It is often believed that emotional eaters turn to food in order to handle some negative emotional experience. You get fired from your job, your spouse leaves you, you experience a traumatic event, or some other emotional upset happens in your life. You rush to the store immediately, purchase pizza, chili, bacon, ice cream, cake, soda and sweets, and return home to try and stifle your painful emotions with addictive simple carbohydrates and junk food that cause addiction and health problems.
This is a typical reaction for the emotional eater. However, not all emotional eating takes place because of a negative experience. Unhealthy overeating of comfort foods and junk food may take place as a celebration of a joyful event. You land your dream job or you find the mate of your dreams. Life is grand, and you celebrate by running out and purchasing pizza, chili, bacon, ice cream, cake, soda and sweets. Let the unhealthy food gorging begin.
In both cases, your unhealthy eating practices are triggered by some type of emotion. You are not eating because you are physically hungry. You are either trying to stifle a less than enjoyable emotion, or you are recognizing positive emotions by eating large quantities of junk food and comfort food. This is classic emotional eating, not binge eating.
The Definition of Binge Eating
Binge eating, unlike emotional eating or stress eating, is a recognized eating disorder. It is characterized by eating significantly more food than someone normally would in a specific timespan, usually less than a couple of hours. Answering your emotions by eating can lead to binge eating.
However, binge eating is not always an emotional response. Some binge eaters speak of almost being in a trance while they consume massive amounts of unhealthy food over the period of an hour or two. They feel powerless to stop. They have no control, and often report that they feel like they are outside of their body, watching themselves uncontrollably eat.
Many binge eaters talk about having no emotions at all when they are consuming large quantities of food. When they are binge eating, the amount of food consumed is several times what a person would normally eat in that timespan. Emotions don't always play a part. However, there are negative emotions experienced after binge eating for most of these types of eaters.
It is understandable to feel disgust and depression, guilt and shame, when you look at the carnage around you and realize you just ate three double cheeseburgers, three large orders of fries, an entire pie and a pint of ice cream, and washed it all down with a 2 liter bottle of soda.
To summarize, emotional eating is the practice of unhealthy eating habits in response to a feeling or emotion. Binge eating is the consumption of massive amounts of food in a short period of time, which may or may not have emotional causes. With binge eating, the person is usually focusing on WHAT they are eating, as opposed to WHY they are eating. If someone is eating for emotional reasons, they are often aware why they are doing what they are doing.