I am often asked about the difference between overeating, emotional eating, and binge eating disorder.
So today I wanted to share with you the differences between each and talk a little more about Binge Eating Disorder in particular, as surprisingly, this is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
In this article, we will explore more about this common eating disorder that is challenging to treat because of our cultural preoccupation with body weight.
What is the difference between Overeating, Emotional Eating, and Binge Eating Disorder?
Enjoying a delicious meal is one of life’s simple pleasures. Sometimes that restaurant or holiday meal tastes so good, it’s hard to stop eating, even if you’re feeling full. This is “overeating” and it doesn’t usually trigger feelings of guilt or shame. Overeating exists along a continuum of what we consider “normal” eating.
Emotional eating is eating for reasons beyond physical hunger. For example, drowning our sorrows in ice cream after a tough break-up, or eating popcorn mindlessly on the sofa because we are bored.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Binge Eating Disorder is much more than simply overeating or emotional eating.
Did you know that three out of ten individuals seeking weight loss treatments actually show signs of BED? And that BED affects 3 times the number of those diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia combined? It is important to point out that BED as well as other eating disorders affect all ages, races, gender identities, abilities, etc.
Because of our cultural obsession with body size and appearance, many individuals have internalized shame about their weight and have pursued weight loss at all costs – some since they were children. The stereotypes and weight stigma associated with BED have a severe impact on both physical and mental health.
Diet culture – AKA the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry – continues to harm the public by idealizing a certain “thin” ideal, which only fosters patterns of disordered eating.
Definition of Binge Eating Disorder
According to the DSM-5, a diagnostic manual used by mental health clinicians, binge eating is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating in a specific period of time, that is definitely larger than most would eat in that same period. People with BED describe feeling a lack of control during the eating episode.
This eating episode is associated with three (3) or more of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
- Eating alone due to embarrassment
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterward
- Marked distress during binge eating
- Bingeing occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months
Binge eating is not associated with inappropriate compensatory behaviors.
Why do people binge eat?
There is no one specific reason why a person binge eats, but some common reasons include numbing difficult emotions due to pasts traumas and using food as a coping mechanism. The binge acts as a distraction, and there is a disconnection from painful thoughts and feelings. Most notable is the amount of shame a person experiences after a binge. It is important to highlight that BED is not a choice; it is an eating disorder that can have serious emotional and physical consequences.
Behaviors that might be suggestive of binge eating include secrecy surrounding eating habits, disappearance of food in a short time period, and finding hidden wrappers of food. A person who binge eats most likely has experienced criticism for their body weight and/or shape and feels societal pressure to be smaller.
Treatment for BED involves a multi-disciplinary team
Intuitive eating and Health at Every Size® approaches are essential tools for recovery; appropriate treatment of BED is not about weight loss. Unfortunately, many of my clients with histories of BED tell me they have been harmed by clinicians continuing to promote weight loss; this only contributes to shame, and also causes rebound binge eating!
For optimal recovery, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals including a therapist and dietitian skilled at a Health at Every Size® approach is needed. Additional team members might include a physician and/or a psychiatrist.
The role of the therapist is to help a client understand the reasons behind the binge eating and to develop alternative coping strategies. The dietitian helps by promoting regular eating patterns and explores intuitive eating as a person becomes ready. Part of treatment is to help a person understand the role that internalized weight stigma has played in the development of BED and to recognize that weight suppression will not favor recovery.
If you feel you have one of these eating disorders, please reach out and book a complimentary call with me. We can determine the best step for you to take to heal and make peace with food.
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