What Are The Signs of a Binge Eating Disorder or Compulsive Overeating?

By Lauren Goldhamer

binge eating or compulsive overeatingHow is binge eating or compulsive overeating different from normal eating? Are these serious issues? Is change possible? Here are some post-holiday thoughts.

If you are asking yourself:

  1. Do I have a ‘real’ problem or do I just lack the willpower to stop?
  2. Should I just ‘try harder’ to stop?
  3. Will a different diet do the trick?
  4. Does my eating problem qualify as an eating disorder?
  5. What’s the difference between binge eating and overeating?

This blog post may help you sort out some of those questions and help you understand better what type of treatment you need.

It is very common and normal, in fact, to sometimes overeat. Everyone with easy access to food does this at times. We overeat at holiday time, parties, good restaurants, and even occasionally for emotional reasons. It is also common and normal to gain a small amount of weight over time. This may be due to overeating and/or slower metabolism associated with aging and decreased energy expenditure. Simple overeating and weight gain can be dealt with in a healthy way by making modest adjustments to your eating habits and/or increasing your activity level. In addition, self- acceptance of having a less than perfect body weight or less than perfect eating habits can prevent these issues from escalating and interfering with your overall happiness, well-being or self-esteem. The personal philosophy that “no body is perfect” and food and weight while important, are only a part of what makes a healthy, happy, and meaningful life, help to put perspective on weight and eating issues.

For some people, however, these issues can become overwhelming. Eating can feel out of control. Attempts to lose weight may feel desperate.  The following are some signs that you may have a problem with overeating:

  • While wishing to lose weight, you may actually end up overeating or binge eating
  • You may find that instead of losing, you are gaining weight and this can add to feelings of discouragement and depression

In this context, overeating is not normal.  Problematic overeating is overeating that occurs regularly, from once a week to many times each day.  It involves eating food and feeling guilty, and can often be associated with feelings of being out of control.

Binge eating disorder is a specific type of overeating.  The following are signs that you may have a binge eating problem:

  • You eat an amount that is clearly very large, within a relatively short amount of time, rather than spread throughout the day or at just one meal
  • Large amounts of food intake are frequently done in secret due to shame
  • There is generally a sense of loss of control during a binge eating episode and the feeling that the eating episode could not be prevented

Sometimes people experience both overeating and binge eating, while others do one or the other. If you try but cannot seem to stop these behaviours and feel that weight and body image issues are negatively affecting your self-esteem or other important aspects of your life, such as relationships or social life, it is clear that your problems are worth addressing.

You don’t need a formal diagnosis of an eating disorder to warrant help. In this situation, just “trying harder” is seldom the answer.  A new diet is seldom a long- term answer.  On the other hand, understanding yourself emotionally, feeling supported, and learning specific tools to address behaviours can be extremely helpful.

Treatment, whether in individual or group therapy, or residential treatment, can help you re-learn or sometimes learn for the first time, how to become a normal eater and address the underlying issues that are at the core of the eating problem. An assessment could help identify which type of help would be most effective.