Sometimes we use the terms overeating and binge eating interchangeably, but they are in fact, very different. Let’s take look at what they actually are to understand how they differ.
Overeating is a vague term that can have different meanings for people, but typically, it seems to mean eating more than what someone thinks they “should” eat. This is why overeating can be a bit tough to define, because what someone “should” eat can be based on a lot of things. For instance, it can be based on the specific guidelines of a diet or even just a diet mentality that seeks to minimize food consumption.
Some eating disorder professionals hold the belief that overeating isn’t a real thing. I actually do, and so I want to offer my definition of overeating. I define overeating as eating more in a sitting than what your body communicates it needs. In other words, overriding your fullness cues and continuing to eating past satiety. Instead of feeling good after eating, you end up feeling uncomfortably full.
Here’s the thing though… this is completely normal to do sometimes. All of us overeat occasionally, and that’s not a big deal. When it potentially becomes a problem is when you’re consistently eating past fullness. Persistently not honoring your body’s signals is a red flag that something is going on. Maybe you’re eating emotionally to avoid dealing with your feelings. Or maybe you’re too distracted to notice how your body is feeling. Or maybe you feel pressured by other people to eat more than you really want. Many things can contribute to habitual overeating and starting to understand those things for yourself is key in being able to honor your fullness.
Binge eating is not simply eating past fullness (check out this previous post about binge eating). It is eating an excessive amount of food to the point of being extremely uncomfortable and feeling out of control during eating. Sometimes an episode of overeating can become binge eating (especially for people with an all-or-nothing mentality). The criteria for binge eating disorder are:
- Eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
- Feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling very uncomfortably full
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward
What to do if you overeat or binge eat
If you struggle with overeating or binge eating, you might think you just need to control your eating more or get rid of “trigger” foods. But that rarely works. Restriction usually makes things worse because of the restrict-binge cycle that gets perpetuated. The key is to start practicing intuitive eating by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, honoring your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and finding other ways to cope with your feelings.
I highly recommend reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, RDN and Elyse Resch, RDN to better understand the principles I mentioned above. Another good resource is Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out–and Never Say Diet Again by Rebecca Scritchfield, RD.
Overeating and binge eating are common struggles, so you’re definitely not alone in this. Don’t let shame keep you from getting help. Contact me or another therapist or dietitian in your area who specializes in eating disorders. It can get better!
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.