- Binge eating and overeating share similar characteristics but aren’t the same.
- Overeating and binge eating both mean consuming more calories than the body needs, but binge eating is associated with more severe physical and mental health outcomes.
- Working with a registered dietitian (RD) can help you overcome binge eating or overeating behaviors.
They may sound similar, but binge eating and overeating are two distinct behaviors. Many people eat more than planned occasionally, but it isn’t necessarily a problem. Binge eating differs from overeating because it isn’t an every-once-in-a-while behavior, and it’s more than eating an extra helping at your favorite restaurant.
People who binge regularly feel a lack of control and quickly eat large quantities of food in one sitting. These are two key symptoms of binge eating disorder (BED), the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
Binge eating versus overeating can be tricky to differentiate, but it’s essential to recognize the difference if you are struggling.
What’s the Difference Between Binge Eating and Overeating?
The primary differences between binge eating and overeating are how often it happens and how much food is consumed in one sitting.
People who binge eat consume much more food than their body needs, even up to thousands of calories in one binge episode. It’s usually fast and compulsive.
Overeating, on the other hand, may happen if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, but you are aware and conscious that you’re eating more. It may also occur if you’re celebrating a special event where eating a lot might be expected. Even if you don’t feel great after overeating, it’s not likely to be accompanied by the same intense feelings or lack of control.
The shame associated with binge eating usually means the behavior happens in private. You may overeat when alone, but this isn’t always the case.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you aren’t sure if you binge eat or overeat, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I feel powerless or out of control during eating episodes (as if I can’t stop)?
- Do I feel emotional distress—shame, guilt, disgust—after eating?
- Do I binge eat in secret or alone?
- Do I binge eat significantly more than my body needs?
- Do I eat even when I'm not hungry?
- Do I isolate myself from friends and family when I eat?
Answering yes to one or even a few of these questions doesn’t confirm a BED diagnosis, but it’s a sign to see a healthcare provider and take steps to get the support you need (and deserve).
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling, which can help you address overeating behaviors. If you’re ready to take the next step in your health, book a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Signs and Symptoms
Understanding the signs and symptoms of binge eating versus overeating can also help you determine if binge eating may be an issue.
Binge Eating Symptoms
- Eating alone due to discomfort about eating in public.
- Eating substantial amounts of food in short periods of time.
- Not being able to control the amount you eat.
- Stealing, hoarding, or hiding food.
- Designing life around rituals at the expense of social relationships.
- Deep shame and guilt.
- Hyperfocus on weight, body image, and dieting.
- Feeling powerless to change eating habits.
- Isolation, depression, anxiety.
- Weight changes.
- GI issues like bloating, constipation, or reflux.
BED is diagnosed by a medical professional using criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The manual outlines that binge eating episodes should occur at least once a week for three months for a diagnosis.
There aren’t necessarily signs and symptoms of overeating in the same way binge eating has clear signs. Overeating isn’t a medical diagnosis but can still impact health if it’s a regular habit.
Usually, overeating is accompanied by discomfort, like maybe your pants feel a little uncomfortable or your stomach feels queasy. Guilt after overeating is also possible, but the feeling is likely much less intense than binge eating.
Overeating could also be frustrating if it happens regularly, especially if you’re trying to make lifestyle changes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a binge eating disorder or are binge eating.
Is Overeating an Eating Disorder?
Overeating isn’t necessarily an eating disorder, but compulsive overeating (eating without control) can be a symptom of a binge eating disorder. Compulsive overeating could also be associated with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by food binges followed by compensatory behaviors like laxative use or purging.
Even if you regularly overeat, that doesn’t mean an eating disorder is present. It could be a habit or a sign of stress, boredom, or even hunger from not eating enough earlier in the day.
How Can Overeating or Binge Eating Affect Your Health?
The psychological component of binge eating is a serious concern, but binge eating and overeating can also physically affect your body. Overeating or binge eating can lead to undesired weight gain and increase the risk of metabolic health concerns like high blood sugar. Both binge eating and overeating can cause digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or acid reflux.
However, it’s critical to recognize that binge eating and overeating treatment may differ. Since BED is a psychological disorder, the treatment should address the underlying thought patterns about food and body image and not focus only on weight.
On the other hand, overeating is often related to lifestyle behaviors that may be addressed with a combination of lifestyle changes and nutrition support.
If binge eating or overeating affects your life and health, consider getting help. The first step is to find a healthcare provider to assess for BED. A support team for BED may include a mental health professional, medical doctor, and registered dietitian—each one plays a different role:
Your doctor may be the first person you work with to assess binge eating and related health risks. A physician can refer you to the other health professionals on your team, run labs as needed, and provide a physical assessment to ensure binge eating isn’t causing harm to your body.
A registered dietitian is an integral part of your team— both for binge eating and eating behavior related to overeating. Working with a dietitian can help you relearn how to eat in a way that nourishes your body and helps you feel better.
Dietitians work with your lifestyle and personal needs to develop a personalized approach to healing your relationship with food.
Nourish offers virtual personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you’re ready to make changes, consider booking an appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Mental health professional
A mental health professional may not be necessary for overeating, but binge eating disorder is a psychological condition that should be addressed with help from a therapist or mental health professional.
Therapists may use talk-therapy support like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address underlying causes and develop skills to help stop binging episodes. Mindfulness techniques may also be used as they’ve been shown to effectively reduce binge eating behavior. Sometimes medications like antidepressants are also used as part of binge eating treatment.
Overeating and binge eating are different behaviors that can adversely affect your health. If you’re concerned you may be dealing with either of these conditions, seek help from a healthcare professional.
A support team that includes a doctor, dietitian, and mental health professional can help you understand your eating patterns, heal your relationship with food, and feel good in your body. If you display behaviors consistent with binge eating disorder, take this short binge eating disorder quiz to learn about the next steps to take.
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