Overeating disorder
If a person suspects that he or she or his loved one is suffering from overeating, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and seek the help of a professional as soon as possible.


What is overeating?

A person suffering from overeating often loses control over the amount of food they eat, but differs from the bulimia in that they do not try to compensate for it. Most people who suffer from this condition usually also struggle with excessive weight, obesity and associated physical problems. Overeating disorder is complicated, and its causes cannot be determined with certainty.

Low self-esteem, psychological problems in the family and past traumatic events, especially sexual abuse, play a role. The media (television and films), which usually presents an “ideal” image of what one is “supposed” to look like, e.g. in the model world can be an additional cause.


Symptoms of overeating disorder

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), which is widely accepted as the most authoritative source worldwide. Please note Please note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person:

Individuals who overeat experience embarrassment and guilt over their eating habits; therefore, symptoms can sometimes be well hidden.
  1. Recurring episodes of overeating, in which the person eats more in a short / specific period than most people would eat in the same period and under the same circumstances.
  2. This is usually accompanied by a sense of loss of control during the episode. In other words, he / she cannot stop eating or limit the amount they consume.
  3. The person also shows some of the following signs: eating faster than another person would in the same situation; the episode causes physical discomfort; eat a lot, even if he / she is not hungry; usually overeat when alone (because they feel embarrassed or self-conscious); and / or feel depressed, disgusted and / or very guilty afterwards because of their behavior.
  4. These overeating episodes bother him / her a lot. This happens at least once a week for at least three months, but the person is not actively doing something about it (such as a bulimia file) to compensate for the volume he or she has consumed.

Further symptoms may include:

  1. continually eating, even if the person is satisfied;
  2. inability to stop eating, or to control what is consumed;
  3. stores food to eat at a later stage when the person is alone;
  4. eat normally in social situations but overeat in isolation;
  5. experience feelings of stress and anxiety, which are only relieved by overeating episodes;
  6. experience feelings of numbness or loss of sensation during overeating episodes; and

Overeating is a diagnosable medical condition, with a list of symptoms that need to be addressed, before a professional can diagnose it.


What can make me vulnerable?

If someone in my family suffers from an overeating disorder or another addiction, there is a risk that I may also develop the symptoms. Here genes, as well as the behavior modeled to me, again play a role.


Risks / dangers

The effects of overeating pose many physical, social and emotional dangers.

  1. the person's social relationships can be adversely affected because they withdraw when they overeat;
  2. the person's health and quality of life can be drastically impaired;
  3. there is a high risk that the person may develop health problems.

Some of the complications are:

  1. cardiovascular problems
  2. type 2 diabetes
  3. insomnia or sleep apnea
  4. hypertension
  5. gallbladder problems
  6. muscle and joint pain
  7. depression and / or anxiety


Treatment of overeating disorder

Why is treatment necessary for overeating?
Professional support from a psychologist, psychiatrist, and dietitian (who is experienced in the field of eating disorders) is usually the most effective way to treat overeating disorders. A treatment plan addresses underlying issues associated with destructive eating patterns. It is important to look at emotional triggers. Healthy coping mechanisms can be learned during treatment.

Who can diagnose me or a loved one?
Because overeating disorder is so complex, we would advise you to have it tested and diagnosed only by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are trained to distinguish between different eating disorders.

What role does a psychologist play in my treatment?
A psychologist can diagnose overeating and treat psychotherapeutically. This means he / she can help you understand what your diagnosis is, how to live with it, and how to apply a strategy that can lead to behavioral change. A psychologist in South Africa may not prescribe medication and usually works with a psychiatrist in a team.


What can I do to manage my illness?

  1. build up knowledge about overeating (ask your doctor, read about the disease, ask questions until you understand);
  2. do regular, moderate physical exercise; it is a successful antidepressant, as proven by research;
  3. eat balanced;
  4. sleep enough;
  5. reduce stress factors as far as you are in control; and
  6. Consider psychotherapy with a trained psychologist who can help you learn the skills you need to deal with the disorder.


Advice for loved ones and family members who live or work with someone who has been diagnosed with Oraet

If a loved one is diagnosed with overeating, your support and motivation can play a very important role in accepting and managing their diagnosis. Here are guidelines on how to assist such a person:

Make time for yourself too!
  1. Be patient. People who suffer from an eating disorder do not always have the ability to say how they feel or what they are experiencing. Give them a chance to get used to the diagnosis first and gradually work out a concrete plan of how they will manage their lives in the future.
  2. Be informed. Build up knowledge about overeating disorder. The more you and your loved one, family member or colleague know about the disease, the better you can work together on how you will support the person and how you will manage the disease.
  3. Ask what your loved one needs from you. One can easily think you know what is best for another person, but the easiest is to ask how he / she wants you to act.
  4. Listen, rather than giving constant advice or reasoning reasonably. It is important that the person himself / herself accepts responsibility for the condition of the disease and the effect it will have on his / her life. When someone makes choices on behalf of someone else, it may cause the person to become dependent on the helper and then not want to fight the disease himself. It is not your illness, but your loved one's. Listening is a wonderful way to support your loved one.
  5. Get to know the symptoms so you can act early. Everyone's symptoms of overeating do not manifest in the same way, so it is very important to understand how the person in your life's symptoms emerges. For example, when your loved one starts eating significantly less than other times, often vomiting or exercising excessively, you can start taking certain measures as long as you do.
  6. Do physical activities with the individual. This may be a cliché, but regular exercise is of great benefit to the mental health of people with psychological diagnoses. It relieves tension and anxiety and helps with the production of low-mood fighting substances. So regular exercise is actually a successful antidepressant.
  7. Encourage a balanced eating and sleeping pattern. An established routine not only helps the person to manage their illness, but also helps to see the signs / symptoms early.
  8. Take a good look at yourself! Remember, a person in your life with diagnosed overeating can also negatively impact you by involving you in their disorder. Living with a person who is diagnosed with overeating can feel frustrating, exhausting and sometimes chaotic.
Did you know?
  1. Overeating disorder was described in 1959 by Albert Stunkard (a psychiatrist) as "night eating syndrome".
  2. The term “binge-eating disorder” was coined to describe similar behaviors (without the nocturnal connotation).
Individuals who overeat experience embarrassment and guilt over their eating habits; therefore, symptoms can sometimes be well hidden.

Relevant articles


If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?