Get your copy of The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook today!

Binge Eating and Compulsive Eating


“Research supports this: Dieting is a consistent predictor of future weight gain. Studies show that one-third to two-thirds of dieters wind up regaining more weight than they lost on a diet. Not to mention, dieting can cause some harmful side effects like weight cycling, food preoccupation, low self-esteem, poor mental health, and eating disorders… So, at best, dieting can taint your relationship with food and tarnish your self-esteem. At worst, it can lead to a full-blown eating disorder.” —Kara Lydon, RD, LDN

If you find yourself reaching for food when you’re not hungry, you’re not alone. That’s because food is often social, and certain foods can be very comforting. Sometimes we eat as a way to celebrate or reward ourselves, and other times we eat to cope with stress or difficulties. On occasion, eating more than usual or in the absence of physical hunger can be fun, and it may even be helpful.

The simple truth is this: Our relationship with food is healthiest—and least likely to lead to an eating disorder—when it is flexible, satisfying, and attuned to our body’s hunger and fullness cues. However, when we have rigid rules about what we can or can’t eat, or we frequently experience loss-of-control eating, our relationship with food may be cause for concern. 

What is binge eating? 

Compulsive eating is what happens when you follow through on a strong, out-of-control impulse to eat, especially when you are not physically hungry.

What is compulsive eating? 

Compulsive eating is what happens when you follow through on a strong, out-of-control impulse to eat, especially when you are not physically hungry.

How to stop binge eating and compulsive eating

There are several proven methods that can help you stop binge eating and compulsive eating. These typically include behavioral change—giving up dieting and the diet mindset, and eating meals and snacks at regular intervals—and therapy—cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT), or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). 

Because patterns of compulsive eating and binge eating often reflect an attempt to avoid emotional issues, another effective approach is to treat underlying depression, anxiety, relationship problems, or distress related to trauma. 

Binge eating symptoms

Take a look at the following list of signs and symptoms. If some of these describe your patterns of eating, you may be binge eating or compulsive eating. 

  • I eat more rapidly than other people.
  • I eat until uncomfortably full.
  • I eat large amounts of food when I am not physically hungry.
  • I try to avoid eating around other people.
  • I feel upset or ashamed when I have overeaten. 
  • I eat in secret.
  • I eat on autopilot.
  • I eat all day. 
  • I hide food. 
  • I avoid social situations based on my eating behaviors or fears. 
  • I feel disgusted or guilty after I eat.


If you experience some or many of the symptoms above, plus all three of the starred symptoms below, you may have binge eating disorder. 

  • I eat an amount of food in a two-hour period time that is definitely larger than what most people would eat.
  • I feel out of control during binges.
  • I binge eat at least once most weeks. 


Without proper intervention, binge eating and compulsive eating can progress into binge eating disorder (BED), a serious and sometimes fatal—but treatable—mental health concern. For anyone with binge eating disorder, it is important to seek help by first meeting with a licensed therapist, such as myself; a medical doctor; or a registered dietitian who has an expertise in treating eating disorders.

There is help for binge eating and compulsive eating!

Fortunately, with the right tools and techniques, you can learn ways to get control before and during any loss-of-control eating. 

“Binge eating is absolutely not about not having self-discipline! Binge eating is often related to emotional experiences, a traumatic experience, learned behaviors (often in childhood), and/or the result of attempting diet after diet. My goal is to wipe out all messages that have inundated my clients with regard to food and to impart the true meaning of food: that food should be used to fuel our bodies, to connect with people, and sometimes appropriately used in response to emotional experiences.” —Tracey Engelson, registered dietitian

Self-help—when it follows an evidence-based treatment protocol—is an effective option. If you want to give research-driven self-help a try, you can order my book, The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook: An Eight-Week Individualized Program to Overcome Compulsive Eating and Make Peace with Food (2020). You will learn to accept the risks associated with dieting, recognize what triggers the start of an episode, and interrupt negative cycles instead of giving up. 

Changing how you think, act, and feel in general—and about eating and your body—  can make a positive difference and improve your relationship to food. Let’s get started!


Get your free copy of A Guide to Intentional Eating when you sign up for my newsletter.

Based on my work helping thousands of people find ease with food and recover from eating disorders, this mini-workbook shares techniques that are proven to help you jump-start a healthy approach to eating. With intentional eating, you will learn to combat the diet mentality, stop obsessing about food, and move away from mindless eating. Get your copy today!

By submitting your name and email, you’re opting in for my biweekly email newsletter offering valuable psychology tips, personal wellness messages, health resources, inspirational quotes, and my most recent blog posts. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Website by: Two Hours Sleep