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Eating Disorders ‘Fill Up’ Kleptomaniacs
The connected path of eating disorders and kleptomania


Kleptomania, the repetitive and uncontrollable theft of items, is a rare psychiatric disorder with a 0.6 percent of people worldwide meeting the diagnosis according to The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. For kleptomaniacs it is not about the object they steal, but rather the feelings achieved from success. This similarity between potentially dangerous behavior and positive reinforcement of the emotional “high” is also found in a subgroup of patients with eating disorders.


A study in The Odd Brain (Stephen Juan, 2006), found that the majority of kleptomaniacs diagnosed with an eating disorder steal items related to the eating disorder behaviors, such as food, laxatives and diet pills. Acquiring these items can temporarily relieve the patient’s anxious and depressed feelings.  Patients with a co-existing eating disorder and kleptomania often confide that they are out of touch with what they really want and need.  They may use objects very concretely. Fearing abandonment, they reduce people to things. They fill themselves up – literally – with tangible food and stolen objects.


The cause of kleptomania is unknown although it may have a genetic component. There also seems to be a strong propensity for kleptomania to coexist with obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia nervosa and clinical depression. Each of these disorders presents with intrusive obsessions that produce constant repetitive thoughts, images and compulsive behaviors. The assault of these obsessions produce such high levels of anxiety that the patient feels compelled to seek relief in theft, disordered eating, excessive exercise or other potentially destructive behaviors. There is some evidence that the antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft may help these individuals interrupt their compulsions and reduce their impulsivity.


“Kleptomania is a complex disorder that can be a part of a larger group of symptoms. It can be extremely damaging to interpersonal relationships,” said Tamara Pryor, Ph.D., Clinical Director at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver. “Kleptomania and eating disorders can be treated with the appropriate therapy, and addressing either disorder can help treat both.”


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