How Are Binge Eating and Overeating Different?
Is there a difference between overeating and binge eating? During my eating disorder recovery, I didn't know anyone else who was openly struggling with binge eating or overeating, so I didn't know which category I fit under. Now I know I've experienced both overeating (as most people have) and binge eating. The labels might seem arbitrary, but there are distinctions between overeating and binge eating.
Overeating and Binge Eating: The Differences
Overeating is what it sounds like; you eat beyond the point where you would typically stop. You might overeat during special occasions, holidays, and periods of stress or overwhelming emotions. You might overeat alone or with other people. Overeating by itself can also become a habit.
If you struggle to stop overeating, you might wonder if you have a binge eating disorder (BED). According to National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), BED is one of the most common eating disorders in the United States.1 Since BED is recognized as a diagnosable eating disorder, the criteria for binge eating is distinguished from overeating to be formally diagnosed.
According to NEDA, the symptoms of BED include:
- Eating large quantities of food in a condensed time
- Eating faster than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating alone out of embarrassment or wanting privacy
- Feeling shame, guilt, depression, and/or disgust after episodes of eating
- Binge eating occurs at least once a week for three months
- A loss of control while eating is experienced
If you've overeaten before, these symptoms will sound familiar. Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating are often used interchangeably to describe these symptoms above. It can be confusing to separate overeating and binge eating into separate categories since the symptoms overlap.
All the symptoms listed above for BED are characteristic of a binge, but I think the most important symptom of BED to address is loss of control. Overeating can be motivated by many things like taste, stress, hunger. But there is a point that crosses from overeating to binge eating; when you lose the ability to stop yourself from eating more, beyond comfort.
Losing Control During Binge Eating
It's easier for me to distinguish between overeating and binge eating because I've experienced both. When I overeat, I might keep going back to get another cookie, but eventually, I'm satisfied, and there are cookies still left in the jar.
Binge eating feels like being in an out-of-control state of mind. During a binge, I would not stop until the all food was gone. Often, I would eat so quickly that I would barely taste or enjoy the food. If I ate one cookie, I would not stop until all of them were gone, even if it made me sick.
Even if you don't meet the diagnostic criteria from BED, that doesn't mean you can't ask for help. If your eating habits are affecting your life and mood, there is a world of support available. You don't need to worry about "not being sick enough" to ask for help from the people who care about you. These experiences with food are more common than we realize. Don't be afraid to share your own experiences.
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), "Binge Eating Disorder." Accessed January 31, 2022.
Parten, E. (2022, February 2). How Are Binge Eating and Overeating Different?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/bingeeatingrecovery/2022/2/how-are-binge-eating-and-overeating-different