If you or your loved one is 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). Learn more about emotional eating vs. binge eating disorder, and how to tell the two apart.
Characteristics of Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is a serious issue. Using food to numb your painful or uncomfortable feelings can be a real problem for some people. This emotional eating can get in the way of a healthy, functional relationship with food.
If you struggle with emotional eating, you might crave certain foods, like sweets or salty chips, when you’re feeling stressed, sad, or even confused. Other triggers can include relationship problems, feeling too tired to cook a nutritious meal, and the pressure of work or financial issues.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a 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 in a discrete time period than most people would normally eat
- Feeling out of control while eating
- Experiencing guilt and shame during or after eating
For the full list of criteria, view our guide on binge eating disorder.
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. Eating Disorders
Occasional use of food as a coping mechanism does not necessarily signify a larger problem. The main differences between emotional eating and eating disorders are the frequency of binge eating episodes, the emotions you experience during and after binges, and whether 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.
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 having trouble getting the vicious cycle of binge eating disorder under control, know that you’re not alone in your struggles.
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.