Loss of control eating

By Danielle Johnson MS, RDN, CDN, CPT, RYT

Loss of control (LOC) eating is being unable to control what or how much one eats, regardless of the amount of food consumed. It has been considered a core symptom of several eating disorders, including binge eating disorder.

A growing body of research suggests that emotion regulation – a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience – plays a role in the link between self-criticism and LOC eating. Studies show that poor emotion regulation skills are associated with LOC eating in adolescents, college students and adults. Individuals who tend to act rashly when experiencing negative emotions tend to engage in more LOC eating. LOC eating occurs in individuals with greater emotion regulation difficulties who tend to be highly critical about themselves and feel more depressed. Negative feelings regarding the self may lead to engaging in unhealthy eating or weight control behaviors to compensate for the perceived inadequacies or to lessen the negative effect generated from such feelings.

Weight suppression, which refers to the difference between one’s highest adult weight and their current weight, seems to be a predictor of LOC eating. A higher weight suppression may contribute to eating concerns and fears of weight gain. A possible explanation may rely on disruption in physiological processes in weight suppressed individuals (reduced leptin or increased ghrelin, aka the hunger hormones) which may increase the drive for food consumption, as well as the “out of control” feeling that they can’t stop or control their eating.

Three descriptions of LOC eating that have been defined through research are:

“It’s hard for me stop eating when I eat like that.”

“I feel like I can’t stop or limit the amount of food or the type of food I’m eating.”

“I don’t really try to control my eating anymore, eating like that is pretty inevitable.”

If you suffer from LOC eating it’s important to know that you are not alone, and that other people suffer with this eating behavior as well. If you have concerns about LOC eating it is important to speak with a psychological professional to address these issues and work towards resolving them.






Danielle Johnson MS, RDN, CDN, CPT, RYT is a registered dietitian who works in the Department of Bariatrics Center of Excellence at Mather Hospital, where she specializes in surgical weight loss and medical weight management. She is also completing her Master of Science in Integrative Nutrition at Stony Brook University.