Personal Stories

Below some Compulsive Overeating Sufferers have shared their personal stories of what having Compulsive (Over)Eating means to them.

from Maura…

Hi. This is really gut-wrenching for me. I’m at work right now, and surreptitiously typing this, desperately hoping that no one will look over my shoulder.

What is compulsive eating? It is my nemesis. It is my greatest enemy, my greatest fear, the spectre that haunts my life and steals my serenity, that teaches me to hate myself – something I have treated as a “friend” for the last fifteen years without realizing how much I was betraying myself by continuing the “friendship.”

I have always had a distorted relationship with food. When I was very young, I remember being very thin and being known in the family as a “picky” eater. I was literally frightened by unknown foods. I felt “safe” with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, plain pizza, Pepperidge Farm white bread, Charleston Chews, and Bumble Bee tuna. (I think I must be the most brand-loyal person I know! I marketer’s dream…) Through the beginnings of recovery, I have kind of figured out that my idea of “safety” in familiar foods has a lot to do with my environment when I was a child. Both of my parents were (are) alcoholics – my mom was a screamer, my dad was passive-aggressive. There was a lot of yelling at dinnertime. I could never predict what my parents would act like, but at least I could predict and rely on the comforting taste of macaroni and cheese casserole. At this time, I didn’t overeat, I think; I just had an amazingly limited palette of foods that I would willingly eat. I resisted (just about the only way that I was not the “perfect” daughter) trying new foods vehemently.

As far as I can remember, I began to overeat compulsively in seventh grade. It was a tough time for me (as it is for most girls) – physical development, social isolation, emotional imbalance. At this time, I began to look to my mother for guidance, but she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she had little or nothing to give — except her example. Aside from being an alcoholic, she was a compulsive overeater herself, retreating into the bedroom after her nightly fights with my father to eat and read romance novels. And eat she did. Two bags of Ruffles Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, 2 liters of Coke, maybe a box of Wheat Thins all in one sitting.

I began to eat for comfort then, and gained weight as I was developing a woman’s body. The taunts from my classmates at being slightly chubby led me to eat even more, and grow more and more fat. I think at this time I might have broken the growing dependency, but in eighth grade my self-loathing was increased a thousand-fold when I was sexually abused by my brother. And so the cycle increased – food comforted me.

Around this time, I remember my dad saying something to me about my weight gain. “You don’t want to be like your mother, do you?” (with all the disgust he felt for her obvious in his tone). I, too, shared his hatred of her size and moods and eating habits; being compared to her by him only made me feel worse about myself. I fixed that by coating it with ice cream, candy, Yodels, Ring Dings, Cheese Nips….

I’m twenty six now and weigh around 210 (5’7″). Despite some “success” in my life (I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a private university and have a steady job as a teacher, a wonderful boyfriend, and a few good friends) I really hate myself. I manifest this hatred with my eating – when I’m sad, I eat. When I’m lonely, I eat. When I’m bored, I eat. When I’m feeling bad about myself (most of the time!), I eat.

It’s funny. For years, I congratulated myself for “recovering” from my sick childhood. I’m not an alcoholic, I’ve never done any illegal drugs, I have a great education and a good job and a clean apartment and friends. But this year, I finally sought help for depression. Around January, I was very close to killing myself. I chose not to, (duh!), mostly because the father of one of my students committed suicide last year, and I’ve witnessed what havoc and torture that has caused her family. I resisted all drug therapy at first – I could talk about that for another 20 paragraphs! – and started “cognitive” therapy. Although I made some progress with cognitive work, I was still bingeing and hating myself and crying often. Finally, after three months, I tried Prozac. It’s been a relief from my most acute depressive symptoms, but has not arrested my compulsive eating. My HMO is not agreeing to more one-on-one counseling for now, so I recently started trying 12-step groups. [I had always resisted 12-step programs – my mother is, I’d say, a compulsive AA member…and I never wanted to be like HER!] I went to a couple of ACA (Adult Children Anon.) meetings, a CODA meeting…then finally, TWO DAYS AGO, I walked into an OA meeting.

I feel some hope right now. Weight Watchers didn’t work (lost 35, gained 50), “willpower” didn’t work, beating myself up over and over again didn’t work…I have some hope that OA might work. As a lapsed Catholic and big-time doubter, I don’t know how to work in a “Higher Power.” But I’m filled with hope. For once, losing weight isn’t my first priority. I’m really going to try to love myself, treat myself better. I hope losing weight will be a product of that.

Physical symptoms? Depression. Fatigue. Muscle aches. Asthma. Irritable bowel syndrome (I think that’s what it’s called.) Back aches. Pain from waist bands that are too tight. Pain from bras that are too tight. Stretch marks.

None of that is as bad as the inner pain, the low self-esteem, the shame, the isolation, the embarrassment. This is what I really want to work on.

Thank you so much for this site, and for all of you who shared your stories with me. God bless you all; I wish you all recovery. Naming this has been important to me. Hearing your words of hope and wisdom has been invaluable.

My name is Maura, and I am a compulsive overeater and an adult child.

from Kelley…

I eat in response to rage and to a sense of having been betrayed. Anything that I connect with betrayal tends to trigger binges. I’m not a drinker and I’m not particularly nuts about sweets. I go nuts on pasta. I notice, though, that lately I have not been as hungry. I think it’s because I have finally gotten my mother to support me.

I know that this is absurd and that I am too strong, too smart and too capable of contributing to life. I feel almost as if I have gone on strike and I feel comforted for the first time in my life.

I am now beginning menopause and have moments of weepiness which, for me at least, is a plus. I have never been able to weep before. I internalized shame and hatred but never wept. I used to be shamed for showing emotions. In fact, I was criticized for everything.

from kathleen…

My earliest memories about having an abnormal relationship to food are of friends who kept their Halloween candy longer than two days and being amazed that they didn’t eat it as quickly as I did. Mine was usually gone within two days. My older brother had the same relationship to sweets I did, and I thought we were the normal ones.

Once I started to get fat, my mother started to restrict certain foods from us, which set the stage for being obsessed with food, which I quickly became. I remember always looking forward to dessert, after school snacks, whatever. I cannot remember a time in my life where candy or sweets were not a focal point for me whenever they were present. I even remember being ten or so and thinking about how nice it would be to be grown up and have a car so I could drive to the drug store by myself and buy all the candy I wanted. In my early teenage years, I started to notice the ever-growing differences between the other girls my age, who were starting to worry about dieting, hair, etc. and me, who only wanted to know the surest way to sneak more cookies up to my room past my mother.

My relationship with my parents and food got worse. I remember a specific incident when I wanted to eat something sweet and my mother said no. I was upset that she wouldn’t let me and she said, “Go ahead and eat it, porker.” She said that right in front of a friend of mine, and I was so humiliated I didn’t eat for days.

My junior year in high school, I was an exchange student, and found solace for my homesickness in food. Especially in the beginning, I would numb the culture shock by waking up in the middle of the night and eating all kinds of candy, etc. Once, my host sister found the candy wrappers in the trash can in my bedroom and announced her findings to my family. Another humiliation. I didn’t really start to get remarkably fat until I started college. Again, I felt alone and uncomfortable: I was at an expensive private school, on scholarship, and felt so different from everyone else that I comforted myself with food. I would sneak down the hallway to the laundry room and get as many candy bars as I could from the vending machine. I would put them in the clothes in my laundry basket so no one would see them. I wish I could go back to those days, and somehow change what I started, because what I started has kept me fat, scared, and angry at myself for the past eight years. I have tried different diets, working out, etc. And I would always lose a little weight, then gain back even more. I finally joined OA two months ago, and am realizing to what extent I am powerless over sweets. My abstinence means no sugar to me, and this makes me sad right now. For as long as I can remember, sugary foods have numbed the rest of life, and now that I know I have to face everything without this crutch, I am scared.

I feel like something has been missing from me, though. I feel that as long as I am fat and bingeing, there is some part of me that is not getting developed, that is not growing up. I am worried that this will define me, and I will spend the rest of my life fighting my weight and not accomplishing whatever it is I was set on this world to do.

As far as physical problems, I have some that are not endangering, but are uncomfortable. My knees and ankles crack when I walk up the stairs, which kind of runs in my family, but it is compounded by my weight. I used to get sick to my stomach a lot, when I was still bingeing, but it has, thank God, been months since I have eaten half a cake all by myself. And that does not count how uncomfortable it is to wear clothes that used to fit.

from Tracey…

Compulsive overeating is my life. I would never have imagined that there was a term to describe my hell, but now know there is after reading the description of COE, and answering yes to every symptom. There is never a time that I am not not consumed with food. I’m either thinking about food, or eating. I work out regularly, and am quite busy so I appear to everyone else to be chunky rather than obese. No one has any idea how much food I eat, or how much I think about eating. I eat normally in front of people, and sneak the rest. I have driven (by myself of course) to a fast food restaurant, ordered a large cheeseburger, fries and drink, eaten the entire meat in less than 5 minutes, then driven directly to a different fast food restaurant and ordered more. I will purposefully wrap all of the containers and bags up as small as I can and stop where no one knows me and throw the “evidence” away. I even sneak food into the bathroom at home, turn the fan on so no one can hear the food wrappers rattling and binge. I eat until I feel ill. Many times if I am prevented from eating, like if someone comes over unexpectedly, I feel extremely angry and anxious.

I have no idea why this is happening to me, and feel powerless to stop this madness. There is nothing that seems to help me not eat. I have a great life, wonderful husband/kids, and my life is probably less stressful than most. While I know my husband loves me, he does have a problem with my weight. He has never had a problem with his own weight, and looks are important to him. The few times we have ever fought was essentially about my weight. I suppose you can guess what happens then. . . I eat even more. The funny thing is he has no clue about the extent of my eating, and what is going on with me. Consequently I have a hard time with intimacy because I don’t want my husband to see how fat I really am. I am so ashamed. Like others I’ve read about with COE, none of the diets and pills have helped. I even try to make myself throw up after eating, but am not very succesful at that either. Believe me, if I could make myself throw up I would.

I have searched my life to come up with some clue as to why this is happening, and come up empty for the most part. My life is like alot of other people~ parents divorced when I was 5, loving parents, very strict father, less strict mother, a step father who didn’t particularly like me, but that was the worst of it.

from Jen…

I don’t know when it started, I guess it’s always been there. The need for food, but not knowing why the need is there. I look forward to being alone with food, not just sweets – also sandwiches, even “healthy” fruits and vegetables. It seems worse when I live at home, I eat pretty sensibly and even lost weight my first year at college. So perhaps it has alot to do with my environment, both of my parents have poor eating habits. I grew up a latch-key kid, I suppose food, a familiar, was a safety mechanism for me. My parents, esp. my mom have always been controlling, often about what I eat.

I really don’t know why I compulsively eat, I’m very conscious of what I am doing but at the same time I am numb. I feel guilty about what I have just done but at the same time I wonder what and when I can eat next.

I feel like it is destroying my life in many ways, that it’s keeping me from so much. I guess I just don’t know what to do about it and I am so ashamed.

from Jane…

Gosh I just don’t know where to begin. Overeating to the extreme that I go is such a monumental problem. It controls my life. I think about it all the time. If I go to a restaurant I wonder if the chair will support me or if I will fit in the booth. I feel totally isolated by my own thoughts of what people think of me that I tend to not go out. I am young… only 34. I don’t know how it happened. It creeps up on you and then its like a thousand lead weights on you. Even if you get rid of one you still have a lot more to get rid of and one is just a drop in a bucket, the difference with one less weight is hardly noticable. It takes a lot of time and energy to get all the weights off. Most of the time you just can’t take it anymore and stop.

The health effects are great. I can barely breathe let alone take a flight of steps without huffing. My legs and feet always hurt. I have a problem with one of my feet that I am sure is partly due to my excess weight. I have great depressions and it is not a problem that can be easily discussed with people. My self esteem is so low, it is practically non-existent, I truly disgust myself. The ramifications of being overweight are felt everyday, and in more ways than I can put down on paper in one night. If I have a pain in my chest I always fear it is a heart attack. I sometimes feel like I am going to die like this.

That should be all the motivation I need to become healthier and eat correctly. But it just doesn’t happen, I can have the best intentions, and somehow something goes awry. Leaving me with more feelings of despair and guilt. Well I hope this gives you into what I consider my “private hell”.

from Kathy…

My name is Kathy and I wanted to share how this has impacted my life. Compulsive Overeating. What a vile phrase. I’ve been through the ringer and back with this issue and have finally come to pass that this applies to me if it applies to anyone. To me, compulsive overeating is a disease where a person has no control over their food intake. It’s a constant eating, a wanting for a more and more. You can’t get enough, sort of like a junkie looking for the next high. That is my relationship with food. And I have no control. I consider myself intelligent, well schooled in many areas. I know what types of things I should be eating to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I just can’t do it. I don’t understand why I can’t. I’ll eat because I’m bored, lonely, depressed, happy, stressed out, etc. And I don’t know when to stop. However, when I do stop, I feel horrible. So stuffed I can barely move. If I continue on this path of distruction, I will not live very much longer.

I am 25 years old and am overweight. I have tremendous back pain, aching knees and ankles, I am hot all the time and basically uncomfortable.

I’ve been through so many diets, that I start to lose count. I’ve done Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins diet, Slim Fast, OA, fruit diet, cabbage diet. I even went to a residential treatment center. Actually, I lost a good amount of weight at the treatment center, but as soon as I became an outpatient, the weight crept back on (and then some). I’ve had a weight problem my entire life. I’ve been teased relentlessly in school. Yes, it hurt tremendously but the kids could never have said anything worse than the things I said to myself.

I was reading a checklist on this website about symptoms/signs of CO and I met practically every one of them. As I went further down the list, I started to cry. This is very painful and the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life. I feel like such a failure in that I have no control.

I do feel better after having said this. This is like a big secret that I have been hiding in my closet. Although, I’m sure it really isn’t a secret to many people at all after seeing me on a daily basis.

from Laura…

You know what’s kind of ironic? I just realized three days ago that I am a Compulive Overeater.

I stumbled on an article that described what CO was and I could of written it myself. I never realized that it was an emotional disease. I figured there was something wrong with me. I lost count of how many times I tried to ‘diet’ only to fall short. How many times I called myself a loser with no willpower. Wondered why I was so weak. Why I couldn’t handle it. All the thoughts I’m sure many other people had. Then, there I sat, reading what other people were going through and realzing that it was the same thing.

I’ve been trying to lose weight since the 9th grade. I’m 32 years old right now. I’m not saying that I didn’t need to lose weight before the 9th grade. That’s when I thought I should start doing something about it.

I joined a group that helped you with your eating.

Joining the same group I had in the ninth grade. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve joined. It’s taken me almost a year to lose a little weight. I keep going though. We weigh in every week and I need that. Need to make myself accountable for what I’m doing.

I’m learning more about myself everyday. I realize that I too, do not deal well with emotions. I heard somewhere that there are only two true ones. Fear and Love. All the negative emotions that a person can have comes from fear. Whether it be anger, hurt, depression. Now, when I’m feeling angry, lonely or confused. I ask myself, “What are you afraid of?” “What are you trying to protect yourself from?”

Food was a way of avoiding these negative feelings. Now, I try and deal with them. I’m doing this on my own. I haven’t joined a support group. I need to figure out who I am, not have someone trying to figure it out for me. I’m still new at it. I don’t consider myself on a diet. I’m getting to know who I am. Trying not to supress it. Trying not to binge. Trying to limit my portions. Trying to decipher the mixed signals I send to myself. Trying to tell myself that food will not make the situation better. That food is an escape. That any negative feelings I have, I can deal with, once I figure out what they are and what they mean.

I guess the last thing I can say is that even when the food is gone. The feelings are still there. Maybe not immediately, but they are there. I’ve spent almost my whole life worrying about my weight, the control food has over me. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to hide behind it anymore. I want to know what’s bothering me. I don’t want to hide it.

from Jean…

It feels strange to be typing this out. I have never admitted my eating problems to anyone. I’m really not sure when I started overeating. I guess food has always been a comfort to me. My mother was an admitted anorexic, who lived vicariously by stuffing her entire family while she starved herself. I was always a chunky kid, but I was healthy and active, so it didn’t matter then. Then my mother left us when I was eleven. I was furious. I turned to my father for comfort, but he was too lost in his own pain to offer any. So I guess that’s when I turned to food. But all through high school I remained busy and active, so my weight never got too out of control. When I went to college, everything hit me. I started eating nonstop, to numb all of my anger and fear and insecurities. I worked out like a maniac but I never lost weight because I binged at least two times a week. Sometimes I starved myself. If I can get through one day without eating anything, I feel like I am on top of the world. Then the next day I mess it all up by eating everything in the house. I am alone all the time, which doesn’t help. I am only aware of how much I’m eating when I am around other people. I hope living away at school next year will help. That is, if I haven’t eaten myself to death by then. The truth is, I am scared to death. I have never had much control over my life, I’ve felt like a huge failure so many times. But that feeling always passed. I don’t see this problem stopping. I have no control anymore and I don’t know what to do. How can I take care of anything else in my life if all I can think of is food?? To me, overeating is about numbing myself, so I don’t have to think or feel or know what’s going on around me. About making myself so huge and unattractive and invisible no one will hurt me again but myself.

from Joanne…

EVERY SINGLE DAY, I say I will “get help tomorrow, stop bingeing tomorrow, stop stop stop.” But it never stops. It keeps going on and I get bigger and my self esteem gets smaller and smaller. I just got done with a binge: half a box of cerel, cheese, a BIG cookie, a candy bar, grapes, some pineapple, a big oily chicken pasta salad. The thing is that I like healthy food. I would love nothing more than to eat fruits and vegetables and lean protein. but the urge to binge ins UNCONTROLLABLE. I don’t know how to stop.

from Liz…

Hi, my name is Liz and I’m a compulsive binge eater. It’s only 10.30 am and I’ve already eaten a large piece of mud cake with cream and a bar of Cadbury’s Peppermint Creme. I’ve had this problem for years and have hid it well. I’m 29 years old and I guess I’ve had the problem for over 20 years. I’ve moved two states in less than three years and am away from my friends and family. I am unhappy in my current job, but, I have a wonderful relationship with a man who painfully found out about my binge eating and is now so in tune with me that he can tell from my moods whether I’ve been binging or not. Despite his love and support I continue to binge and feel even worse about it and more guilty now he’s aware of my illness, of my self-hate. I hate myself, I hate my job and I hate my life. When I’m unhappy I binge, and, when I binge I lose interest in life, I lose interest in sex, I’m horrible to my husband, I tried to strangle him once (that is when he realised that I had a problem and I finally broke down and told him what I had been doing to myself). I don’t believe in calorie counting. I’ve never been on a diet like that. I have had sporadic periods of good health, which included a very healthy diet and heaps of exercise. I have seen several natural practitioners over the years. It was only with the last one that I saw (about 8 months ago) that I divulged my eating problem to. She gave me a diet which I failed to keep to, and some homeopathic medicine to control the binge eating. That did not work, and I hardly gave the diet a go. 18 months prior I had been on a diet under the supervision of a homeopath which I stuck to. She was aware of a problem which I had with sugar, but not aware of the extent of the problem. My motivation to sticking with it was I was getting married and wanted to look healthy. I’m not obsessed with being thin. My philosophy is I want to be healthy above all else (both physically and mentally), and I see losing weight as a added bonus. I’m not obese, but I am overweight. I feel heavy and uncomfortable in my body. When I was a child we ate fairly healthy, Mum was into health food. I used to go next door and get laden with chocolate bickies and lollies. My neighbour would reward me for any good behaviour/chore/baby sitting with sweets or money to spend on sweets. I guess this is when it all started. I can see that my problem is some kind of weird reward system. But I seem to be rewarding myself for all kinds of things nowadays. It’s a reward system and a punishment system in one. I can’t figure it out. My friends look at me in envy as I have a wonderful, caring and loving husband. I love his company, we communicate in a brilliant manner compared with any other couple I know. And yet, here I am, so unhappy. I can’t talk about my feelings with my mother or father. Never could. They can’t see beyond the fact I have such a lovely husband and the amount of money we earn together. How could you not be happy with such things!!??? I recently went home to spend time with family and friends. I discovered my best friend is also a closet binge eater, and we’d kept this fact away from each other for years. My best friend! She doesn’t have the perfect relationship, she, on the other hand, has the perfect job, but, is still binging, still unhappy. I know that my binging is to do with being unhappy, but how do I pull myself out of it. I can’t. I’m quite a shy person and find it difficult to make friends. Although I am in a singing group which meets twice a week and I also study part-time, so I am out there, meeting people. I find the world today incredibly superficial and most people the same. I don’t watch television, as I find it just drains you of life. I see people living such empty meaningless lives. They turn the tele on in the morning, they go to work, their conversation revolves around sport or want they watched on tele last night, they go home and sit in front of the tele. I, on the other hand, cook healthy and enjoy it, binge during the day on the sly, at night if my husband’s out, read, play on the computer, listen to music, read, play my guitar, but it’s like I’m filling in time waiting to live. Sometimes I feel I’m not living, I’m not alive, I’m dying, and I’m slowly killing myself by the crap I’m putting in my mouth. Please let it stop.

from Susan…

I overeat almost daily. I am in a loveless marriage and my mother has become very critical of my weight. These two combine to bash my self-esteem. I truly believe that I am looking to get from food that feeling of happiness that should come from my husband’s love. My mood of the day doesn’t affect binging. I binge when happy or sad. I try to hide it, but my husband notices when he buys a gallon of ice cream and it’s gone in a couple of days and he didn’t get any. I just tell him the kids ate it (lie).

from Mary…

I have good days and I have bad days! If I am alone in the house that is my worst. I can eat cookies, ice cream, cereal….etc. What ever is good and full of fat. If my husband is home I sneak food. When he goes to get the mail I stuff a couple of cookies in my mouth and when he gets back the proof is gone! I act like I have not eaten all day then suggest we go to dinner or to Dairy Queen, when really I have been pounding down the goodies all day. This has been going on for years, even before I was married. I have gone up & down in weight so much. I sometimes get to a point that I will eat and then throw it up. This is not all the time but, at least every few months I go through this, or I starve myself for days and eat very little and then throw it up and do this till I reach an OK weight or until someone says you look like you have lost some weight and then the food starts again! I can’t stop these thing I do to myself. I would rather be thin than to give it up. I have tried all diets & pills (which I am sorry for taking because of my problems due to the new diet drugs!!) I have tried to get a tummy tuck, I had a breast reduction, I take pills like No Doz and things only work for so long. Then I start eating a lot again.

from Eva…

It is interesting to me that I am a compulsive overeater and I have just found your pages doing research for a paper. I have tried OA, Jenny Craig, The Diet Center, Weight Watchers, starvation, purging, … you know, run the gamut.

Anyway, maybe because I am now 38 years old I have come to see my weight as more of a physical handicap. I don’t like being fat, and am now down to 335. I recognize the emotional side of being fat, have had the depression, the self loathing, and let it rule my life. I made my choices based on what I could and couldn’t do because of my fat.

When I was about 30, I decided that I wasn’t going to let other peoples ignorance and prejudices rob me of my life. I swam, I started school, I did whatever I wanted. It took awhile, but I even met a man who cared about me as a person, not as a body.

Somewhere this must spell the start of recovery, though I am not exactly sure where. I do know that I can recognize ignorance in other people and not accept their judgment as my definition. Very freeing. My current weightloss feels very comfortable, I think I am finally ready. I am using Redux, have had no side effects, and am very happy with the results. I find that it helps with the obsession about food, almost more of a “psych” drug than any kind of appetite suppressant I have used before. No speedy feeling. At first I kinda thought using Redux was cheating, that I hadn’t dealt with the underlying emotional issues of my weight, but now I wonder if it hasn’t been more an issue of brain chemistry and less of a character defect all along. Just my thoughts.

My encouragement is with you.

Some names were changed to protect privacy.

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