Food compulsions

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

Often hidden, out of modesty or fear, food compulsions deteriorate the relationship with food and can be indicative of an emotional disorder or discomfort. Because they are misunderstood, people who experience them do not always dare to confide in those around them or contact a professional. However, the earlier the treatment is received, the more effectively we can act.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

Eating compulsions? What exactly are we talking about?

When we talk about eating compulsions, we often think of an eating disorder that is quite well known in our society: bulimia.

However, we must clearly distinguish the 2:

The binge corresponds to the significant intake of foods not necessarily chosen, with the feeling of loss of control, without food pleasure, regularly followed by compensatory behaviors: calorie restrictions, vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting, intensive sports sessions, etc. People suffering from bulimia often have a weight considered “normal” (BMI between 18.5 and 25).

When there are no compensatory behaviors, we instead speak of binge eating disorder.

The food compulsion corresponds to an intake of chosen foods, with the notion of food pleasure, with or without the implementation of compensatory behaviors. People prone to compulsions are more generally overweight.

The main difference, apart from the quantity of food consumed, will be the notion of food pleasure.

Bulimia is a real eating disorder (TCA), food compulsions correspond more to what we can call “disordered eating”. Even if the symptoms of disordered eating are less severe than those of an eating disorder, they require real global care (dietary, psychological, emotional, etc.).

Where do food compulsions come from?

There are several possible causes, distinct or associated:

  • A lack of calories : during a diet that is too restrictive, with meals that are too light and do not provide the caloric ration adapted to the body. This lack of calories causes food impulsivity, almost uncontrollable urges at certain times of the day or the feeling of not being able to stop eating.
  • Cognitive restriction : controlling one’s diet and eating behavior to lose weight or not gain weight.
  • A poor eating schedule : meals too far apart in time, which increases hunger tenfold and increases the risk of impulsivity at meals.

It is often body dissatisfaction which leads to the implementation of deliberately drastic diets to lose weight quickly and which can lead to eating compulsions.

  • Serotonin nicknamed “the feel-good hormone” ”, which may be less secreted by the body in the event of daily stress with a certain difficulty in taking a step back, in taking time for oneself associated with sleep disorders and fatigue…all of this can also lead to sugar cravings which can in turn generate compulsions at the end of the afternoon, especially if lunch is not complete or sufficient enough.
  • Managing emotions : the act of eating generates immediate pleasure and can be used for some to “anaesthetize” certain emotions that they do not want to feel: anxiety, the feeling of emptiness, certain feelings or sometimes painful thoughts. The food compulsion then creates relief in the moment.

Eating compulsions: what are the solutions to overcome them?

The first thing is to identify the cause in order to implement the right management strategy.

  • In case of body dissatisfaction with the desire to lose weight, meeting a dietitian-nutritionist will help you put in place a suitable diet. The action will be to resume sufficient nutrition with regular meals every 4 to 5 hours. We will take care not to skip meals and to better balance the diet with an intake of starchy foods at each meal. At the same time, work on feelings of hunger and satiation can also be offered with the practice of mindfulness about food, for example. This approach will allow you to reduce compulsions and lose weight more peacefully. Do not hesitate to contact a professional trained in the psycho-behavioral approach or a dietician specializing in TCA.
  • In the case of a serotonin deficiency, here too the dietitian nutritionist can help you by recommending foods rich in tryptophan to stimulate the secretion of serotonin, by guiding you on eating habits, stress and sleep, by teaching you to take care of yourself, to better respect your needs. All of these tips and skills will be very beneficial in limiting compulsions and making you feel better. Dietitians trained in micronutrition will also be able to advise you on the right food supplements if necessary.
  • If you feel like your eating compulsions are closely linked to your emotional and psychological states : do they occur when you have a drop in morale? an annoyance? a moment of solitude?… Keeping a food diary in which you record your emotions will allow you to identify the elements that trigger your compulsions or, on the contrary, that make you feel good. The psychologist practicing CBT (cognitive and behavioral therapies) and the behavioral dietician will be able to support you.

In addition to dietetics and/or psychology follow-ups, other complementary approaches may be interesting:

  • Sophrology in the management of emotions and stress.
  • Hypnotherapy to help you better listen to food sensations and respect them.
  • Meditation to reduce stress.
  • Mindfulness about food to soothe compulsions.

Eating compulsions often deteriorate the relationship with food. Eating should remain a moment of pleasure and sharing. When this is no longer the case, the simple act of eating can become a real struggle.

Don’t let eating compulsions dictate your daily life, talk to a loved one or a health professional. The most important thing is to talk about it, to initiate support and gradually move towards better well-being.

Take good care of yourself.