Psychogenic overeating: causes, diagnosis and treatment

An eating disorder expressed by uncontrolled consumption of large quantities of food due to stressful situations is called psychogenic overeating. It is a multi-causal pathology because it can be triggered by accidents, surgical interventions, divorce, problems in personal relationships, and negative emotions. Psychogenic overeating leads to weight gain.

The main symptom of the pathology is considered to be bouts of gluttony, when a lot of high-calorie foods enter the body, and the feeling of hunger was not, and still is not. This is explained by the affiliation of the disease with leptin, the hormone of adipose tissue, which is responsible for the feeling of satiety, against the background of the development of leptin resistance. You will learn how patients are diagnosed and treated in this article.


  1. General information.
  2. Causes.
  3. Symptoms and Consequences.
  4. Diagnosis and treatment.
  5. Prognosis.

General information

Psychogenic overeating is also called compulsive, as well as – gluttony and hyperphagic reaction to stress. In other words, this pathology refers to eating disorders, which manifests itself by uncontrolled consumption of food in large quantities against a background of stress. In essence, it is a mental disorder on a par with anorexia and bulimia.

Its severity ranges from episodes of moderate overeating to constant impulsive gluttony, almost bulimia. Unlike the latter and anorexia, psychogenic overeating does not require taking laxatives, inducing vomiting, or physical hyperexertion. The disease is treated by specialists in psychotherapy.


Among the main triggers are three groups of provocateurs: biological, psychological and social. The main biological factor is hereditary predisposition. Today, there are three known genes that control the recruitment of extra pounds due to the constant consumption of large portions of food.

In other words, the risk of psychogenic overeating is increasing:

  1. GAD2 activates the synthesis of gamma-aminobutyric acid in cerebral structures. The acid reacts with neuropeptide Y to activate appetite, so carriers of the active form of this gene are prone to overeating.
  2. the Taq1A1 gene guarantees low levels of dopamine. Carriers of this gene are slow to make decisions, later realize they are full, and later feel the pleasure of eating.
  3. the FTO gene is responsible for a tendency to obesity and overeating even in the absence of hunger. Hereditary personality characteristics, predisposition to depression and anxiety disorders are of certain importance.

The main psychological trigger of the disease is considered to be the lack of any opportunity to cope with negative emotions provoked by internal conflicts or external negative circumstances such as fear or anxiety. Patients suffering from psychogenic overeating have low self-esteem, considering themselves inferior, frustrating others when communicating with them.

As children, these patients suffered from conflicts in the family, and many developed the habit of interrupting negative emotions with abundant and delicious food, in the absence of support from parents. Of significance are the habit from childhood of eating sweets and fatty foods, large plates, and the inability to refuse food that one does not want in company. Such stereotypes of eating behavior block the ability of cerebral structures to control satiety, and consequently, provoke the probability of psychogenic overeating.

Another provocateur can be considered social pressure. The cult of slimness, the desire to be beautiful in accordance with the canons of modern female beauty in the presence of excess weight makes the feeling of own imperfection critical, pushes to consume food in order to get rid of negative emotions. Thus a vicious circle is formed. The triggers potentiate one another. The inability to correct one’s own eating habits provokes a minimization of emotions and an increase in anxiety, which makes the problem even more serious.

Symptoms and Consequences

A characteristic sign of psychogenic overeating was, is and remains gluttony against the background of a person who is absolutely not hungry. Patients eat for any reason: whether they are nervous, offended, humiliated, helpless, feeling guilty or disappointed. They binge on everything: irritation, longing, dissatisfaction. An episode of overeating lasts a couple of hours without feeling satiated and ends with an overfull stomach and the development of self-blame. The regularity of such episodes causes fullness. At the same time, there is no attempt to get rid of what has been eaten. Psychogenic overeating manifests itself exclusively alone. In company, everything is within normal limits. However, patients are constantly stashing food away to eat while they are alone. Attempts to control the volume and frequency of meals by effort of will are ineffective. Therefore, both self-esteem is lowered and disappointment in oneself exists.

Psychogenic overeating increases the risk of a number of mental disorders and somatic diseases. Patients are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety spectrum disorders. Sometimes patients eat to forget alcohol or medications, but this does not solve the problem, but provokes the development of addiction. Because of obesity, psychogenic overeating increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes, coxarthrosis, and GI disease.

Diagnosis and treatment

It is possible to make a diagnosis already at the stage of conversation with the patient, when collecting the anamnesis. The pathology should be differentiated with obesity, bulimia, anxiety and depressive disorders against the background of worries about unattractive appearance. The main way to correct psychogenic overeating is psychotherapy: cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal and dialectical behavioral. During cognitive correction, the doctor trains the patient to identify the thoughts that provoke the psychological impulse to an episode of gluttony. The patient learns to manage his emotions and control his binge eating attacks by interrupting them at the initial stage using various meditation techniques.

The main task of interpersonal therapy is to identify problems in interpersonal relationships and eliminate them by improving communication skills. This method minimizes the number of negative emotions in the process of communication, that is, it reduces to zero the number of impulses to another attack. Dialectical behavioral therapy – a combination of meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. The essence is learning to quickly manage the effects of stress.

Psychotherapy can be individual and group. In either session, they teach how to form a healthy diet, and in a group they receive support from patients with similar problems. Psychologists work closely with nutritionists. In the process of correction, a type of diet and a clear schedule for eating is established. Often, psychotherapy and diet therapy are supplemented with medications. Appetite-reducing medications and antidepressants are used.


Because psychogenic overeating is well corrected, the prognosis is favorable.

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