Compulsive Overeating*

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What is compulsive overeating?

Recent studies suggest that a person can actually get addicted to food and develop compulsive overeating. It happens when a person cannot control how much he or she eats and end up consuming excessive amounts of calories even though it may damage health. This disorder should not be confused with bulimia. The main difference is that a person who suffers from compulsive overeating does not purge after eating.  This condition tends to be psychological, a person tries to ease emotional issues while consuming food.

How to recognize this condition?

This disorder is rarely recognized and people visit a doctor because of weight gain. Obsessive – compulsive disorder is diagnosed when six criteria are matched. For obsession they are four:

  • persistent thoughts that cause anxiety and distress;
  • these thoughts are not just excessive worries about real – life problem;
  • a person tries to ignore those thoughts or neutralize them with other activity;
  • a person realizes that these thoughts rise from his or her own mind, they are not imposed.

For compulsion they are two:

  • repetitive behaviour;
  • the goal of these acts to prevent or reduce stress but they do not help.

People with food addiction experience withdrawal symptoms too, such as anxiety, agitation or various physical symptoms.  In addition, compulsive overeating leads to weight gain and related problems. Strong support and understanding from family and friends is in particular important.

Addictive food

People get addicted to palatable food. This kind of food usually contains large amount of sugar, fat or salt that triggers parts of the brain responsible for pleasure. The pleasure is associated with dopamine transmission (the substance, produced by brain cells that makes us feel pleased) in the brain.

What measures can be taken?

First of all, psychotherapy and psychologist consultation must be prescribed for food addicts. Nutritionists help overeaters to break the cycle of compulsive eating. Also, a person may join support group of Food Addicts Anonymous where people come together to help each other, to share their experience, work on self-control issues, share special diets that do not contain food that in particular triggers addiction.

No pharmacological treatment is invented for this condition, as there are no substances found that can replace sugar, salt and fat contained in food and cause the same release of dopamine. For example, in treatment of alcohol, narcotic addiction we have drugs that replace them and help people to survive withdrawal symptoms.

No pharmacological treatment is invented for this condition, as there are no substances found that can replace sugar, salt and fat contained in food and cause the same release of dopamine. For example, in treatment of alcohol, narcotic addiction we have drugs that replace them and help people to survive withdrawal symptoms.

Often people choose symptomatic treatment which eliminates consequences of overeating but does not treat the disorder. One of them is gastric bypass. This operation is performed by abdominal surgeons and is indispensible when obesity cannot be treated solely by diet and physical activity. During the operation the stomach volume is reduced and a part of the small intestine is bypassed. Consequently, the smaller stomach can be full with less food and absorption is diminished, so the body gains fewer amounts of calories from the same supply of food.

The operation is done under general anaesthesia. It means that you will sleep during the operation and you will not feel any pain. The procedure is performed using laparoscope. A surgeon makes a few small cuts in your belly and thin surgical instruments are passed through them. The surgeon sees the operation field in the monitor and performs the operation using these instruments. Like any other surgical operation, gastric bypass also has complications such as blood loss, blood clots, heart stroke, infection and allergic reactions to medicaments. But in comparison with open surgery, when a big cut through the abdomen is done, stay in hospital is shorter, recovery is quicker, pain is less severe, and scars are smaller, so the risk of hernias (the protrusion of organ or its coverings through the cut in the abdomen wall) and infection is low. But you have to remember, that the operation cannot remove the psychological issues that may have fuelled obesity, it is only effective symptomatic treatment.

One addiction chases another

Currently it is widely believed that predisposition for addiction is inherited. It means that if a person tends to have addictions and is cured from one of them, he can fall into another one. Thus, such a patient needs long – term monitoring and care of psychologist, psychotherapist or physician.

Psychotherapy, change of lifestyle, support of family and friends and early help before such symptoms as weight gain appear seems to be the most effective treatment.