What is the difference between overeating and binge eating?


Everyone has had the experience of overindulging in their favorite foods. But, at what point does this become a dangerous habit? What separates the normal bout of overeating and binge eating?

It can often be a difficult line to draw, but the distinction is important. One is something everyone does, while the other cause isolation, depression, and body issues. Even worse, regular binge eating can be indicative of binge eating disorder, a mental illness affecting almost 3% of the U.S. population.

Binge eating disorder is associated with a heightened risk for numerous physical and mental conditions, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure and more. Any of these conditions can negatively impact relationships, sleep, and careers.

To help discern between overeating and binge eating disorder, Dr. Kate Craigen from Walden Eating Disorders Treatment Center in New England suggests asking yourself these six questions:

  • Do you consume amounts of food that you or others might describe as excessive? Everyone overeats once in a while; we all know what it feels like to consume a large meal. For those with binge eating disorder, the consumption of unusually large amounts of food happens at least once a week (often times, even more).
  • Do you experience a loss of control while eating? This is the most distinct characteristic of binge eating. Some people describe feeling ‘zoned-out,’ unaware of what they’re doing and lacking the ability to stop eating. People often leave a mess of crumbs or wrappers behind, even when they are typically neat or conscientious about messes. In a typical overeating episode, the decisions about what and how much to eat are conscious decisions.
  • Do you eat more quickly than normal? When individuals engage in binge eating behavior, they typically consume food quicker than usual. Overeating may occur at any speed, but is not necessarily rapid.
  • Do you experience physical pain? Individuals with binge eating disorder often eat to the point of feeling uncomfortably or even painfully full. Overeating generally stops before the body gets to that point.
  • Do you eat in secrecy? Often people with binge eating disorder will experience their binges alone or in secret. They may hide food or purchase it directly before the binge occurs. The secrecy is usually related to strong feelings of embarrassment. Overeating may happen while dining out or in the company of others.
  • How do you feel after the binge episode? Feelings of disgust, shame and guilt are common experiences for someone who is binge eating. Those who overeat may experience some guilt, but not the high levels of mental anguish, anxiety or depression commonly seen among those with binge eating disorder.

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, it may be time to seek help from a professional experienced in treating disordered eating and binge eating disorder. They can help identify whether your eating behaviors may be related to a more serious condition and help you get started on the path towards recovery.

If you think you or someone you know may be living with binge eating disorder, give us a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.

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