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What are causes of compulsive eating?

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Quick Answer

Compulsive eating is thought to be a result of conditioned hypereating, which occurs when sugary or fatty foods are consumed and signal the brain to release endorphins and dopamine, driving people to eat more. Over time, the brain learns to associate certain visual cues with the food as well and triggers cravings. However, eventually the same foods stop providing the same thrill, causing people to seek out unhealthier foods.

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Full Answer

Compulsive eating is linked to binge eating and binge eating disorder. People often report being triggered by feelings of anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety or other negative emotions. Some studies have found evidence that binge eating disorder and other eating disorders often accompany abnormal functioning of hormones and proteins that regulate appetite, blood sugar and metabolism.

There is also an environmental component to compulsive eating and binge eating disorder. The theory that compulsive eaters are addicts is controversial, especially when the higher rates of obesity among America's poor are taken into account. The higher the education and income, the more likely someone is to eat a low-calorie and nutritious diet, while lower income families live in areas where the only cheap source of food is sugar and fat. The food industry is also accused of exploiting compulsive eaters and creating conditioned responses for profit.

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