Recovery update: What’s the difference between “binge eating” and “overeating”?

When I first sat down to think about the above question, without trying to figure it out in the moment it was affecting me directly, I quickly came around to the opinion that its actually easier to separate the two out than I previously thought. In the moment this question is affecting you it can be hard to sit there and figure out “have I binged, or have I just overeaten a bit?‘. Feeling you’ve engaged in the first can lead to some serious guilt-tripping if you suffer from binge eating, and this question is one that at the beginning of recovery I really struggled to figure out. The immediate difference is that whilst binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder (obviously), overeating is not.

First though: why does it matter? As a recovering BED sufferer I like to keep an eye on how I’m doing. If I can identify that I am binge eating before it gets too far I can maybe reign it in. Furthermore, knowing the difference between binging, and just a little bit of over-indulging has really helped to reduce the guilt I felt when I was, say, going out for a big meal. Previously, eating an extra serving of something or a three course dinner would push me into worrying that I was binging. I’m sure many of you understand the “fuck it” mentality of binging: you feel you’ve started binging, you may as well carry on. Not being able to separate out the above things in my mind meant that I was binging more and more frequently. I was avoiding occasions where I would be going out for food, and generally missing out. So in summary, once I got the difference between binging/overeating I was able to:

  1. Pre-empt a binge by tuning in to how I was feeling around food.  As I practiced, this then helped me to avoid slipping deeper into binging.
  2. Minimise the guilt surrounding occasions where I’d maybe eat a bit more than normal, which eventually allowed me to relax around certain trigger foods and in turn begin to eat them without binging. I never actually thought this was possible, but I’m getting better at it.

Obviously, I am not a healthcare professional, and if you have an eating disorder then you need to find someone who is. This post is just something I wanted to share from my own experience, in-case it helps anyone out. Having been through ED I would encourage you to seek help before yours goes any further; you can do this by booking a doctor’s appointment, or by visiting a support website such as B-eat (link at the bottom of the page). Okay, now we can begin…


  • A choice: perhaps you’re out for a meal, have had two fabulous courses, you really fancy a dessert that’s on the menu- but you’re already getting close to very full. You order the dessert anyway, really enjoy every mouthful, and waddle out of the restaurant with an impressive little food baby. Its a one-off special meal, you know it is. You feel a little too full, but you enjoyed it and don’t worry about it. So here we have a few different aspects:
    • you choose to eat more because you would like to
    • You taste the food
    • You can eat it slowly
    • You enjoy it without guilt, and though you may be conscious you’ve eaten a little much, you’re basically okay about it.
  • It doesn’t leave you feeling deeply upset with yourself
  • You are in control whilst you eat. You feel you could say yes or no, without too much concern
  • You are able to eat the food you have chosen to eat in the company of others


  • You feel completely unable to resist the food, and are basically eating anything you can get, despite liking that food or not
  • You feel extremely embarrassed, guilty, and/or disgusting about what you have eaten when you finally stop, despite having completely numbed-out or even felt some kind of thrill went eating (especially if it feels “forbidden”)
  • You have eaten a volume of food which physically affects you: you struggle to sit up, to breath, your heart rate may speed up rapidly, you feel you may be sick
  • Even if you begin to feel the above, you may carry on eating, pushing past these feelings
  • You are secretively eating a large quantity of food in one go- in a matter of a couple of hours or less- lying about it and hiding the evidence. You can’t wait to get away from other people in order to eat more, though already full
  • You eat rapidly, cramming food in, and not tasting it
  • This is happening once or more a week over a period of a couple of months or more

To elaborate on what I previously said, when I looked at the differences between these two things I suddenly found it easier to actually go out for meals or treat myself to certain foods without binging. Eating one “trigger food” or a big indulgent meal which I had enjoyed, didn’t mean I had “binged”. This removed the feeling of guilt which would often make me feel I should just let myself give in to binge urges because “I had ruined everything”. The more I was able to eat moderate amounts of certain foods, the easier it became to be around trigger foods. I began to be able to see when I had simply eaten a little more of something I liked than I probably should have, and should drink a cup of mint tea and some water to settle my stomach… vs when I had hard-core binged. Ultimately what constitutes a binge is different for anyone experiencing it. However, I have to admit that hearing someone say they have binged because they ate three biscuits (true story) is a little offensive to someone whose binging meant putting away an extra 3000kcal per occasion it happened.

But what if overeating tends to trigger a binge for me?

Overeating can feel a little too close to comfort for many binge eaters I’ve met, myself included. I feel like overeating is completely normal if you’re still getting used to listening to hunger and fullness signals. The best things I have found to prevent this overeating spiralling into a binge are these:

  • Savour what you eat and try to engage with how full you are. I found in the beginning that feeling overly full flipped a switch somewhere in me to want to give in to a binge (note: this does not mean you can restrict in the name of not reaching this point! Just eat until full)
  • Another thing to try ask yourself: would I be okay eating this in front of someone I know and trust? For me, if the answer was ‘no’ then I was possibly in binge territory, and needed to pause and think. If I knew the person I was thinking of would quiz me on if I was okay, then that was a bit of a red light. This really helped me if my mind was pushing me to go and finish that pint of ice cream or the third piece of cake.
  •  If you’ve been for a big meal maybe drag out the time you’re in the restaurant afterwards- get a cup of tea and use this time as a buffer to diffuse the urge to binge if overeating can produce this for you.

I find that these few tips alone can prevent your brain heading straight into binge mode after overeating.

Seeing a bit of a difference between overeating and BED during recovery has helped me put the breaks on at times. A help-line operative I once spoke to said she could help me talk my way through it, but I was the only one who could figure out what was binging and what wasn’t for me. I’d really recommend anyone who suffers from binge eating to give what constitutes a binge for them some thought. I’d love to hear anyone else’s opinions on this, so feel free to comment below or message me.

Again, if you think you have an eating disorder and need help then please take a look at the below site, or visit your doctor and get some help. Trust me, you don’t want it to go further than where you are now. People from all backgrounds, ages, genders etc. can develop an eating disorder, and it matters that you get the help you need:






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