The phenomenon of compulsive overeating in a selected group of professional women



Many data have been generated concerning individuals with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. However, few data exist that have explored the phenomenon of compulsive overeating or binge eating. The purpose of this study was to determine the meaning of compulsive overeating, or binge eating, in the lives of adult professional women. Six adult women from the south-east United States were interviewed using an open-ended interview format. Interviews were audio-taped and analysed using the Giorgi (1979) method of phenomenology. Recurrent themes that emerged from data collection included those pertaining to childhood experiences with food, descriptions of the types of food most often eaten during the adult years, eating behaviours in the adult years, perceptions of loss of control, reasons for overeating, emotional consequences of overeating, compensatory behaviours, and prevention strategies. The synthesis of meaning statement elicited was that of a personal struggle to achieve or maintain an acceptable weight and gain mastery over binge eating behaviours. This struggle can be likened to an addictive process in which the individual thinks about food constantly, consciously or unconsciously, and eats compulsively in spite of the consequences.