Binge Eating vs. Emotional Eating: What’s the Difference?

by Kari Anderson, DBH, LPC, CEDS,  Chief Clinical Director at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating of Green Mountain at Fox Run 

Most women can relate to eating emotionally in some way – eating for comfort rather than quenching hunger.  But when this process becomes more and more out of control, confusion sets in over whether women see themselves as someone with binge eating disorder.

With uncertainty, insecurity and despair at the forefront, thoughts arise such as: “I never thought I might be binge eating” or “I know I eat emotionally, but do you think I’m binge eating?”

There are answers to these questions, though not always so clearly defined.

Binge and emotional eating aren’t necessarily two separate and distinct processes.  Instead, they are one process that occurs on a continuum. We can relatively clearly identify the end of the continuum when it is a diagnosable eating disorder, and here at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, we specialize in supporting women anywhere on the continuum.

This is important because we know that there doesn’t need to be a diagnosis in order for the potential for a rich, full life to be interrupted.  We believe that no one should have to suffer with the emotional and physical effects of binge and emotional eating.

It’s Normal to Emotionally Eat

In times when we need to comfort ourselves, relax, take it all away, sometimes reaching for that special something to eat just does the trick.

That’s right, it’s normal and ok. And when our clients understand this truth, the ‘shame-monster’ shrinks a little.

Why do we say it’s ok to eat emotionally? Well, for one reason…it works.

When we start eating, we go into a relaxation response (aka parasympathetic response, or “rest and digest” response).  As humans, we digest really well when we’re calm, so we shift into this relaxed state as soon as we start eating.

Our breathing becomes deeper, our heart rate decreases, muscles relax, etc. and we calm down… for a little while (here comes the catch).

The Important Point About Emotional Eating

This is EMOTIONAL onhealthy klonopin eating… it’s about using the food as a tool to soothe a difficult emotion, not actual physical hunger.

So while it’s ok to eat and it does soothe us, the honest truth is that there is a point during emotional eating when it doesn’t feel good or taste good anymore.

How can we know when we’ve reached this point?  By paying attention to what we refer as the “3-how’s”:

How else we’re coping with difficult emotions?

How much we’re eating?

How often we use eating as a coping strategy?

When we don’t pay attention and continue eating, we end up creating more stress in the form of shame or self-loathing.

Which means we have a new difficult emotion that needs soothing, and round and round we go.

The Continuum of Emotional Eating:

When we think of the continuum of emotional eating, at one end is the very normal and ok process of emotional eating.  When we lose touch with the “3-hows”, we move into emotional overeating and as that continues, into binge eating and binge eating disorder.

Criteria for the clinical diagnosis of binge eating disorder are found in the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition) – the guide healthcare providers use to make clinical diagnoses.

The primary criteria involves eating a large amount of food in a short period of time, while feeling a lack of control over the eating episode as well as intense shame about the behavior.

In order to know whether women we talk to might benefit from further support for emotional and binge eating, we inquire about whether they feel they’re losing control of their “hows” and are moving up this continuum.

Take the Quiz: Find Your Place on the Continuum

To assess whether you might be on the emotional binge eating continuum and how severe the eating behavior might be, try this self-scoring quiz.

Feel free to contact us to talk about emotional eating, binge eating, or to learn more about our unique and specialized treatment at (802) 975-0435 or

Know that we get it, and you are not alone.