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Binge Eating Disorder vs. Overeating vs. Emotional Eating

Binge eating disorder is characterized as a loss of control while eating. Individuals with this disorder will engage of “out of control” binging episodes for at least once a week for three months and often have no concept or control of which foods they are consuming. Additionally, individuals will eat extremely fast or eat regardless if they are full and will have feelings of guilt, shame, loss of control, and will often eat in secret out of embarrassment.

Overeating is not an eating disorder

Overeating is not connected to feelings of loss of control or guilt, but rather many individuals may overeat due to stress or certain food cravings. Reaching for extra cookies or an extra helping of dinner is much different from binge eating disorder.

Most of us find ourselves digging in for that second helping of dessert or that extra scoop of potatoes at dinner even though we know this may not be the healthiest choice. We tend to eat even if we are full especially at all-you-can-eat buffets, holiday parties or Thanksgiving dinner. Overeating is quite common. However, it differs drastically from binge-eating disorder. For starters, overeating is not considered an eating disorder, as it is not as severe as binge-eating disorder. Overeating is more of an irregular behavior that occurs every so often. Many people who engage in overeating are not necessarily overweight and may be in great physical shape however they choose to overindulge every once in a while. On the contrary, there are people who overeat who are overweight. Many people who overeat are often in control of what they are eating but actively choose to eat more and more food. This differs drastically from binge-eating disorder which is a disorder characterized by the loss of self-control. Overeating can potentially lead to binge-eating disorder however for this to happen; they must meet a specific set of criteria.

Food in relation to mood

Food is such an essential part of life and culture. Weddings, celebrations and birthdays are generally centered on food, bringing people together. Food is also necessary for survival; it nourishes our physical bodies and sharpens our minds so we can live a longer and healthier life. However, when we use food as a coping mechanism, it can become the enemy; leading us down a slippery slope of negative feelings, body shaming and low self-esteem. Studies have shown that negative moods are associated with unhealthy foods including sugary snacks and fried foods. However, research is controversial when it comes time to positive moods and food choices. According to an article about food and its association with mood, some studies have shown that in a happy state of mind individuals may crave unhealthy foods such as chocolate chip cookies whereas others may crave raw vegetables or nuts; the main deciding factor may be long-term versus short-term happiness. Individuals who believe they will be happier for a longer period of time are more likely to indulge in healthy snacks compared to those individuals who think their happiness will be short lived.

So what causes emotional eating?

To overcome emotional eating, one must understand what causes this behavior. Many behavioral health professionals believe the underlying triggers associated with emotional eating are similar to those associated with formal eating disorders.

Unconscious eating vs. mindful eating: Many eating disorder professionals believe that emotional eating is triggered by unawareness. We often pick at our food when we are finished with our meal even though we are no longer hungry or eating snacks just because they are placed in front of us. Mindless or unconscious eating is a direct result of being unaware of being present in the moment. It is essential to be mindful of what we are thinking, feeling and doing in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness when it comes time to eating can prevent us from eating endless amounts of food without even being aware.

Center For Discovery