What People Don't Understand About Compulsive Overeating

“Hi, I’m Sage, and I’m a compulsive overeater.”

I’ve said this line hundreds of times by now, but I still search awkwardly for what to say when I’m with people who don’t understand why I can’t eat any food with processed sugar in it.

“Just have one!” they say. “Treat yourself!”

I don’t know how to explain, but for me, there’s no such thing as just one. Maybe they don’t believe me because my weight has never changed by more than five pounds. Maybe it’s because my binges happen alone, locked behind my bedroom door, with all the wrappers hidden away in the garbage by morning.

Sure, I honestly don’t believe compulsive overeating will kill me, but I do think the misery it brings could ruin my life to the point where it feels not worth living.

Once a person I was on a date with cracked a joke, “Ha, a food addict! Like a heroin addict! Man, it’s been five hours since my last meal. Gotta get my fix!”

I didn’t laugh. I thought about the desperate feeling of turning into an automation, the mechanical horror of shoveling food into my mouth, even as guilt and regret pound through me. The feeling of being a regular human, free to make choices and in one moment having addiction tear all choices away from you. Nothing makes you feel weak and helpless like screaming at yourself internally, as you steal food from your roommates yet again, drinking their whipping cream straight from the carton. As your heart beats faster, you run the calorie count through your mind over and over.

You either bludgeon your self-esteem to a pulp, wondering what’s wrong with you or you build a careful fantasy bubble of denial and cease to participate in the real world at all. The feeling of helplessness spills over into all parts of your life, until you don’t trust the world and you don’t trust yourself. This is a dark place to be.

Usually, people treat the way I eat like it’s a diet and admire my self-control. Actually, I have none. I can’t eat sugar, at all, without losing my mind, my freedom and my hope. So I put huge amounts of effort into changing my lifestyle and my way of thinking so that I can avoid eating sugar, as much as possible.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

My best friend once offered me a bar of chocolate as I sweated over an intense craving.

“It’s just a choice you make,” he said. “Why don’t you just choose to have it if you want it?”

He’s right and he’s wrong. This is a choice I make. But it’s not a choice between a chocolate bar (no consequences attached) and not having a chocolate bar (no consequences attached). I choose not to eat sugar because I choose a life devoid of desserts and treats, leaving room for other things to grow: relationships, development at work, listening to see if I have a spiritual side and appreciating the small things in life.

The other choice is a life of obsession and depression, where the only things I can think to be grateful for are cheesecake, ice cream and Skittles. This is a life where my secrets isolate me from others and where I have to pretend wanting to make myself throw up isn’t screwed up and sad. This is a life where I try to solve my problems with food, only to be overwhelmed by all my unsolved problems.

I’ll choose to not eat sugar. It’s not perfect. Yes, I really freaking want an ice cream cone right now. But more than that, I never want be in the hopeless grip of compulsion again.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.