated with an antidepressant.
Another medication that may be given to you is lisdexamfetamine. It will only be given to individuals with a moderate to severe binge eating problem, as it is often seen as a last resort option.
It helps you to release more dopamine, which prevents low mood and therefore reduces the chances of binging.
This medication was first made for ADHD, but due to the weight loss side effect, it is sometimes given to individuals who struggle with overeating and are at a dangerous weight.
Why Should I Get Help Now?
You may want to wait to get help, as you may believe that you can solve your overeating issues alone. It is possible that you will be able to do this, but it is very hard to do without professional support.
It is best to get help as soon as you can as it prevents your problem from worsening.
If you refrain from getting help, you may start to experience more physical and psychological symptoms that can put your physical and mental health at risk, and this is simply not worth it when help is out there.
Please do not think that you will not qualify for help if you are not over a certain weight. There are many different ways to measure the severity of an overeating problem, and weight is just one factor.
Contact Rehab Recovery For Help With Overeating
If you are seeking professional help for overeating, please contact us on 0800 088 66 66 and we will explain what your options are.
Many rehab centres in the UK offer help for overeating, so you could accept a place at a rehab facility if you are prepared to spend 28 days away from home.
We work with treatment centres all over the UK, as you will see on our list of locations. Some of our locations include: Suffolk, Gloucestershire, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sussex, Yorkshire, Glasgow, Fife, Swansea, and Cardiff.
Our team are aware that there can be a lot of shame surrounding overeating, so they will not make this worse by making judgements on you when you get in touch with us. They are there to help you find support, not to criticise you, so don’t worry about how you may be perceived when you call up.
On our website, you will see that we offer specific advice for people of all different backgrounds, including elderly people, people with autism, teenagers, disabled people, and members of the Armed Forces. Please take advantage of this if any of these apply to you.
We do not just offer support for people with eating issues; we are here for people with any addiction, whether it’s food, alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Browse our website to find your specific problem and discover how we can help you to navigate it.
 Binge eating disorder may have genetic ties https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2006/03/binge-eating-disorder-may-have-genetic-ties/
 Find a face-to-face meeting https://oa.org/find-a-meeting/?type=0