“Binge eating disorder” versus “overeating”. Yes, there’s a difference.
Binge eating disorder sometimes feels like the most overlooked of eating disorder diagnoses. Worse – it can be overlooked by people in healthcare treatment positions, including doctors, dietitians, even psychologists. Part of the issue is that a great many people who have binge eating disorder don’t realise it’s a disorder at all, or that they can ask for help. People know deep down that their relationship with food is all wrong… but it may feel strange to ask for help… and there is often a lot of worry that they won’t be taken seriously if they do.
Now, at Bloom Nutrition, we certainly don’t advocate for self-diagnosis… but we also know people do it anyway. So we have opted to contribute this page so at least you’re reading something accurate. Please note that as dietitians working in this field, we absolutely need to know the information below to do our jobs, however we do not make psychiatric diagnoses. If you feel like you really need someone to give you an accurate diagnosis, look for a good psychologist or psychiatrist (try calling the Butterfly Foundation helpline for psychologist suggestions).
“‘Over-eating’ often gets tied in with binge eating but they are not the same. It is important to clarify – so what is the difference?”
Overeating is a normal part of life and (depending on a person’s attitudes towards food intake and/or their body) usually does not cause strong negative emotions when it happens every now and then. It may be described as a feeling of eating beyond a comfortable level of fullness. This may also occur around holidays or special events, where larger varieties of exciting and beautifully presented foods may be present as part of the celebration. People in these situations may reflect afterwards that they ate more of the food because they enjoyed it so much.
Binge eating as part of binge eating disorder is more frequent and severe and can cause increased psychological distress impacting individuals’ daily activities, self-worth and relationships with others around them. Binge eating often occurs when people are alone, and is often associated with more negative mood states rather than with joyful eating of food.
Here are the key defining characteristics of Binge-Eating Disorder:
- A binge-eating episode typically involves consuming a larger amount of food than what most people may in the same amount of time or situation.
Most people consume more than ‘normal’ once in a while, however those with binge eating disorder consume amounts larger than normal within a distinct time period on a repeated basis.
- Binge episodes occur regularly – not just eating a bit too much when out with friends, or at Christmas time.
- A sense of ‘losing control’ when eating
Do you ever feel the lack of ability to stop eating? Or maybe you might even be unaware of what you may be doing? Some people report feeling a bit numb or “spaced out” during binges, which is very different from over-eating in the context of really enjoying a meal.
- Eating in secret Often binge-eating will occur in secrecy or alone. You may hide food and/or wrappers, or purchase it directly before a binge and have strong feelings of embarrassment or shame after.
- Eating until uncomfortable or painfully full
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
- Eating faster than normal
Individuals engaging in binge eating behaviours typically consume food quite rapidly.
- Feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, disgust and depression after a binge
Some people may feel some guilt after eating more than usual, however binge-eating can cause high levels of mental distress, anxiety or depression.
- Binge-Eating Disorder is not typically associated with any compensatory behaviours.
Individuals do not usually compensate for their intake after an episode with behaviours such as excessive exercise, purging or restriction of food after.
If you are concerned or think this may be something you are experiencing, remember that treatment options are available. You could start by talking to your GP, and connecting with a good psychologist, and/or dietitian who is familiar with this area. Look for practitioners who specifically mention in their bio that they have a special interest in working in eating disorders treatment. It’s a good idea to check they really do have a background working in this area (have they ever worked on an eating disorders unit? Do they say they are specialised in eating disorders treatment but also have 20 other areas of “special expertise”?).
All dietitians at Bloom Nutrition & Wellness have a special interest in eating disorders treatment and have attended specialised training in this area. If you’d like to contact us, our details are here.
You can also find more information and support at:
The National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC)
The Butterfly Foundation
… which also has a great national helpline you can contact – Butterfly Foundation National Helpline: 1800 33 4673
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press
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