Do you emotionally eat or are you a binge eater? How to know the difference!

When does indulging in your favorite snack cross the line from comfort to concern? Sometimes when I’m feeling tired after a long day I like to indulge in my favorite comfort food. But by being mindful and stopping to ask myself am I eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger, I can eat more sensibly.

The difference between emotional eating and binge eating lies mainly in how much food you consume. But, other key features may help you distinguish between the two and put an end to unhealthy snacking.

Emotional Eating

Stress manifests in different ways, but most of us can relate to the concept of emotional eating. Ever catch yourself wallowing in a container full of ice cream after a particularly stressful day? Emotional eating or stress eating is when you consume food not out of hunger, but out of anxiety, frustration, or sadness. For some, emotional eating is triggered by a traumatic event. For others, it can just be a habitual reaction to financial or emotional turbulence.

But don’t worry- emotional eating is somewhat normal, and in some cases, better for your mental health depending on how you handle it.

In fact, emotional eating can be great for relieving stress with THE RIGHT FOODS, provided it doesn’t get too out of hand. Eating puts our body into a state of relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nerves. Indulging in and savoring the flavors of food feels good and can lift our moods instantly.

But when emotional eating no longer relieves but rather contributes to stress, it can get out of hand.

At a point, emotional eating gives way to self-loathing as we feel ashamed of our indulgence. We want to hide our “binging” episodes, but because of a lack of other emotional coping mechanisms, they spiral out of our control.

To prevent emotional eating from advancing to the next stage, we need to tackle the problem at its roots: stress, frustration, and other emotional ruts. By being more aware of where our stress comes from we can pinpoint areas where change is needed. Both body work and mental strategies can help to break the stress cycle, which relieves the body of chronic stress.

Take up meditation or yoga to simultaneously tackle stress and improve your self-discipline. Engage in a stress-free activity like painting or fishing. Take plenty of time to distance yourself from whatever may be causing your stress – whether that is work, a stressful home environment, or relationship woes.

To make sure your stress eating never borders on binge eating, keep a food journal. Records of your day-to-day eating choices will help prevent you from putting on unwanted pounds. While also improving your overall mindfulness when it comes to consumption. By slowing down and being more mindful when we eat we aid our digestion. We are also more able to hear the ‘full signal’ that our stomach sends to our brain. This takes 20 minutes to register.

And finally, to manage your emotional eating in a far healthier way, look for healthy alternatives to your favorite go to snacks such as oven baked sweet potato fries instead of the regular deep fried kind or carrot sticks and hummus instead of crisps.


Binge Eating

Binge eating, unlike stress eating, is considered by nutritionists as a potentially severe eating disorder. Characterized by constant over consumption, BED (Binge Eating Disorder) involves consuming huge quantities of food in a relatively short span of time. It’s not just your average bloated belly after a heavy dinner, but a constant overeating that leaves the body uncomfortable and unhealthy.

The transition from emotional eating to binge eating occurs when you lose your sense of control. You move from being conscious of your reason for eating and how much you eat, to eating without any control over intake. It often leads to guilty eating, which is worse for your mental health and stress levels as well. This leads to a vicious cycle: your stress turns into binge eating, and your binge eating fuels your stress.

What’s worse is that the guilt of binge eating (which usually occurs when alone) traps us in a “shame cage”. This stops us from reaching out to friends or family for fear of revealing ourselves.

But BED is too serious of a condition to keep under wraps. Instead, it is vital to talk to someone if you are experiencing any one of its symptoms. Your attitude towards your body image, your history with other mental health complications, and eating habits in general could be contributing to BED.

Total recovery from binge eating is absolutely possible. It doesn’t need to take over your life. To start your healing process, I encourage you to keep a food/mood journal. You can track your habits to work out the emotional triggers that start your binge eating. While also being aware of the thoughts and feelings you have after a binge episode. This gives you amazing insights into the WHY of your situation so that you can easily manage the HOW of getting out of it.

Remember to remain body-positive. Ultimately, it’s about cultivating and maintaining a positive mindset that enables you to choose healthy lifestyle options Here are good mood foods that can help you to turn your frown upside down.

Antioxidant vitamins

dried apricot, almonds, avocado, beans, berries, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cashew nuts, cauliflower, citrus fruit, eggs, hazelnuts, kiwifruit, liver (and fish liver oil), mango, melon, oranges, papaya, tangerines, organ meats, pumpkin, red and green sweet peppers, seeds, sweet potato, spinach, sweet potato, tomatoes, vegetable oils, walnuts, watercress.

B-vitamins avocados, bananas, beans, carrots, eggs, fish (e.g. salmon, tuna), meat, milk, molasses, nuts (e.g. almonds, cashew nuts), seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds), wholegrains (e.g. brown rice), lentils, yeast.
Magnesium Leafy green vegetables, nuts (such as brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts) and whole grains (particularly millet and oats).
Manganese beetroot, blackberries, celery, grapes, lettuce, lima (butter) beans, oats, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, watercress.
Potassium avocado, apricots, almonds, bananas, beans, cabbage, cashew nuts, cauliflower, celery, courgettes, melon, molasses, mushrooms, parsley, pumpkin, radishes, sunflower seeds, watercress.
Selenium brazil nuts, cabbage, courgettes, chicken, tuna, herring, seafood, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, wholegrains.
Zinc brazil nuts, herring, meats, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wholegrains, lamb, oysters.

If you think that you may need some help to combat emotional eating or to change your habits around food, you can take advantage of the 25-minute emotional freedom free chat if you feel you need some 1:1 guidance. I know that sometimes losing control of your eating can send you into a shame spin that can be hard to get out of. It helps to have someone to lean so you can find a way forward towards better health both mentally and physically.