Holiday Helpings: When is Overeating Disordered Eating?

Girl Eating at Night

It can be difficult not to have another serving of homemade pumpkin pie or that extra scoop of ice cream even though you’re full and couldn’t possibly eat another bite. We wait all year for this, and let’s face it, the food is delicious and hard to refuse, especially when our tables are set for holiday gatherings or special events. But, does eating that extra serving, knowing you’re already full, mean you have an eating disorder?

There are major differences between eating disorders such as binge eating and overeating on the holidays or at special events. The individual with an eating disorder suffers from what can be characterized as an addiction to food. When food is used to manage your emotions, fill voids, cope with your problems and deal with the stress of everyday life, the relationship you have with food has become an unhealthy one.

Some of the symptoms of binge eating include:

  • Binge eating episodes that occur regularly, at least twice a week for six months.
  • The binge eater finding the episodes very upsetting. If there is no emotional upheaval over the meal, it is not a binge eating disorder.
  • The binge eater disliking eating in public. For them, eating is a private behavior. For others, eating and mealtime is a time to be shared and enjoyed with friends and family.
  • The binge eater not feeling normal physiological cues like hunger and being full. The binge eating occurs from emotional cues, such as anger and sadness.

When you are a binge eater, rather than meeting your nutritional needs, food has shifted its role in an attempt to meet your emotional needs. That relief can only be temporary, and binge eaters enter into a vicious cycle and an unhealthy relationship with food, feeling powerless to stop eating or control what it is the individual is eating. Left unchecked, it can lead to serious medical conditions for the individual as well.

The food consumed during a binge tends to be high in fat and low in protein and other nutrients. Binge eating is usually followed by harsh dieting that is hard on the body because of the unhealthy up and down eating habits of the individual. Individuals suffering from compulsive eating will also tend to be overweight.

Binge eating produces emotional, psychological and physiological side effects that can compromise the quality of life for those suffering from this disorder. That is unmistakably different than an individual needing an antacid because they ate too much at the holiday party and far more complicated to treat than with an over-the-counter remedy.