Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder: How Can I Tell the Difference?

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When it comes to binge eating disorder (BED), there are many unfortunate misconceptions that create confusion about the reality of this condition.

On the surface, a person with binge eating disorder might be misjudged as simply having a lack of “willpower” when it comes to food and eating of a general tendency to overeat.

However, binge eating disorder is more than just “overeating” at meals; BED is classified as a psychiatric illness that can result in severe and damaging consequences if left untreated.

BED affects more individuals across the United States that both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa combined, yet the overall lack of understanding about BED prevents many individuals from connecting to the help they need to recover [1].

Understanding Binge Eating Disorder

How exactly do you know if your tendency to overeat at mealtime is a more serious issue or if your eating habits are reflective of binge eating disorder? BED is defined by certain criteria that can help you understand the signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing.

For example, a person with BED is more likely to exhibit the following behaviors around food:

  • Repeatedly turning toward food and eating when not physically hungry
  • Feeling Out of Control When Eating
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt, shame, and/or depression after eating
  • Eating at a fast past paced to the point of feeling overly full
  • Eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment about one’s eating habits
  • Having recurrent binge episodes, where large quantities of food is consumed in a short period of time

These behaviors are strikingly different from the occasional tendency to overeat at a meal here and there, which can also be part of normal eating. The behaviors associated with binge eating disorder can be debilitating and negatively impact a person’s overall quality of life.

A person who is suffering from binge eating disorder may find themselves struggling with their health, avoiding loved ones, feeling overwhelmed with depression and/or anxiety, experience financial stress, and more. It is also important to note, in contrast to anorexia and bulimia, a person with binge eating disorder will not attempt to compensate for their out of control eating habits through any purging or restrictive methods.

Overcoming Shame and Seeking Help

It is precisely this type of misconception that creates tremendous shame for a person who may actually be struggling with BED. BED is not merely just a lack of self-control, yet many individuals suffering from this eating disorder may think this about themselves.

Woman in the grassThe idea that you are somehow unable to control yourself around food rather than understanding the severity of what you might be facing with a serious eating disorder can serve as a roadblock to treatment.

Many individuals suffering might ask, “Why can’t I stop eating”, or “Why can’t I get my life together?

If BED is present, the answers to these questions are met with comprehensive and professional treatment.

If you think you or a loved one might be struggling with binge eating disorder, reach out today for help and support – you do not need to struggle through this alone.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1] Binge Eating Disorder Statistics: Know the Facts: http://www.healthline.com/health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder-statistics#1 Retrieved 16 March 2017

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 19, 2017
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com