Compulsive Overeating and Diabetes


By Sherry Ellis RN, CDE, Preventative Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, Fontana

Compulsive Overeating and DiabetesCompulsive Overeating and Diabetes. Think back to the last time you ate so much you felt absolutely stuffed. Were you tearing into a huge cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday?

Loading up on turkey and sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving? Or were you at home alone, maybe at the end of a tough day? How did you feel afterward — simply annoyed that you gave yourself a stomachache? Or were you tormented by guilt or shame?

Eating too much every once in a while is normal. So is eating for emotional reasons. “From the moment we’re born, we’re nurtured with food, rewarded with food, and so emotional connections to food are normal,” says Michelle May, MD, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. People who compulsively overeat, though, may use food as their only way of coping with negative emotions. As a result, they often feel that their eating is out of control. They think about food all the time and feel guilty, ashamed, or depressed after eating. “That’s very different from what someone feels after, say, eating a big Thanksgiving meal,” May says. “You might feel full, and you might regret having had that last slice of pie, but you’re not consumed with shame.” Some people who overeat have a clinical disorder called binge eating disorder (BED). People with BED compulsively eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time and feel guilt or shame afterward. And they do so often: at least once a week over a period of at least 3 months. Not everyone who overeats is a binger. You might eat a lot of food throughout the day, rather than all in one sitting. And you might not do it regularly, but only when you’re feeling stressed, lonely, or upset.

How does it start?

In some cases, people simply overeat out of mindless habit, like always sitting down with a bag of chips in front of the TV at night. But oftentimes, it’s the result of underlying emotional problems. Having a negative body image can play a big role.

Compulsive Overeating And Diabetes

  • Do you often eat when you are not hungry?
  • Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
  • Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after eating compulsively?
  • Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
  • Do you plan these secret-eating binges ahead of time?
  • Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
  • Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop eating compulsively?
  • Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
  • Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
  • Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?


If you have any of these behaviors on more than an occasional basis, you may be a compulsive overeater. Some attitudes and/or behaviors of the compulsive over eater may include:

  • Having a strong desire to eat even when you are not hungry.
  • Continuing to eat even after hunger has been satisfied.
  • Having a sense of urgency about eating.
  • Eating large amounts of food or highly caloric foods in a short period of time.
  • Continuing to eat and not being aware that you are still eating.

Geneen Roth, a leading author in the area of compulsive eating, states that compulsive overeating is a way for people to “numb” themselves against painful or uncomfortable feelings or simply to escape from stress. Compulsive eaters turn to food in much the same way addicts turn to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.

In addition to the emotional toil of guilt, remorse and feeling out of control, compulsive eating has very real consequences for the person with diabetes. Overeating results in high blood glucose that can damage the blood vessels and nerves over time. Overeating results in excess weight that may contribute to insulin resistance, and ultimately may require more medication to control blood sugars. Obesity is the cause of many health problems involving the heart, blood pressure and joints.

Breaking the compulsive overeating and diabetes cycle requires a journey of self-awareness. The individual must look inside himself or herself discover what is causing the compulsive eating. To come to this self-awareness requires a person to learn how to observe one’s own behaviors and recognize motivations around food. Self-awareness can be achieved through a number of exercises and techniques, including delaying impulsive urges to eat and journal writing to help identify feelings.

Joining support groups can lend insight and help you to change your relationship with food. Learn to listen to your body. Feed your body when it’s hungry and stop eating when it has had enough food. Learn to recognize the way food has had an overstated importance in your life. Find healthier alternatives to deal with stress and uncomfortable feelings. Redirect all the time, energy and effort spent worrying about weight, thinking about food and trying to control your eating into self-discovery and insight into your relationship with food. Books, tapes, workshops, and groups are available to assist you on this journey of self-discovery. You will find a list of resources at the end of this article.[/fusion_tagline_box]

If you think compulsive overeating may be a problem for you, contact your local Health Education Department. You can find out about classes where you can learn how to manage your diabetes better or arrange an appointment with a registered dietitian to assist you with appropriate meal planning.

Compulsive Overeating and Diabetes