Understand Dissatisfied Eaters.

Understand Dissatisfied Eaters.

Many people refer to themselves as compulsive eaters and say “I eat when I’m happy, and I eat when I’m sad”, so it’s worth considering what we can do to help understand the dissatisfied eater.

Dissatisfied eaters eat heavily, need lots of variety, have a strong need for treats (especially sweet ones!), or go backwards and forward to the fridge looking for food, but nothing seems to hit the spot.

Such people may have a sense that something is missing if they don’t eat what they want, when they want. And even when their wants are met, the satisfaction is only transient.

We see the dissatisfied compulsive eater as someone who feels, for example, that there is no point going to a restaurant unless they have a three-course meal, dessert and chocolates with their coffee afterwards. They may also have a belief that healthy eating is boring.


There may be underlying entitlement beliefs or deprivation beliefs which fuel the need to eat to excess in dissatisfied eaters. Entitlement beliefs arise in people who are indulged as children and feel that they must have what they want when they want it.

“Why should everyone else be able to eat ice cream and not me? It’s not fair!”

Such people are attending to their wants but are oblivious about their needs. This presentation may be hard to treat.

Deprivation beliefs may arise in people who had very little as children and now feel a sense of deep loss if they’re required to forgo their treats.

The root of dissatisfied eating is complex; compulsive eating can emerge in the form of overeating in children living in families where the needs of the child are not met, or where the child must take responsibility for managing the emotional needs of their carers. They may turn to food, because food is readily available to provide some gratifications which are not forthcoming from their loved ones. But since food satisfies their wants, leaving their needs unmet, eating is never experienced as completely satisfactory. It seems that humans, as social animals, need food to be accompanied by a sense of connection for early eating experiences to be sensed as complete.

It is a challenge to find simple interventions that help the dissatisfied compulsive eater and the overeating subsides only through a process of learning how to attend (lovingly) to one’s needs rather than one’s wants. Authentic relating to others will, in time, trump their co-dependent relationship with food.

ACFED offers professional training to people who might encounter clients who have disordered eating and eating disorders.