Compulsive Eating Disorder: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

In this lesson we will review the symptoms of compulsive eating disorder under the DSM-5 and identify some of the different treatments available in helping with the condition.

Compulsive Eating Disorder

Ben is concerned that his 23 year old wife, Jane, may have an eating disorder. On average, Jane eats unusually large meals incredibly fast twice a week. This has been going on for about six months.

He has talked to his dietitian friend, Jill, about his concerns. Jill suspects that Jane may have compulsive eating disorder, also known as 'binge eating disorder', based upon Ben's descriptions of her eating habits.

Let's listen in on some of the advice Jill gives to Ben about the symptoms and treatment options that he can discuss with his wife.


With compulsive eating disorder a person regularly binge eats, or eats a whole lot at once. Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) cases of binge eating disorder include two significant signs:

  1. Within a two hour period a person eats significantly more than would be considered normal for a given time or situation. Having a larger than usual meal at a holiday celebration would not necessarily mean Jill has an eating disorder.
  2. The person must not be able to control his or her eating. People feel they cannot stop eating once they start and feel shame or distress about it. Out of control overeating must occur at least once a week for a three month period to be considered compulsive eating disorder.

Those are the big ones, but there also have to be at least three of the following five symptoms present.

  • Eating rapidly
  • Eating to the point of being so full it's uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food even when not hungry
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment
  • Feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression following episodes of binge eating

Vomiting or using anything that would induce quick expulsion (like diuretics or laxatives) is NOT symptomatic of compulsive eating disorder. That's a whole different lesson.

After Jane's meals she has been in a depressed mood and has tried to find excuses to eat in private. Although only a medical professional can make a diagnosis, it's apparent to Ben that Jane has exhibited enough of these behaviors to seek help.


There are a number of different professionals and treatment options that might be a possibility for Jane. Treatment tends to be slow, and can take months to years to be successful. A psychologist or psychiatrist may provide psychological counseling with the aim of getting back to normal eating patterns and developing the skills to better cope with stress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help Jane recognize and change her thoughts that lead to binge eating. These counseling sessions focus on identifying the behaviors and feelings about a person's eating patterns.

Family based therapy would include other family members such as Ben so that he can learn how to support Jane in treatment. Other activities such as keeping a food journal or completing a nutrition education course with a registered dietician may also help treat the disorder. This type of treatment program includes establishing meal schedules and planning to help reinforce healthy eating patterns.

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