Emotional Eating vs Binge Eating: Key Differences

by | Oct 23, 2023 | Uncategorized

Worried that the chocolate-and-ice-cream-therapy has gone too far? Many times women struggle to know if what they are experiencing is emotional eating vs binge eating. If you’re interested in the difference between emotional eating and binge eating, this is for you. Today, we’re breaking down the differences and similarities between emotional eating vs binge eating.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when an individual uses food to cope with hard emotions such as feelings of sadness, stress, anger, anxiety, and/or depression.

Emotional eating is not inherently good or bad, however if emotional eating is happening frequently (aka emotional overeating), it may lead to health issues. Additionally, emotional eating may serve as an unhealthy pacifier for feelings that do need to be properly dealt with. Left unaddressed, these emotions may lead to prolonged mental health disruptions.

Is Emotional Eating an Eating Disorder?

Emotional eating is not an eating disorder. However, if someone finds themselves frequently eating to deal with or run from emotions then it is certainly possible for someone to develop binge eating disorder as a result of emotional overeating.

Is Binge Eating the Same as Emotional Eating?

Binge eating is a common eating behavior and the core symptom of binge eating disorder. Binge eating is often a form of emotional eating, but not always. Let me explain.

Bingeing can be due to physical or psychological reasons. All binges are the result of unmet needs – but those needs can be either physical or emotional (or both). Physically, we may genuinely need more food. Psychologically, we may need to feel safe, or escape from feelings of shame, or we have learned to binge as a trauma response.

As you can probably tell, some binges are simply emotional eating kicked into overdrive.

A woman lies on the couch eating a whole pizza while looking at her phone

What is Binge Eating?

Binge eating is different from having some ice cream after a stressful day, or grabbing an extra piece of Halloween candy because you’re feeling lonely. Clinical binge eating is feeling a loss of control while eating definitely a larger amount of food than would be eaten in that same circumstance within a short period of time (typically about 2 hours or less).

Subclinical binge eating can also occur. Perhaps someone didn’t feel a loss of control during the eating episode, or they ate a large amount for them but not necessarily a large amount compared to someone else in that same circumstance.

Emotional Eating vs Binge Eating

How does emotional eating compare to binge eating, and can they happen at the same time? Let’s discuss this below.

Similarities and Differences

Both binge eating and emotional eating can be the result of someone seeking to escape intense emotions. Emotional eating is typically brought on by the feelings of sadness, stress, anger, anxiety, etc. and binge eating can be brought on by those emotions as well.

Emotional eating is not a binge if someone does not lose control and end up eating more than anyone else would in that circumstance. Furthermore, binge eating is not emotional if the binge is a result of physical restriction.

How Do You Know It’s Binge Eating?

Emotional eating has crossed over to a binge if the amount of food consumed is definitely larger than anyone else would have in that same circumstance, and if there is a loss of control. For more information on signs and symptoms of binge eating, check out my latest article, “Am I Bingeing?

Hands hold a sandwich in front of a cup of coffee

Should You Be Worried About Emotional Eating?

Is emotional eating okay to do, or is it a red flag for an eating disorder? While emotional eating on its own is not a sign of an eating disorder, it may become an unhealthy habit if excess food is consumed frequently. Intense emotions are inevitable in the human experience, so it’s important to not let food be your only means of coping.

Additionally, if you find yourself binge eating frequently as a result of coping with feelings, you may be struggling with the eating disorder known as binge eating disorder.

Is It Normal to Emotionally Eat?

Emotional eating on occasion is nothing to be concerned about. It’s perfectly normal to want a pick-me-up after a bad day. However, if emotional eating becomes a frequent habit then it might be time to get some help with developing new coping mechanisms.

FAQs About Emotional Eating

Read on for some frequently asked questions about emotional eating.

What is the connection between emotions and eating behaviors?

Food and emotions will always connect – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Food is pleasurable – and that’s a good thing! Eating may also remind us of positive memories, such as your mom making you soup when you were sick or a traditional meal that is served at your favorite holiday.

When it comes to using food to deal with emotions, remember that food (especially the extra yummy foods) releases the happy hormone called dopamine, which is likely why we turn to food after a stressful day, a heartbreak, sadness, or anxiety.

Why do many people binge when they are emotional?

Binge eating can happen when one is experiencing something more unpleasant than they feel capable of handling – so they turn to food for an escape. This oftentimes looks like feeling intense emotions and seeking to have a release from the undesired feelings.

What happens to your brain when you binge?

The exact etiology of binge eating is complex, but some research is suggesting that binge eaters may have impairments in the reward systems of their brain, their impulse control, and/or in the ability to self regulate emotions.

What are the emotional triggers in eating?

Throughout our lives, we may learn and connect certain emotions to food – therefore increasing our desire to eat when we feel those emotions again. Common triggers for emotional eating are: sadness, stress, loneliness, anxiety, or frustration.

Is emotional eating harmful?

Emotional eating is not directly harmful. However, it may lead to psychological harm if someone is frequently dismissing emotions or physical harm if they are eating a highly excessive amount of food.

A woman smiles while eating a salad after figuring out the differences between emotional eating vs binge eating

Should I Get Help for Emotional Eating?

If you find yourself emotionally overeating often, getting support may help to prevent any harm done either physically from overeating too often or psychologically from not dealing with emotions.

If you struggle with binge eating or emotional overeating, my free mini course “Conquer Binge Eating Once and For All” is for you! Learn more and get instant access to this free 2-day event here.

For hands-on support with emotional eating or binge eating, learn more about my signature program Nourished & Free.

Listen to the podcast episode accompanying this discussion on emotional eating vs binge eating ⬇️