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What is the difference between binge eating and emotional overeating?


Updated February 27, 2013

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What is the difference between binge eating and emotional overeating?


Question: What is the difference between binge eating and emotional overeating?

The terms binge eating and emotional overeating are sometimes used interchangeably to describe a symptom of disordered eating. However, they are actually two distinct issues.

Binge eating is a symptom of both binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa and can be experienced by people suffering from anorexia nervosa as well. Interestingly, it is difficult to explain what constitutes a binge-eating episode. Although there is no defined amount (volume-wise or calorie-wise) of food that defines a binge, it is typically described as much more food than most people could or would consume in one sitting. Typically the person will feel uncomfortably full afterwards and in some rare cases, stomach rupture has been reported.

During a binge-eating episode, sufferers often report feeling out of control of their eating and are unable to stop eating or control how much they eat. Some people report feeling as though they are in an altered state of consciousness or a trance while eating. Binges are also typically consumed very rapidly when compared to regular eating.

Emotional overeating is something that most people experience at some point in their lives. A person may eat more than they normally do, even to the point of feeling overfull but most people could stop an episode of overeating if they wanted to. There is no feeling of being out of control or feeling as though one is ‘in a trance.’

Additionally, people who experience binge eating experience intense emotions as a result of their binge including feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust. The emotions may last for days after the episode. Although many people regret overeating, most people don’t beat themselves up about it for long periods of time or continue thinking about it over and over again.

Both binge-eating episodes and emotional overeating may be triggered by difficult emotions or painful situations and it is important to note that some people may experience both binge-eating episodes as well as emotional overeating as part of their struggles with food. If you are struggling with either one or both of these issues, treatment is available and can help you learn new ways to cope with difficult emotions.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text Revision). Washington, DC: Author.

Binge Eating Disorder Association. Binge eating disorder. http://www.bedaonline.com/abouted/BED.html Accessed February 7, 2013.

Bulik, C. & Taylor, N. (2005). Runaway eating: The 8-point plan to conquer adult food and weight obsessions. Rodale Books.

Fairburn, C.G.(Ed.) (1993). Binge eating: Nature, assessment, and treatment. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C.G. (1995). Overcoming binge eating. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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