Women often relate to emotional eating but don’t see themselves as someone with binge eating disorder.
Unsure, they share thoughts such as: “I never thought I might be binge eating” or “I know I eat emotionally, but do you think I’m binge eating?” The comments are often centered around fear, shame, and desperation.
The answer to the question is not as clear cut as you might think.
Binge and emotional eating aren’t necessarily two separate and distinct processes, but rather the same process on a continuum. The level that it becomes a diagnosable eating disorder is clear, but at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, we work with women all along the continuum.
We do this because it doesn’t have to be diagnosed to be interrupting your potential for a full life. No one should have to suffer emotionally and physically with the effects of binge and emotional eating.
Most of Us Emotionally Eat
We have times when we reach for that special something to eat and it just does the trick to comfort, relax, de-stress and take the day’s woes away.
That’s common, normal and ok. Yes… IT’S OK to eat emotionally. And when our clients realize this reality, the ‘shame-monster’ shrinks a little.
Why is emotional eating normal and ok? Well, in part because it works.
Essentially, our bodies know that we digest better when we’re calm. As soon as we start eating, our bodies activate the relaxation response (aka Parasympathetic response; or “rest-and digest” response) and we shift into some level of relaxation.
Breathing gets deeper, heart rate slows, muscles relax, etc. and we’re calmer… for a little while (here comes the catch).
What You Need to Know About Emotional Eating
Remember, this is EMOTIONAL eating… it’s about soothing a difficult emotion, not about eating for physical hunger.
So while it’s ok to eat and it does soothe us, the hard reality is that at some point during emotional eating, it doesn’t feel good and doesn’t taste good anymore.
It’s important to pay attention to the three “how’s”:
- How else we’re coping with difficult emotions
- How much we’re eating
- How often we use eating as a coping strategy
If we aren’t paying attention and instead continue eating, we’re actually creating a new stressor, which can look like shame or self-loathing.
And now we have a whole new difficult emotion to cope with, and round and round we go.
Emotional Eating is a Continuum:
At one end is emotional eating (which is normal and ok). As the “hows” discussed above (how often, how much & how else) get out of control, we move into emotional overeating and eventually to binge eating and binge eating disorder.
The DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition) – the guide healthcare providers use to make clinical diagnoses – provides a clear definition of binge eating disorder.
For example, the main criteria include eating a large amount of food in a short period of time, feeling a lack of control over the eating episode and feeling a great deal of shame in response to the behavior.
When we talk to women inquiring about treatment for their binge or emotional eating, we assess the need for further support by asking if they feel they are losing control of their “hows” and are moving up this continuum.
Take the Quiz: Find Your Place on the Continuum
If you want to know where you fall on the emotional/binge eating continuum, try taking this self-scoring quiz.
The higher your score, the more severe your emotional eating.
We invite you to contact us if you’d like to discuss emotional eating, binge eating, or to inquire about our unique and specialized treatment.
Remember, we get it, and you are not alone.