Eating Disorders Print How Overeating Can Be an Addiction By Elizabeth Hartney, PhD Updated June 23, 2019 Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician More in Eating Disorders Symptoms Treatment Diagnosis Awareness and Prevention Overeating is a common problem. It can lead to numerous problems, ranging from heartburn in the short term to obesity in the long term. It has also been found to be associated with many GI symptoms, including abdominal pain, particularly in the upper gastrointestinal tract, bloating, and diarrhea. Eating too much one time won't cause obesity, but it may cause discomfort, pain, and interference with sleep. Although we might expect that these symptoms would discourage people from overeating, unfortunately, the body adjusts to overeating by releasing dopamine — a natural pleasure chemical that encourages us to eat even more. So even if overeating causes pain and discomfort, we may feel compelled to continue overeating. This is an important part of how food addiction develops. Understanding Food Addiction So over a longer period of time, overeating on a regular basis, without adequate exercise can lead to obesity. When we eat foods we enjoy, the body releases dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure or reward, and it encourages us to eat even more. So even if overeating causes pain and discomfort, we may feel compelled to continue overeating. And just to make the situation even more complicated, there is not just one type of overeating. It can happen as a result of how you feel, who you are with, and many other factors. Here are ten of the most frequently cited types of overeating that can lead to pain and obesity, as can contribute to the development of food addiction. Here are ten of the most frequently cited ways that overeating can become a problem. 1 Binge Eating Caroline von Tuempling / Getty Images Binge eating involves consuming a large amount of food in a short space of time. Binges, by definition, require you to eat more food that people normally do, and more food that you need. Binge eating can happen on a single occasion, or it can become a regular way of eating, leading to problems. Although binge eating in itself does not necessarily constitute a food addiction or eating disorder, binge eating is a symptom of Binge Eating Disorder and the eating disorder Bulimia Nervosa. The Differences Between Binge Eating and Overeating 2 Overeating From Supersize Meal Portions Supersize meal portions extra large portions of fast food, whereby the food portion you buy is much larger than a normal meal portion. Supersize meal portions are heavily marketed, particularly in North American culture. This can easily lead to consuming much larger amounts of food than necessary, and, if eaten on a regular basis, can lead to obesity and poor nutrition. 3 Emotional Eating Commonly cited on shows such as Oprah, emotional eating is frequently referred to as a way that women, in particular, eat when they feel upset or unhappy. The clichés of the girl eating a quart of ice cream after a bad breakup, or the middle-aged women bingeing on carbs when she has PMS, are examples of "emotional eating" stereotypes. Unfortunately, these stereotypes can lead to the very behavior they portray in people who relate to them. What's more, men experience emotional eating as well. Emotional Eating and Stress 4 Stress Eating Stress eating, although closely related to emotional eating, is more heavily driven by anxiety rather than depression, and may be a way of fueling overwork when the time is not taken for adequate breaks or meals. 5 Sugar Addiction Sweet, sugary food is particularly addictive to many people. Some overeaters binge on confectionary or other sweet foods, with chocolate having a particular allure. Parents should be vigilant that their children do not develop sugar addiction, as daily sweets consumption in childhood is related to emotional difficulties in adulthood, as well as obesity and tooth decay. 6 Compulsive Snacking Although eating two to three snacks a day between meals is often considered healthy, constant snacking, particularly on unhealthy snacks, can lead to overeating, whether the snacking is in place of or in addition to regular meals. Many overeaters fall into the trap of carefully planning three healthy meals a day but not including snacks in their calorie count, thereby inadvertently overeating. 7 Fast Food People who rely on fast food often overeat. Fast food is designed to stimulate overeating, typically by using a combination of sugar, salt and fat, all shown by research to be addictive. Although the ingredients of fast food may be poor quality and unappetizing, the addictive ingredients ensure a huge turnover of high-calorie food, which can lead to obesity and poor nutrition. 8 Comfort Eating While comfort eating can be healthy in moderation, people who eat in order to deal with distressing emotions may overeat, and, in a similar way to stress eaters and emotional eaters, comfort eaters may fall into the trap of food addiction as their primary coping strategy. 9 Social Eating Social eating is a widely accepted practice, and in moderation, can be a healthy activity. But people who are constantly under pressure to eat socially, such as those who routinely wine and dine others, or meet over business meals, may be prone to overeating, particularly when the expectation is for large portions and high-calorie foods. 10 Boredom Eating Boredom eating is a mindless approach to food, in which lack of stimulation in other areas of life leads to eating, just to feel something. Boredom eaters can be prone to binge eating, supersize portions, compulsive snacking, sugar addiction, and fast food. 5 Tips to Stop Binge Eating at Night Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Learn the best ways to manage stress and negativity in your life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition. DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association. 2013. 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