Emotional Eating, Emotional Over-Eating and Binge Eating- Do you know the difference?
Eating as a source of comfort rather than as a means to satisfy hunger is a common behaviour that many people engage in, often in response to certain emotional experiences such as boredom, sadness or stress. This type of eating is generally referred to as emotional eating. Emotional eating can be quite normal as it helps us to relax and feel calmer as we satisfy cravings for foods that indulge our taste and sensory experiences.
Often when the craving is satisfied or the emotional comfort is attained, emotional eating ceases without any impediments to the health or day-to-day life of the emotional eater, however this is not necessarily the case for others. When emotional eating becomes a primary means of coping with difficult emotions and a person finds him or herself consuming increasingly larger amounts of food in attempts to feel comforted, this type of eating pattern can characterize emotional over-eating. Emotional over-eating can start to feel addictive in nature whereby a person may start thinking that they need food to cope or feel sad or frustrated if they aren’t able to access food to self-soothe. Emotional over-eating over the long term can also start adversely affecting a person’s physical and mental health.
When emotional over-eating evolves into a pattern of eating large amounts of food in short periods of time with a sense of being “out of control” with consequent feelings of intense guilt and shame, this eating pattern is defined as binge eating. When this behaviour is repeated frequently, it can then be diagnosed as Binge-Eating Disorder, a clinical disorder which can have significantly detrimental effects on a person’s self-esteem and self-worth, interpersonal relationships, performance at work or social functioning.
As these definitions demonstrate, emotional eating, emotional over-eating and binge eating are not necessarily distinct from each other, but all exist on a continuum from relatively normal to quite problematic, with varying degrees of distress and impairment.
There are however many ways in which problematic eating patterns or eating disorders can be managed using a range of techniques, which can prevent further spiraling, offer different coping strategies and instill a sense of control back into a person’s life.
If you recognize that problematic eating patterns are getting in the way of you living your most fulfilled life, contact Mindworx Psychology to book an appointment today.
Written by Dr Salena Bhanji, Doctor of Counselling Psychology, Mindworx Psychology