Emotional Eating vs. Binge Eating: What’s the Difference?

We often get asked, “What’s the difference between emotional eating and binge eating?” This is a great question!

We like to start by talking about what is overeating, and when it becomes something more like emotional or binge eating. Everybody overeats at time. This is a normal eating behavior that often occurs when there’s a special food you don’t always have access to (grandma’s homemade pie or your favorite out-of-town restaurant) or mindless eating in which your attention is not on how your body is feeling as you are eating, leading you to eat too much and not realizing until it’s too late. For most, overeating is an occasional experience that does not cause significant emotional or physical distress, and is not driven by deeper emotional processes.

Emotional and binge eating, however, are more frequent ways of eating that are driven by deeper emotional processes and can lead to significant emotional distress.

Emotional Eating is just that ~ eating for emotional reasons, rather than physical hunger. This may look like eating three ice cream sandwiches after having a fight with your partner. Or frequently stopping by the candy bowl at your co-worker’s desk for “just one more” as you navigate through a stressful situation. Or finishing a bag of chips after dinner when the house is quiet and you feel alone. Eating is one way in which you cope with different emotions, hoping for some emotional relief vis-a-vis after eating. Because Emotional Eating is not a formal eating disorder with specific diagnostic criteria, there is no one definition for this behavior. However, this way of eating is often characterized by eating more than your physical body is needing or wanting, followed by an emotional experience of frustration or regret after emotionally eating.

Since 2013, Binge Eating is now recognized as a formal eating disorder with specific diagnostic criteria. A binge episode is defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time, and feeling significant emotional distress before, during, and/or after the binge episode. It may be helpful to consider binge eating as a more severe or intense form of emotional eating, and often serves as the only way in which you cope with different emotions. This deeply-entrenched behavior often cuts to the core of one’s Self, leading to significant feelings of shame and disheartening beliefs like, “I’m disgusting,” “I’m broken,” or “I’m unloveable.”

In either case, eating has become a maladaptive way of coping with upsetting or overwhelming feelings. For many emotional and psychological reasons that our team will help you understand, your psyche’s need for food as an emotional relief makes a lot of sense. Thus, the solution to resolving emotional and binge eating is to improve the ways in which you are able to acknowledge and respond to your Emotional Self so that food does not need to step in for you to help you survive whatever emotional “storm” you may be experiencing. Diets and white-knuckling your way through distractions are NOT the answer, and will never provide you the lasting change you deserve.

Whether you identify as a person who struggles with Emotional Eating and/or Binge Eating, please know that FULL Recovery is Possible! You do not have to live with this forever. Our expert team of specialists understand the many complicated layers of these behaviors, and, more importantly, we know how to change them. A life without diets, binges, shame, and self-hatred awaits you!