Compulsive eating: Is there a genetic link?

So last night I was having dinner with my parents, who both struggle with their weight and are also (unofficially) on Weight Watchers. We were discussing our particular challenges with food and what is our greatest struggle.

My dad starts talking about how for him, it’s always been about quantity. Once he starts on something, he can eat it all. His body doesn’t tell him to stop or when he’s full. My jaw kind of dropped when he said this, as I am exactly the same way. He went on to say about how if he’s at work and goes to the snack tray to get a candy bar, it is guaranteed that he’ll make a return trip back to get another one. And sometimes another one.

By this time, I was looking at him incredulously. I do (or DID, I should say) the EXACT same thing. At my job, we don’t have a normal vending machine – we have a tray of candy and pastries and chips that has a place where you can put your money. It’s basically on the honor system (which, I will admit, I have not always honored). I’d sit at my desk, feeling stressed or avoiding work and I’d go get a candy bar. Sometimes I’d get more than one, to avoid having to make a return trip. And I’d hide them, putting them in my pocket or – and this is embarrassing – down my shirt  so that none of my co-workers would see me, the fat girl, with a handful of candy bars.

My dad has always been a stress eater, and I’m sure that he has binged on many occasions – but I’ve never seen him binge. (Then again, how many of us have let anyone see us binge? Here is a really great post about eating in private. You can tell by the comments how many there are so many of us that do it.) I’ve always known that my eating habits mirrored his more closely than my mother’s, but I had no idea just HOW similar our habits were.

I’ve read scientific articles about how there is likely a genetic link in families that makes a person more likely to be overweight if one or both of their parents struggles with their weight. And I definitely feel like there is truth to that science, but I feel like it has to go deeper than that. For my father and I to have such similar disordered eating habits just stuns me. It’s not like I saw that behavior as a child and decided to mimic it. It’s almost like that behavior was in my DNA. I’ve been eating like that for so long – I have memories of sneaking food and eating compulsively when I was as young as 5 or 6 – that there has to be more to it. For me, this isn’t a learned behavior. This is just how I’m made.

And while it’s oddly reassuring to know that I am not the only person out there who eats like that – because for the longest time, I thought I was the only one – it is somewhat daunting to know that I’m up against more than just a bad habit that needs breaking. I am up against something at the very core of my being and my psyche. Things that deeply ingrained are hard to change, but I’m not going to stop trying just because it’s going to be an uphill battle.


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