Overeating, extreme hunger, binge eating |How they differ

Many people lightheartedly use the word, “Binged” when they actually mean overate.

Many in eating disorder recovery – specially restrictive eating disorders – can go through periods of extreme hunger, but they think it is binging.

Extreme hunger and binging can seem very similar, but they are very different. One could be classified as consequences/symptoms of an eating disorder, whereas the other one is classified as an eating disorder.

This post has been a long time coming, and i thought i would try to define and describe the difference in these 3 terms as well as give some tips if you are dealing with extreme hunger or binge eating right now.

Overeating:

Starting off with the simplest definition, which is overeating. Over eating is basically what you may do at buffets or at Christmas or other special occasions where there is a lot of food. Or even at dinner parties where you may eat a large dinner and feel full but still eat some cake afterwards. Basically, eating more than maybe usual or maybe you are 95% full but still eat more just because it is delicious, because it is there or because it is offered to you and you want to be polite. Typically, you may feel very full for several hours, may feel like unbuttoning your trousers and laying down for a while and give your stomach time to digest the food.

Overeating is rather normal. Some people may do it more frequently, others may just do it during special occasions or events. Typically done just because the food is there or because it is delicious.

For some people when they have “cheat days” they may be overeating.

If you overeat, the best thing is to just rest for a while, drink some water or peppermint tea. That fullness will pass and as long as it is not a daily occurunce of overeating then it is no problem. (*Note, overeating can occur at more times than just special occasions i.e such as boredom eating, stress, always eating larger portions than necessary during mealtimes… which can result in weightgain. Which for some is a NECESSARY weight gain, and for others it may not.)

Extreme hunger:

And the next is extreme hunger. So many think that extreme hunger is the same as binging… but it is not. They are two different things.

Extreme hunger is often in response to a period of undereating… it may have been conscious or unconscious undereating. It is your bodies way of finding balance… craving for food and high energy food to feel “safe” again. Also, if you have lost weight, either by choice or by accident, it is your bodies way of getting you back to your set point. The extreme hunger doesn’t last forever, but it can last a while. How long it lasts varies from person to person and situation to situation. If you have been undereating for a long time you may feel extreme hunger for a longer period of time, compared to if it may just have been a short while that you under ate due to maybe stress, hormones or other reasons.

Extreme hunger can be described as a constant or very frequent hunger. You may eat a big meal, but 1 hour alter feel super hungry again, almost like you haven’t eaten in hours. If you have been undereating, or if you are underweight then it is more than likely that your hormones are out of balance, including your hunger hormones which can be why you feel constantly hungry or never feel full. It can of course be helpful to see a doctor who specializes in hormones if they are out of balance, but remember that eating enough, having a healthy body fat percent and not overstressing can help regulate hormones (to some extent).

Typically, you are just hungry… you want to eat, you want food. There may not be any extreme or strong or specific cravings. Just hunger. During extreme hunger you may overeat, i.e eat more than your daily calorie requirements. However, this is also necessary for the extreme hunger to settle and go away. You do need to eat more…. You need to allow yourself to eat the amount your body is craving., Even if that means eating every hour.

My best suggestion when it comes to extreme hunger is to one, actually eat. Listen to your body.

And two, try to eat 5-6 meals a day minimum. Don’t eat tiny meals “just in case you eat too much” or to compensate for being so hungry. Eat large meals. No diet or light foods – eat the full fat products. And if you have any specific cravings, allow yourself to eat them… even if you should also focus on eating main meals and mostly whole foods and unprocessed foods. If you want the chocolate or donuts or crisps, eat them.

Acceptance and allowance are key. It may be a mental battle, but the hunger won’t go away if you keep trying to restrict or deprive yourself… it will just make it worse and it could infact lead to binging and binge eating. Which is what I will describe next.

Binge eating

So, binge eating is classified as an eating disorder, whereas extreme hunger can be a consequence/symptom of an eating disorder. Or a result and part of recovery from an eating disorder. And overeating is just a “normal” thing… and I mean normal in the sense that the majority of people overeat certain times in their life… even if it definitely shouldn’t be a daily thing because that can lead to weight gain for the majority of people (who may not need to gain weight. It is different if you are dealing with extreme hunger and therefore overeat but also need to gain weight… or atleast, gaining weight will help you find balance with food and eating again.).

Binge eating isn’t really about food or hunger… the binges are mostly due to mental reasons. They are often in response to anxiety, stress, emotions. The binges are a form of coping mechanism. Often there is strong cravings for specific foods… often high in calorie, fat and sugar. Or it can be certain nostalgic food that can give you a sense of comfort which can be a way to cope when stressed, anxious or dealing with a lot of emotions.

Binging is not really about the food or feeling super hungry compared to extreme hunger…. But more the feeling of eating, the rush of the sugar and calories and the dopamine the food can give. Dopamine is one of the “feel good” neurotransmittors and often that gives the person a sense of happiness/comfort/takes away the anxiety while they binge eat… but then post binge the anxiety and guilt may kick in.

However, binge eating can also be a consequence and response of extreme and long restrictive eating. Where you have restricted and deprived your body for so long, and all that is on your mind are the “forbidden foods”, and once you do eat one of those “forbidden foods”, there is no stop. An all or nothing mindset kicks in. For some they compensate, which is then classified as bulimia, whereas if you don’t compensate it is just binge eating.

Binge eating is far more serious than the other two, hence why it is an eating disorder that can be diagnosed according to certain criteria. But also, for the majority of people does require professional help to recover.

Binge eating can often be described as a lack of control… even if extreme hunger can also be described as that at times, because you just feel so hungry that you can’t stop eating. (Even if YES… with extreme hunger, you will reach a point where you don’t feel that super hunger all the time. But it does take some time for your body and hormones to reach a safe and balanced place… but eventually it stops.) Whereas with binge eating… it can continue for many years until someone eventually reaches the point where they seek professional treatment in some form, whether inpatient care, day patient or therapy or CBT for help.

On the other side, binge eating can also be seen as something “controlled” as people can plan their binges (even if the binging also then becomes something uncontrolled and unstoppable)… which is something not many people are aware of. Even if binges can happen spontaneously in response to emotions, stress, anxiety, mental state… it can also be planned binges where food is bought and planned beforehand as the binging can give a sense of comfort, peace, happiness…. But the aftermath of the binges is quite the opposite with guilt, anxiety, self-hate and disgust.

With binge eating, it is recommended to try to eat regular mealtimes throughout a day. To not reach a point where you feel starving or hangry. To eat 5-6 times a day and give your body and mind constant energy. Because binges can stem from restriction or a restrictive mindset where you have set up food rules and forbidden foods, you need to work on finding balance with all foods… not having foods you can’t eat. However, in the beginning it can be helpful to avoid having trigger foods in your house and instead eating them when you feel that you can eat them in moderation, example maybe when you are around others.

And one of the most important things with binge eating/bulimia, is that you do seek proffessional help/treatment/support to overcome it. There can be many reasons as to why you binge, but if you don’t seek help it can be an eating disorder you live with. Binge eating and bulimia is actually alot more common than anorexia, even if it does not get as much attention or awareness. And there is nothing shameful in struggling, but it is important you seek help so that you can get better and not just resort to cutting out trigger foods and binge foods so that you eat a very restrictive diet. Because that will just lead to more binging. Unfortunatly food is everywhere and just like with anorexia recovery it is not just about eating and eating the right amount for you, but about finding ways to cope around food and finding ways to eat in balance, and lastly just letting food become a part of your life but not your whole life.

I do have other posts about binge eating and binge eating recovery, so I will not write so much about tips to recover and advice for recovery in this post, instead you can check out my previous posts.

My previous posts about binge eating:

Binge eating recovery: Tips, advice, my experience: Masterpost

Dealing with extreme hunger and binges? | Nutrition advice | Masterpost

Finding balance with food – Restrictive/binging/balanced – advice

How to find balance with food and eating. Overcoming fear foods.

Why diets don’t work

With binge eating, a person often eats far beyond their fullness and to the point of extreme fullness at times. There is most often not a physical hunger than drives the binges – even if at times it may begin with physical hunger but then results in a binge if a person feels triggered or an “all or nothing” mindset kicks in. With extreme hunger, you may overeat but it most often doesn’t reach a point of extreme fullness.

As mentioned earlier… the difference between bulimia and binge eating is that when you have bulimia you may restrict, binge, compensate and repeat. And the form of compensation can vary, whereas with binge eating it is often just binging without any form of compensation.

Lastly, what qualifies as a binge? Well, eating very large and abnormal quantities of food. Amounts of food you wouldn’t eat when around others or portions you know are far bigger than is necessary or normal. I.e such as eating whole packages of bread, cereal, whole boxes of food etc So eating an extra slice of cake for dessert or accidently eating a whole package (one of those roll form ones) of oreos isn’t the same as a binge, where the binge eating can continue for hours at a time and abnormal quantities of food eaten in a “short” period of time.

So, with this…. I hope I have helped bring some awareness to the three different terms. Many in anorexia recovery can find it hard to know whether they are going through extreme hunger or have developed binge eating. But typically, I would say it is just extreme hunger and the best thing you can do is ALLOW YOURSELF TO EAT with no compensation or restriction.

Of course, it is hard to define exactly extreme hunger vs binge eating, but i would say that the person knows themselves – after a while whether it is binge eating or just an extreme hunger.

However, it is important to note that binge eating is one of the most common eating disorders and many in anorexia recovery can end up with bulimia or binge eating if they continue to restrict and deprive themselves even in recovery. I.e continuing to have fearfoods and still eating the lowest amount possible, that strong restriction can kick over into binge eating as a response to the restriction and your body just wanting lots of calories and energy.

I hope you found this post helpful, and if you know anyone else who may benefit from reading this post… send it their way 😊

If you want me to write more about one of these topics or give advice regarding one of them, just comment and let me know.

Or if you have any other post suggestions for me, you are always welcome to let me know.

More posts/articles relevant to this subject:

Extreme hunger: part1 – what is it?

Extreme hunger: part 2 – the experience and science

Hormones and binge eating disorder

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