Stress Eating vs Binge Eating: Is There A Difference?

Many tend to use food as a way to deal with stress. Some also eat a lot of food rapidly and in a short amount of time, which is called binge eating

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahUpdated at: Dec 02, 2021 15:16 IST
Stress Eating vs Binge Eating: Is There A Difference?

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You had a bad day. You were late for work, couldn’t meet the deadline, your boss was mad at you. When walking back home, you came across a supermarket, with those boxes of chocolates staring right at you. “I deserve this,” you think. And before you realise it, you are inside the supermarket buying that box of chocolates. You feel something is missing. You reach out for a bag of chips, a bottle of coke, and a few other stuff, you were too mindless to even care. You get back home, throw your stuff on the sofa, switch on the TV, and start gorging what you bought. A pack of chips down, the can of coke was already gone much earlier, you reach out for chocolate, while your eyes are still glued on the screen. Once you switch off the TV, you realise how much you (over)ate. Far from being cheered, you feel extremely full, sad, and no better than before you ate. 

We all have experienced such a scenario where stress dictates what, when, and how much we eat. Binge eating is when you frequently eat a lot of food at one go and that eating is out of control, as per a leading health website. At the look of it, both stress eating and binge eating appear a lot alike. But is there a difference? To get an answer to this question, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dt Neha Pathania, who is the chief dietician at Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.

Difference Between Stress Eating And Binge Eating

Stress eating & binge eating are somewhat similar

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

“Stress eating includes both binge eating disorder and the desire to overeat,” the dietician said. Those with this disorder use food to deal with tension and other emotions, such as anger, sadness, and boredom, Pathania added. “Binge eating and emotional eating are not necessarily two separate and distinct processes. Instead, both of them are one process that occurs on a continuing basis,” the dietician said. 

  • Stress eating is chiefly characterised by an increased intake of energy-dense, highly palatable food when faced with psychological stress.
  • When stress eating increases significantly, it’s called binge eating.

Binge eating depends on several factors, such as gender, genetics, body size, body image, how he/she reacts to the various situations in life, on how he/she thinks about self or speaks depending on the confidence level. 

How To Spot If You Engage In Stress Or Binge Eating

There can be some triggers for binge eating

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

These two forms of eating are something we all engage in. However, eating more than you actually need leads to weight gain, which if continues can lead to you becoming overweight or obese. This puts you at risk of several serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular diseases, and certain forms of cancer. Hence, spotting and putting an end to stress and binge eating can be crucial. Here are some of their characteristics that might help you identify:

  • You eat a lot of food rapidly and in a short span of time.
  • You eat even if you are not hungry.
  • You feel you are not in control of your eating patterns.
  • You feel depressed, ashamed, or disgusted by your eating habits.

How To Manage/Stop Stress Or Binge Eating

Once you have identified that you tend to eat in times of stress or you tend to binge eat, finding ways to manage it is crucial. Here are some tips by Dt Pathania that might help you:

  • Paying attention should be the first step. One of the ways to put an end to stress eating is to understand why it is happening in the first place, and dealing with the cause of stress can be a useful tool to prevent eating.
  • You should also make a healthy meal schedule and strictly eat your meals according to that.
  • Restricting yourself will not help. Your strategy should be to address the source of the trigger.
  • Bring out your inner self that helps to increase your confidence level, recommends Dt Pathania.
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get a set amount of physical activity daily. At least 150 minutes of exercise in a week is generally recommended.
  • Try preventing boredom as many people tend to eat when they are bored.

These are some of the ways you can inculcate in your life to stop both binge and stress eating.

Also read: These 8 Indian Foods Are The Best Healthy Snacks To Binge On

When To See A Doctor

Yes, you should consider consulting an expert if you feel you tend to stress or binge eat, especially if you have the compulsion to eat a large amount of food. You should see a doctor even if you have a healthy body weight as the expert might do certain tests to check for additional conditions such as heart or gallbladder problems. This is because binge eating can significantly put a person’s physical and mental health at risk.

(With inputs from Dt Neha Pathania, who is the chief dietician at Paras Hospitals, Gurugram)

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