Compulsive Eating Disorder in Women

Compulsive eating disorders are characterized by extremes. People with compulsive eating disorders experience rigorous disturbances in their eating behavior. Such disturbances include extreme reduction in the amount of food taken or eating too much. As a result the women become distressed and are always concerned about their body weight and shape. Many people with eating disorders may just start out eating less or bigger amounts of food but with time the habit gets out of control. Eating disorders are therefore very complex and despite much research in a bid to understand them, biological, social and behavioral causes of the illness remain unknown. The main categories of eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and compulsive over eating disorder. This paper aims at examining women with compulsive eating disorder and whether there can be cure for them (Medline plus, 2008).

In most cases, compulsive eating disorders develop during adolescence or early adulthood. However, few cases develop during childhood or in later adulthood. Research has shown that 86 percent of people with bulimia experience the onset of the illness just before they reach 20 years of age. Women and girls compose the majority of those with eating disorders. In the United States, over 10 million women and girls are said to either suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. This is such a high number compared to only one million men and boys who suffer the same disorders.85-95 percent of the people with anorexia bulimia and bulimia nervosa are women. Women also compose 65 percent of the people with binge eating disorders worldwide. Studies have indicated that the probability of dying in women with anorexia is 12 times higher than that of other women in the same age (love your, 2010).

Anorexia Nervosa in Women

The number of women with anorexia nervosa is on the rise. This is characterized by persistent chase of slimness and refusal to maintain an average healthy weight, an alteration of body image, extreme fear of gaining weight emaciation, lack of menstruation and a disturbed eating behavior. Women with anorexia lose weight through dieting and excessive exercise. Other women lose weight through self induced vomiting and misuse of laxatives and diuretics. Women with anorexia nervosa always see themselves as overweight although they may be starved and at times clearly malnourished. Therefore, they become obsessed with weight control measures which include extremely reduced food intake. They usually weigh themselves on regular basis; they portion their food carefully so as to eat very small quantities of only selected foods. Some women with the disorder may recover after being treated for only one episode. Others may recover but still have relapses while those with chronic anorexia have their health gradually deteriorate over a long time as they try to battle with the disorder (Birmingham, Su, Hlynsky & Goldner, 2005).

As stated earlier, women with this disorder are 12 times more likely to die as a result than those without the illness. This is because the patients usually develop complications that are fatal. Some of the complications include cardiac arrest and fluid and electrolyte imbalance. At times, the women usually resort to suicide. The women also have coexisting physical and psychiatric illnesses like depression, drug and substance abuse, anxiety, obsessive behavior; cardiovascular and neurological complications and retarded physical development.

Women with anorexia nervosa develop osteopenia or osteoporosis where their bones gradually become thin. They usually have brittle nails and hair while their skin becomes yellowish and dry. They usually experience mild anemia and reduced muscle strength. Such women usually experience severe constipation on regular basis. They also have low blood pressure and slowed pulse and breathing. As a result, the women experience a severe drop in their internal body temperatures and hence they usually feel cold most of the times (Lock, Couturier & Agras, 2006).

Women with Bulimia Nervosa

Women with bulimia nervosa experience recurring and frequent episodes of consuming unusually high amounts of food (as in binge eating) and a feeling that they don’t have control over their eating habit. The overeating is followed by a compensating behavior which may include induced vomiting and too much use of laxatives, fasting or even exercising excessively. Similar to people with anorexia, this group of women often fear gaining too much weight. They are usually in desperate need of losing weight and are always unhappy with their bodies’ sizes and shapes. They usually engage in their bulimic behavior in secret since they feel disgusted and ashamed by this lifestyle. Usually, the binging and the compensating behavior is repeated severally in a week. They usually have coexisting psychiatric problems such as getting depressed, being anxious and resorting to drug abuse as a way of curing their problem. The women are usually at risk of getting numerous physical conditions as a result of their purging behavior which include lack of electrolyte balance, oral and teeth related problems as well as gastrointestinal complications. Women with bulimia nervosa experience irregular periods and usually have mood swings. They also like avoiding social situations since they think that everybody is aware of their eating habits. Other symptoms include distorted body image, heartburn, swollen glands in their necks and faces, bloodshot eyes and they usually have sore throats. (The women centre for healthy living, 2008).

The disorder has many serious and life threatening complications depending on the purging method the patient uses. Cardiovascular problems may occur due to abnormalities in electrolytes and use of ipecac syrups to force vomiting. This usually leads to fatal heart muscle disorders and irregular heart rhythms. They may also experience low blood pressure and regular fainting. Due to frequent vomiting, the teeth are constantly exposed to abdominal acids. This eventually leads to washing away of dental enamel. Therefore, their teeth may have many cavities and may become ragged. They usually have throat sores due to frequent vomiting. Breeding of the throat may also occur. The excessive vomiting usually exposes their bodies to dehydration making them to be very weak. The excess vomiting also irritates the walls of the intestines. This may lead to the rapture of esophagus leading to fatal bleeding. Purging usually involves abuse of laxatives and appetite suppressants. Therefore, women with bulimia are prone to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs (Lasater & Mehler, 2001).

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Compulsive Overeating Disorder in Women

This is also called food addiction and is characterized by obsessive love for food. Women suffering from this disorder engage themselves in frequent episodes of uncontrollable eating (binge eating).therefore, they fell frenzied and out of control and usually consume food beyond the point where they are comfortably full. This is usually followed by a feeling of being guilty and being depressed. Unlike people with bulimia, women with compulsive overeating disorder do not make attempts to compensate for their overeating with taking away behaviors like fasting, vomiting or laxative use. These women usually eat even when they do not feel hungry. The women are obsessed with food since they spend most of their time and thoughts in eating or secretly planning to eat or fantasizing about eating alone. Owing to this kind of lifestyle, they gain much weight and hence become obese. Although most women who are compulsive overeaters are usually overweight, even women with average weight can also have compulsive overeating disorder (Www., 2009).

Women with compulsive overeating disorder frequently engage in a kind of grazing behavior always returning to pick at food most times of the day. Therefore, they consume a very large number of calories although the amount of food they eat per one given time could be small. When such women overeat solely through bingeing, they are said to have a binge eating disorder. Their eating style exposes them to a number of risks. If not treated, they risk having serious medical conditions which include high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure, increased amounts of cholesterol, sleep apnea and depression. They are also exposed to the risk of long-term conditions such as diseases of the kidney, stroke, deterioration of the bones and arthritis.

Women with compulsive overeating disorder eat uncontrollably even at times when they are not hungry. The women always eat more rapidly than what is normally acceptable. The women always feel guilty because of their overeating behavior. Therefore, they mostly eat alone due to fear of shame and being embarrassed. They are usually preoccupied with their body weight and hence constantly experience mood swings and get depressed due to the fact that they know that their eating habit is abnormal but are unable to change it. Due to their eating patterns, they experience rapid weight gain or become obese all of a sudden. Therefore, their mobility becomes greatly reduced due to the weight gained. Such women will always withdraw from activities for fear of being embarrassed about their weight. Consequently, they develop extremely low self esteem although they are unable to fight the urge to eat greater and greater amounts. Such people usually try many diets but with no success. They eat very little in public although they maintain very high amounts of body weight (Bulik, Sullivan & Kendler, 2002).

Women with compulsive overeating disorder may consume up to 15000 kilo calories in a single day. Addiction from overeating is higher than the one experienced due to drug use. Research has shown that the women have an abnormality in endorphin metabolism in their brain which gives rise to the addictive process. Other theories of addiction attribute the addiction to the reward centre of their brains. It is argued that when they ingest trigger foods, this causes the neurotransmitter, serotonin, to be released. This could explain why neurobiological factors are thought to contribute to their addiction to eating. If the women abstain from the addictive food and their eating processes, this leads to withdrawal symptoms. Consequently, the levels of serotonin greatly reduce causing high levels of anxiety and depression. Complexities of the biology of the compulsive overeating behavior distinguish it from the pure substance and drugs abuse analogy. Since Food is a complex mixture of many chemicals, it usually affects the body in many ways. This is magnified by the brain- stomach communications sometimes it proves more difficult for women with compulsive overeating disorder to recover than drug and substance addicts. Another theory explains the compulsive overeating disorder in the women’s amplified tendency of insulin secretion when they see or smell food. However, this theory is controversial as it has not been proved. Researchers have also associated the addiction to high neurological sensitivity to taste and smell among the women (Weiner, 2008).  

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Treating the women

Regardless of the type of eating disorder a woman may be suffering from, the treatment involves restoring them to normal weight, healthy weight, treating the physical illnesses caused by the eating disorder and eliminating the behaviors and thoughts which lead to their disordered way of eating and preventing reoccurrence of the disorder. Research has suggested that use of medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics (mood stabilizers) may help in treating the women with compulsive eating disorder (Jack, 2007). This is because the medication may help in resolving mood and anxiety symptoms which usually co-exist with compulsive eating disorder. However, antidepressants are usually not effective in preventing the reoccurrence of episodes in these women. Furthermore, no medication has been proved effective in restoring the patient’s weight during the first phases of treatment. Therefore, it is unclear whether and how medication can help cure compulsive eating disorder although research is ongoing. Psychotherapy whether at individual, group or family based level has proved to be effective in addressing the psychological causes of the disorder (Kerri-Lynn, 2002). Studies suggest that family based therapy is the best in helping the women regain their weight as family members assume the responsibility of monitoring their eating habits and moods. This remains the best tool of dealing with compulsive eating disorder .research has also suggested that combining psychotherapy with medication could be the most effective method of helping women with the eating disorder. However, the effectiveness of this method normally depends on the patient being treated and her situation. Unfortunately, no single psychotherapy has been consistently effective in treating the women with the eating disorder. However, research is ongoing into the novel treatment and approaches of preventing the disorder (Eisler, Dare & Hodes, 2000).


Women in almost all ages have compulsive eating disorder. This disorder either causes them to overeat or eat too little to the extent of harming their bodies. I thought that eating disorders can never be cured since I associated them with food which has to be taken daily. However, this research has helped me to know that the disorders can be treated. I now appreciate that there is help for the big number of women who suffer from compulsive eating behavior. They only need to seek the right kind of treatment and their problem will be over.

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