The difference between binging and emotional eating

emotional eating

In my conversations with my clients, I notice that there is a lot of uncertainty about the difference between binge eating and emotional eating. If you search the Internet, you will see that many websites are not clear about it. They use the terms of emotional eating, binge eating, and eating disorders interchangeably. In reality, there is a lot of difference between these forms of food abuse.

The definition of binge eating

Binge eating can not be described with a single definition. It is a bit of a gray area with a diagnosed psychiatric disorder on one side and overeating on the other side. My definition of binge eating is when you lose control over your ability to stop eating when you have had enough, which results in feeling guilty, ashamed, or feeling powerless. You want to stop eating, but you can’t.

As you can see, the quantity of food is not part of the definition. What is a lot for one person, is just a bite for someone else. What matters is the lack of control and the negative feelings that form the most critical aspects of the definition. Eating a cookie too many and feeling guilty about it is not my definition of binge eating because you could stop after one cookie. But when you cannot do anything but feed the urge to eat all the time, then there is something in your behavior that needs attention.

What I often see is that binge eating always happens on foods that contain a lot of sugar, salt, or fat. I’ve never heard of someone binging on three large pieces of broccoli. Sugar, salt, and fat change something in your brain, so it becomes hard to stop.

When it becomes emotional eating

Emotional eating occurs because you get triggered emotionally. Instead of acknowledging those feelings, you choose to cope with them by eating a lot of food. Often stories and beliefs are circling those feelings that make you feel bad. It is that bad feeling that you medicate with food. If you repeat that same behavior over and over, the volume on the beliefs turns down, and the behavior becomes automatic. The moment you detect the feeling (even unconsciously), you go for the food because that is how you cope.

At some point in my life, I developed the habit of eating my fatigue away. In the past, when I was still profoundly set in my overeating habits with a lot of snack food, I was tired every day. Granted, I went through a lot of significant life changes at the time, and they took a lot of energy, but eating crap food did not help feeling more energetic. I dealt with it by eating. A lot. Every day.

My emotional eating solution

I had already been able to change the habit from every day to once or twice a week. This change made me happy, but I wanted to break the other moments as well, and I did not know how to do it. As a nutritionist, I sought my solution in certain foods, ingredients, and vitamins. But it did not work. I guess I was blind to the real answer.

It was until I heard someone talk about how her eating habits were a refusal of looking at her feelings and acknowledging them. Of course, I knew this in theory, but hearing someone say it out loud was as if a door opened. I remember thinking: “Oh, so I only have to acknowledge my fatigue when I feel it and get myself a cup of tea!” It was so simple. Duh!

Since that realization, I feel liberated. I have been tired after work, but I’ve dealt with it differently. All I need to do is tell myself that it is okay to be tired and that sitting with a book and a cup of tea will probably help. Since then, I have not broken my lines anymore. Every day I am adding a new day to my streak of bright days. I have broken my record, and my mind feels calm now I don’t need crap food anymore to allow myself a break. It is weird, but hey, I am human. And humans sometimes make it so hard for themselves to break through certain types of eating.

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