Health & Nutrition

Overeating Vs Binge Eating Disorders: What’s The Difference?

over eating

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

Eating disorders are no small challenge to conquer. These eating-related conditions can seriously affect a person’s physical, mental, and social functioning. They can even be life-threatening. So it’s very important to understand what they are, how to spot one, and what to do about it.

Eating disorders usually involve distressing emotions related to consuming food, obsession with calorie counting, and how food affects one’s body weight and shape. People who are living with an eating disorder will either purge their food, misuse laxatives, overeat or undereat, or severely restrict certain foods. These behaviors will depend on the type of ED someone is experiencing.

But what about binge eating? Sometimes you might overeat – does that mean you have an eating disorder? Let’s discuss what defines binge eating disorder, its symptoms, and how it differs from simply overeating.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating

Binge Eating – Photo by Artem Labunsky on Unsplash

Binge eating disorder is a slightly less common ED than anorexia or bulimia, but it is still a very serious condition for many, especially females aged 12 to 35.

Binge eating disorder is a condition in which an individual eats an excessive amount of food in a short amount of time. Even when they are no longer hungry, they will continue eating. This brief period of satisfaction typically ends in feelings of depression and shame once the eating stops.

Something that makes binge eating different from bulimia is that there is no stage in which the person tries to undo the effects of the binge. For example, those with bulimia will overeat and then purge up the food. This is not the case with binge eating.

Are you or someone you know struggling with an eating disorder?
Visit the National Eating Disorders site for help.

Common Symptoms of Binge Eating

For someone to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, they must be exhibiting at least three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Eating at a rapid pace
  • Eating until uncomfortably full, or even painfully full
  • Continuing to eat large quantities of food when not hungry
  • Not eating around anyone due to feelings of embarrassment or disgust with oneself
  • Feeling very depressed, guilty, or shameful after the eating episode ends

People who struggle with binge eating might feel frequently distressed. They may feel as though they have no control over themselves while they’re eating, or that they’re almost addicted to the feeling of consuming food.

Psychotherapy can be very effective in helping you heal your relationship with food and with yourself. Find a psychologist in your area or online who can guide you. BetterHelp has some great articles and advice on helping people with eating disorders, for example.

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Possible Causes of Binge Eating

There are multiple factors that play a role in the development of a binge eating disorder. Primarily these include genetics, family history of eating disorders, low self-esteem and body dysmorphia, and a history of dieting.

  • Genetics and family history. Is there a history of disordered eating in your family? Scientists suspect that there are certain genes you can inherit that may make you more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Even being raised in an environment where disordered eating is modeled to you at a young age may increase your risk.
  • Low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. People who struggle with an eating disorder like binge eating also often struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, or an unhealthy relationship with their own body. They may strive to look like fitness models on social media or in movies. They may have unrealistic standards for what their bodies should be shaped like.
  • Past attempts at crash-dieting. Those who have experimented with unhealthy diets, crash diets, yo-yo diets, and other dieting trends may be more susceptible to developing binge eating disorder.

Overeating Vs. Binge Eating

over eating

Photo by Gardie Design & Social Media Marketing on Unsplash

Let’s discuss the difference between overeating and binge eating, because there is a distinct difference between the two. While overeating is not healthy or recommended, it’s not nearly as serious as binge eating disorder. In fact, most of us slip up and overeat from time to time.

So how do you know if you just had an overeating slip-up, or something more serious is at play? Overeating may happen infrequently, and on special occasions like birthdays or Thanksgiving. On the other hand, binge eating is a recurring pattern.

For a session of overeating to be classified as binge eating disorder, it must happen at least once a week for three months or longer. So, the key difference between overeating and binge eating is the frequency with which it takes place.

In addition, binge eating requires at least three of its symptoms to be present. We may feel yucky and embarrassed with ourselves after a hearty Thanksgiving meal, but the red flag should only be raised if the behavior happens every single week for multiple months.

Is Binge Eating Disorder Connected to Mental Health?

Now that you’ve learned more about what defines binge eating disorder, you may be wondering what pathology is taking place here. It seems like something deeper might be happening psychologically, if not in conjunction with other serious mental health issues. And you’d be right to wonder that.

The research shows that binge eating disorder is often accompanied by other mental health disorders. But it can be hard to know what comes first, the chicken or the egg, so to speak. Some of these mental disorders may lead to the development of an eating disorder, or the eating disorder itself may cause another mental disorder.

Here are just a few of the most common disorders that may manifest alongside binge eating disorder:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This mental health disorder is caused by a traumatic event, and is characterized by nightmares, painful flashbacks, and heightened sensitivity to one’s environment. Individuals may use binge eating as a self-soothing mechanism for their PTSD.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: A mental disorder that causes excessive, intense worry and fear over regular everyday situations. It can cause rapid heart rate, shakiness, fatigue, sweating, and panic.
  • Depression: Mood disorder that causes intense feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, and irregular sleep patterns.
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Treating Binge Eating Disorder

Treatment for binge eating disorder may require a multifaceted approach. It’s not as simple as taking medication to stop the behavior. The first thing that needs to happen is to go in for an initial evaluation with a clinician to diagnose you properly. This may lead to laboratory testing, and a medical exam to check your physical health.

Next step is to start psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is found to be the most effective therapy treatment for those living with an eating disorder. This will allow you to work with a mental health professional to “reprogram” your relationship with food and develop new eating behaviors.

Consulting with a nutritionist may also be very beneficial. The more we know about proper nutrition, the more we can develop healthy eating habits.

Lastly, medication in conjunction with therapy may also prove beneficial in healing from binge eating disorder. Vyvanse is one on the market that has been approved for treating binge eating disorder. Consult with a psychiatrist when considering any medication.

In Closing

Most of us overeat from time to time. Special occasions and holidays might have us eating way too much, and feeling icky and embarrassed afterwards. And while binge eating shares some characteristics of simple overeating, it’s a much more serious condition.

Binge eating disorder is when an individual eats rapidly and far more than they can handle. Even when they don’t feel hungry, they will continue to eat. The difference between binge eating and overeating is that binge eating is a patterned disorder occurring at least once a week for three months.

Binge eating disorder can be diagnosed and is curable. With the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, working through self-esteem issues, guidance from a nutritionist, and possibly medication, you can have a healthier relationship with food.

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