What is Binge Eating & How Does it Differ from Occasional Overeating?

If you’ve ever come home from work and practically inhaled a box of crackers and wedge of cheese before even realizing what you were doing… or brought home a pizza and wondered why you couldn’t stop after two (or four) slices…. or made a batch of cookies and proceeded to eat the entire (two) dozen… you may have wondered:

Did I just binge eat?

Most humans are prone to overeating from time to time, such as when out with friends, when enjoying their favorite food, or even when distracted at the office. But binge eating can have a very different feel to it. One overeating episode can turn into a regular thing that suddenly feels compulsive and inescapable.

As a certified eating psychology coach who helps women overcome binge eating (and as someone who experienced binge eating myself in college) I want to help answer a question I hear so often: what is binge eating? And if you experience it yourself, I’ll share a few steps you can take to begin breaking the cycle.

What is binge eating?

The definition of binge eating is eating an amount of food larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time (e.g. 2 hours) under similar circumstances, around once a week for 3 months. [source]

Meaning, people tend to overeat on certain occasions — holidays, parties, even weekends — but if it’s starting to become a regular thing, it could be crossing into the arena of true binge eating.

Binge eating is also marked by a sense of lack of control during the eating episode. Sometimes, overeating is pleasurable. At your favorite restaurant, getting lost in conversation with friends, in Italy with a big bowl of pasta (ok ok, wishful thinking…). But if you feel like it’s encroaching into territory where the eating feels compulsive or out-of-control on the regular, you could be exhibiting signs of binge eating.

When considering whether your behavior fits the definition of binge eating disorder, ask yourself…

  • Am I eating much more rapidly than normal?
  • Am I eating until I feel uncomfortably full?
  • Am I eating large amounts of food even when I’m not physically hungry?
  • Do I eat alone because I feel embarrassed by how much I am eating?
  • Do I feel depressed, guilty, or even disgusted with myself afterward?

Typically, binge eating is defined as answering ‘yes’ to at least three of those questions.

It can be a frightening and disorienting cycle to find yourself a part of, but if you struggle with binge eating disorder, you’re not alone. In the United States, about 3.5% of women (5.6 million) and 2% of men (3.1 million) deal with binge eating disorder at some point in their lives. [source]

Binge eating frequently comes about during times of transition, intense emotions like heartbreak, or even as a rebound to dieting and food restriction. The challenge is when binge eating becomes a habit, so one episode turns into a regular thing, and certain routes, restaurants, emotions, or foods become associated with binge eating.

Overcoming Binge Eating

If you’re struggling with binge eating, here are a few steps for overcoming binge eating:

Watch this free webinar: The 5-Step Strategy My Clients Use for Overcoming Binge Eating

Book a free Breakthrough Call: If you want to talk with someone personally, I’ll help you get clear on what your challenges are, where you want to go, and what will help you get there. Schedule here.

Work with me in The Binge Breakthrough: An intimate group coaching program that walks you step-by-step through overcoming binge eating with weekly calls, a private community, and custom support from me. Perfect for anyone looking for a more budget-friendly alternative to private coaching. Learn more here.

Wherever you’re at and whatever your goals are, I hope those give you a few ideas to get started, and get the help you need. With the right support, the cycle is totally breakable. Take heart that a healthier, more freeing relationship to food could be just a click or conversation away.

P.S. Related posts on overcoming binge eating: 5 mistakes smart women make when overcoming binge eating or an open letter to all the women out there trying so hard with food.

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