Binge eating vs. emotional eating


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There is a difference between binge eating and emotional eating

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You know the feeling. It is an hour or two after dinner. You are watching your favourite reality TV show and suddenly you get the urge for something sweet – an ice-cream perhaps. Or maybe a few rows of chocolate. The urge is strong enough to see you get dressed again, and head to the corner store and buy yourself a treat. You deserve it. You have been good all day.

Or maybe your story sounds a little more like this. You have had a crap day and are heading home alone. Surely you deserve a little something so you buy one of those $3.00 blocks of Cadbury’s they always sell at the front of the supermarket. You also pick up the $1.99 Doritos. And after dinner you eat that block of chocolate. Oh and the Doritos too because you have had a bad day. And even that is not enough. You also polish off an entire packet of rice crackers and 2 bowls of cereal before you head to bed feeling sick, stuffed and pretty ordinary.

Often clients will report back that they have eaten large volumes of high fat, high sugar and high calorie poor quality food because they were emotional. They describe it as comfort eating and as such it is permissible – we all do it right? When we are feeling sad, or have had a bad day and once it is attributed to our emotions it is ok.

I am not so sure about that. There is a big difference between emotional or comfort eating and binge eating. A row or two of chocolate is comfort eating. Eating an entire block of chocolate in addition to hundreds if not thousands of extra calories on a regular basis is binge eating. Binge eating is a significant issue, and one that may need specific management.

Binge eating, unlike comfort eating is often planned. There is gross over-consumption of calories and eating occurs to the point of being ill. Food is often rapidly consumed with no attention to hunger or fullness and there is mental permission given to eat whatever is available, in unlimited volumes because of an external driver such as a ‘bad day’ or because of ‘hormones’.

Comfort eating on the other hand is seeking out a food because you really feel like it; it is consumed in a reasonable portion and eating one food does not give you permission to overeat a number of other foods simply because you have indulged in one. Comfort eating occurs occasionally and is not linked to gross over-consumption of calories simply because you have had a bad day.

Binge eating is usually a habit that has developed over time, and is often linked to an emotional state that triggers off a series of behaviours that lead to over-consumption. Like all bad habits, taking control of binge eating takes time and focus. The first step is the identification that binge eating is an issue for you. Next it is changing the environment and stimulus so a) you do not have the tempting foods on hand and b) so you take yourself out of the environment in which the binge usually occurs. And finally, if your own attempts to stop the binging fail, you may need to see someone professionally to help take control of this issue, for good. 

Struggle to eat healthy when things get too busy for you. Here are 5 ways to ensure you always eat well, no matter how busy you get!

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