Emotional eating, binge eating and friends – some definitions

Emotional eating, binge eating and friends – some definitions

Howdy comrades! I’ll be writing updates here about how I’m getting on with my binge eating recovery shenanigans since I got home from Green Mountain,* as well as sharing some resources that I’ve found helpful. But first I thought it might be helpful to define things a little, as the various terms can be vague and/or confusing.

Here’s a definition of Binge Eating Disorder from National Eating Disorders Association (US):

“Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating.”

There is also a good definition and helpful information on the NHS website in their lovely British non-nonsense style.

While I have frequently met the clinical criteria for BED over the years, I’ve found the most helpful way of looking at eating behaviours is Green Mountain’s approach:

“Binge and emotional eating aren’t necessarily two separate and distinct processes, but rather the same process on a continuum.”

Imagine a continuum like this:

emotional eating → emotional overeating → some binge eating → Binge Eating Disorder

One can move up the continuum very easily, but is also possible to move down.

At the start of the continuum you have your bog standard emotional eating, a healthy thing which most people do. For example, bitching about your bloody awful day to a friend over a pizza and glass of wine. Or something like, joyfully scoffing a plateful of your Mum’s pavlova at Christmas after looking forward to it all year long.

Emotional overeating comes along if the food is the only coping tool you’re choosing in that moment. Like numbing out with the whole tub of Haagen-Daaz.

The next station stop along the line is binge eating, when large quantities are eaten, often quickly and accompanied by feeling out of control and unable to stop.

Then it moves up to criteria of diagnosable Binge Eating Disorder, which is all about the frequency of the binges and the impact they are having on one’s life. In 2013 BED was recognised as an eating disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook used by health care professionals as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.

I’ve found the idea of a continuum hugely useful. Firstly because I see how quickly one can move up it when food is the only coping mechanism happening. But it’s also helping because I appreciate that moving down the continuum is a sign of progress. It stops that all or nothing, perfectionist thinking.

I’m not hung up on labels or diagnostic criteria, but I’m finding it helpful to check in with this continuum and ask – Where am I right now? What’s going on for me to be in this position? Do I need to make some adjustments so I can move back down? 

Thanks gazillions to everyone who has got in touch during or since Green Mountain*. It’s so bloody good to realise we’re not alone!

It goes without saying I’m not a health professional, and the above is from my own reading and doesn’t constitute advice. Thanks to my friend Sara for link assistance.

* Update, January 2019 – Green Mountain has now closed. Their website is still up so I’m hopeful that it will rise from the ashes someday soon, with the weight-neutral approach that I found so very helpful!

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for February 2023.

11 thoughts on “Emotional eating, binge eating and friends – some definitions

  1. I have the same comment as Tamara – I think your idea of checking internally where you are on the spectrum at any given time really makes so much sense. I feel that generally that isn’t the way we are encouraged to think of our “healthy” vs. junk eating. I look forward to your upcoming posts as you reflect on your time at Green Mountain.

  2. That was so useful, I struggle with placing myself in the different patterns of emotional and binge eating so a continuum makes such sense. I always feel that the reason I can’t deal with myself is because I don’t understand my starting point. This feels hopeful.

  3. Oooh – yes – that continuum idea makes so much sense – I can see where I’ve waivered between emotional overeating with occasional forays into binge eating, but love that it demonstrates that healing process is not to just switch the whole thing off all together but to slide down it and also that *some* emotional eating is normal because we’re humans not robots! I’d been wondering how you’d been getting on after the retreat!! Xx

  4. Shauna, this was such a helpful blog. I too have been a victim the all-or-nothing mentality, so thinking about BED on a continuum is very liberating. I may never be able to afford Green Mountain, but I’m grateful that you’re willing to share the lessons you learned there!

  5. Shauna, so glad you are doing what you need to do to deal with this issue!

    Having read, reread, and triple-read your Dietgirl book, I was a little saddened to realize that yeah, you’re actually a real human being (just like the rest of us), still struggling with food issues after all these years (just like the rest of us).

    Yet you *still* manage to inspire and impress, just by being honest about it and sharing your stories & thoughts. Which is actually *very* superheroish!

    So THANKS for being brave (even if you don’t always feel that way)!

    (Plus, Ziggy the cat is adorable and I’m *so* glad she came home safely! 🙂 )

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