We all love a helping of comfort food here and there, but if you find yourself or your loved one using food to soothe unwanted emotions, you might be concerned that this behavior is covering up a deeper problem.
Emotional eating is a common, but unhealthy coping mechanism that is distinct from binge eating disorder (BED). In order to tell the difference between the two and identify whether the eating habits you are noticing are unhealthy, having an understanding of the differences between emotional eating and binge eating disorder is a must.
Characteristics of emotional eating
Emotional eating is a serious issue. Using food to numb painful or uncomfortable feelings can be a real temptation for some people. This emotional eating can get in the way of a healthy, functional relationship with food, as well as lead to food choices that do little for your body nutritionally.
If you struggle with emotional eating, you might crave certain foods like sweets or salty chips when you’re feeling stressed, sad or emotional for another reason. Additionally, you might be tempted to eat food when you’re not even hungry because of:
- Relationship problems;
- Feeling too tired to cook a nutritious meal;
- The pressure of work;
- Financial issues.
Practicing mindful eating and being aware of the reason why you’re choosing to eat can help you develop a better relationship with food, be more likely to select nutritious options and reduce your urge to eat because it’s just something to do.
Signs of binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder (BED) is another serious mental health condition. It is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States, with 3.5% of women and 2% of men affected. The main signs of binge eating disorder include:
- Recurring episodes of binge eating, which is defined as consuming a larger amount of food than most people would normally eat in a certain period of time;
- Feeling out of control while eating;
- Experiencing guilt and shame during or after eating;
- Following a binge, there is no motivation to compensate for the food ate by purging in some way.
It’s important to note that people struggling with BED are not always overweight, although they are at increased risk of obesity and other health issues.
Emotional eating vs. binge eating disorder
Occasional use of food as a coping mechanism does not necessarily signify a larger problem, and eating a larger amount of food than normal every once in a while does not mean you have binge eating disorder. The main differences between emotional eating and binge eating is the frequency of binge eating episodes, the emotions you experience during and after binges and whether or not loss of control is a factor.
If you frequently engage in binges, feel you’ve lost control and experience intense guilt, shame and distress, you might be struggling with binge eating disorder.
If you only binge occasionally and are able to put the behavior into proper perspective afterwards, you are probably just practicing emotional eating. Especially if no guilt is felt following the binge, it’s likely not an eating disorder, rather, an infrequently used coping mechanism.
Eating disorders can be hard to spot. They can seem a lot like emotional eating, and because of the frequent association with dessert, snacks and “eating your feelings” in our culture, you might overlook the signs of binge eating disorder in your loved ones and even in yourself.
How to get help for an eating disorder
The differences between overeating and binge eating are not always clear-cut. If you are concerned that the emotional eating you’re seeing in your own life or the life of a loved one has the chance of crossing into a binge eating disorder, it’s better to act proactively in reaching out for help than ignoring possible signs.
Various types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, can help reshape your thought patterns and your feelings about food and eating. Before you start treatment, you need to be evaluated by a qualified doctor or health care provider who is familiar with the symptoms of eating disorders and how they might be affecting your life.
Consider getting help from a residential or outpatient eating disorder program. Seeds of Hope offers outpatient treatment for adults and teens, and residential treatment for adult women.
Contact us today to take the first step in making your relationship with food healthier by contacting Seeds of Hope today or calling 610-546-2273.