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Emotional Eating vs Binge Eating—Find Clarity And Freedom

Learn the differences between emotional eating and binge eating, find compassionate understanding, and discover faith-based tools for lasting freedom.

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a candy bar, bag of chips, or pint of ice cream when you are stressed or sad? If so, you are not alone.

I have reached for those foods because of the way I was feeling. I reached out to these foods enough times that I ended up at 349 pounds. 

Not only did the weight come on with the emotional eating, but the frustration and the shame quickly followed. 

I was frustrated that I knew not to run to these foods, but I kept doing it anyway.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7: 15-20

The fact that I could not overcome this alone brought on shame. Shame that I wasn’t good enough. 

But was I binge eating or emotionally eating? Does it even matter?

It does matter. It matters so that I can fully recover. 

For me, I suffered from both Binge Eating Disorder and emotional eating.

This article aims to help you understand the difference between emotional eating and binge eating, offering clarity and the path toward finding freedom in your relationship with food. 

There is a path to freedom, whether you are an emotional eater, a binge eater, or both. I have found that path and so can you.

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20. 

This article explores how to honor God through caring for ourselves, both physically and emotionally.

Understanding Emotional Eating

A graphic image with text over lay reads as: Emotional Eating vs Binge Eating—Find Clarity And Freedom. In the left side is a photo of a woman holding a plate of food with a glass of green smoothie in the table.

What is emotional eating?

Imagine feeling overwhelmed at work and all you can think about is the donuts in the break room. 

In the past, I have found myself in meetings. As each new direction was given, I found myself falling into a hole of overwhelm. 

I couldn’t focus on the new information, so instead, I turned my mind to the snacks waiting in the break room. I could have the cookies and donuts. 

I would mentally plan out how I could get some of everything without looking like I had taken as much as I planned to.

The distraction of food took some of the overwhelm away, temporarily. Of course, when the overwhelm returned, it returned with force. Which cycled into needing more of the distraction of food.

Emotional eating is eating in response to an emotion. It’s not just eating in response to negative emotions like sadness, grief, frustration, and overwhelm, but it can also include positive emotions, like joy and excitement.

What comes to mind when you think of a birthday, a graduation, or a wedding? Usually food – cake, ice cream, snacks. 

Yes, you can emotionally eat for positive emotions as well as negative emotions.

Emotional eating is eating in response to an emotion or group of emotions instead of physical hunger. 

Physical hunger is when your body is biologically hungry for sustenance – food. 

We need food to fuel our bodies and live our lives. Emotional eating is when we eat when we are not physically hungry.

Not all emotional eating is harmful, but it can easily turn into a pattern of eating that will lead to harm to your body.

What are the triggers for emotional eating?

Remember those birthdays, graduations, weddings, feelings of overwhelm? Those are some emotions and events that can trigger overeating.

Do particular emotions like boredom, stress, or loneliness lead you to run to the fridge or pantry? 

How about social events, holidays, work parties – do you think of the event or of the food at the event? 

This was an eye-opener for me. After COVID, my family was coming together to celebrate Christmas. We had not come together in almost 3 years, because of my treatments for an autoimmune disease. 

My immune system was very low and with COVID as well, I could not gather together with anyone other than the people I lived with and even that was from a distance. 

Did I think of my time with family and what we would do? Sure, I was happy, ecstatic about being able to see them, but my main thoughts were what would I get for food, what would we eat. 

Since turning myself completely over to God, and finding true food freedom; I now think first of what games we will play, and what activities we will do. The ways we can enjoy each other.

Spiritual disconnection or unconfessed sin can sometimes contribute to emotional turmoil that then can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like turning to food to deal with emotions.  

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Eating

Are you an emotional eater? Reflect on these points and ask yourself, is this me?..

  • Eating when not physically hungry to distract from negative or positive emotions.
  • Craving specific comfort foods (such as sweet and salty).
  • Feeling out of control while eating.
  • Feeling guilt, shame, and/or regret after eating.
  • Overeating.
  • Sneaking food and hiding or lying about it.
  • Turning to food instead of turning to God.

According to Family Doctor these are the symptoms of emotional eating these are all signs and symptoms of emotional eating. 

You experience an emotion (typically negative) and to escape your first thought is food. 

Keep reading to find out how to change your first thoughts from food to Jesus.

Now that you understand emotional eating. Let’s learn about binge eating.

Understanding Binge Eating

What is binge eating?

Have you ever found yourself eating a shocking amount of food in one sitting, unable to stop even when you are uncomfortably full?

I would buy a six-pack of Hershey chocolate candy bars and sit down and eat them all in a matter of minutes. 

I would be so full I thought I would get sick, and yet still reach for potato chips and eat the bag, forcing the last few down my throat. I didn’t actually make myself throw up, but I felt so terrible that I wish I had been able to.

I thought I had no control. I couldn’t think of anything or anyone else. All I wanted was food. 

I felt an insatiable need for the food. I needed it, or so I felt, as much as I needed oxygen. 

I couldn’t think of God, His goodness and grace. I was only focused on my task – get in as much food as I could.

When the binge had ended, I felt physically sore and sick. Emotionally, I was ashamed and felt that I didn’t deserve to turn to God after what I had done. 

God was still there. He is always there. I needed to find a way to turn to Him before the binge began.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Could your struggles go beyond occasional emotional eating and into a more serious pattern? That’s where understanding Binge Eating Disorder (BED) comes into play.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a mental health condition. It is when a person eats large quantities of food, to the point of discomfort recurrently (not just once or twice). 

This is a serious condition and goes well beyond overeating.  

This mental health condition can interfere with our relationship with God. 

For me, it controlled my life. There wasn’t room for God to have control. 

It is not a one-time or even two or three-time occurrence. 

Binge Eating Disorder is a consistent, patterned eating disorder that stems from feeling unworthy and out of control. BED requires a professional diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating

Does your overeating go beyond an occasional emotional eating episode? Ask yourself…

  • Do you eat unusually large quantities of food at one time?
  • Do you feel unable to stop eating?
  • Do you eat rapidly, even when not hungry?
  • Do you eat until uncomfortably full?
  • Do you hide eating habits out of shame?

According to Mayo Clinic these are the symptoms of Binge eating disorder these are some signs and symptoms of binge eating. Remember, speak to a professional if you answer yes to these questions. 

Professionals that you can access for help include psychologists, counselors, therapists, registered dieticians and nutritionists, primary care physicians, treatment centers, and support groups. 

You can Google “Binge eating disorder support groups” which will lead you to support groups in your state.

Always speak to God, He is here to help you through each step of the way. 

You can be an emotional eater and also have a binge eating disorder. Read on, to see the key differences and learn to acquire food freedom from both. 

Emotional Eating vs. Binge Eating—Key Differences

This is important information, but it is also important to know how these are similar. 

The biggest similarity in emotional eating and binge eating is that food has taken the seat of control and we need to find a way to have God in the control seat

“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” – Ephesians 1: 11

According to The Journal of Eating Disorders the difference between emotional eating and binge eating disorder is emotional eating is defined as a non-pathological eating behavior, whereas binge-eating disorder is defined as a pathological eating behavior.

Here are how the differences look:

Amount of food consumed

Binge Eating Disorder typically involves a person eating a larger quantity of food than with emotional eating. 

With emotional eating, a person can overeat but, generally, can stop before they feel physically sick.

Sense of control

While a person experiencing emotional eating can feel out of control as they overeat, a person with binge eating disorder feels completely out of control and will eat past a feeling of being stuffed and over full. 

I know for me, it felt like I literally could do nothing to stop myself from putting in more food, even though I wanted to stop because I felt sick. 

Frequency

Emotional eating can happen several times a day or go a week and then happen. It depends on the day, emotions, and circumstances.

Binge eating may occur for episodes. There could be an episode once a week or every few weeks. It occurs from internal triggers. 

I have suffered with both emotional eating and binge eating disorder. I could have days of emotional eating throughout the day. 

A binge eating episode would come on without notice. I could binge once a week, when in a bad cycle or once every few weeks. Once I went 6 months in between binges, but this was extremely rare. 

Severity

Both emotional eating and binge eating disorder are harmful. They are especially harmful to our relationship with God. 

Remember that binge eating disorder is a mental health clinical disorder that should be diagnosed by a professional. 

God can help us overcome and help us give control over to Him.

The Impact of Emotional Eating and Binge Eating

Physical Health

Both emotional eating and binge eating can lead to weight gain, which can also lead to digestive issues and health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. 

At 349 pounds, I couldn’t walk upstairs without being in tears. I couldn’t tie my own shoes. 

I had high blood pressure even with blood pressure medications. I was borderline diabetic. I even experienced heart palpitations.

Mental Health

Both emotional eating and binge eating can lead to guilt, shame, depression, and anxiety.

For me, I wouldn’t go anywhere for fear and anxiety of not fitting in chairs and having everyone feel as bad about me as I was feeling about myself. 

I felt guilty and was guilty of overeating, but instead of using the guilt to better myself, I pushed it down and started to blame myself. I felt that I was no good and worthless –  shame.

Social well-being

Not only did I feel worthless and shameful, but these feelings led me to isolate myself. 

I worked from home, so there were weeks that I would not leave my home. I would not seek out any companionship and even kept my distance from those I lived with, as I didn’t feel like I was worth enough to experience joy with my family. 

All I cared about was food.

Spiritual Health:

Both emotional eating and binge eating can stem from not feeling worthy. Not realizing who we are in Christ. 

Food became an idol for me. When food becomes our primary source of comfort or stress relief, it can begin to displace God in our hearts.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

Colossians 3:5

We lose who we are in Christ, or at least I know I did. A preoccupation with food and weight can warp our view of ourselves as God’s beloved creations.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27

My prayer life even suffered, as I felt feelings of shame and unworthiness, which stemmed from binge and emotional eating. I didn’t feel worthy of reaching out to God in prayer. 

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

I didn’t experience any joy. The emotional turmoil that disordered eating brought, overshadowed the peace and joy that comes from a close relationship with God. 

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”.

John 15:11

But my Spiritual health did not stay like this, I found clarity and freedom. Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 helped me in my journey to spiritual health. 

Finding Clarity & Freedom—Strategies for Overcoming

Imagine what it would feel like to break free from the cycle of disordered eating… that kind of freedom is possible.

Ultimately, addressing emotional and binge eating disorder involves recognizing your worth in Christ. Knowing who you are in the Lord is key. 

What if you could truly know your worth and break this cycle of disordered eating

You can. I did. 

Through daily prayer, journaling, developing coping mechanisms through Faithful Finish LInes 2.0, and practicing self-compassion I found my way to food freedom. 

God was there and still is, helping me through each step. 

There is no “cure”, but there is a path to freedom that I need to stay on for life. 

I have lost 140 pounds and I have not had a binge episode in over 3 years. I still wrestle with emotional eating, but fight it daily, usually successfully.

You can find this freedom too. 

Recognize triggers

  • Journal daily to determine what your emotional and situational triggers are.
  • See the link between emotions/situations and emotions and eating behaviors.

Develop coping mechanisms

Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 helped me through their guidelines on how to grow closer to God and to develop coping mechanisms and healthy habits to overcome emotional and binge eating.

Some of these coping mechanisms include

  • The 3 Ps (Pause, Pray, Plan).
  • Stress management (mindfulness, exercise, deep breathing).
  • Find emotional outlets (hobbies, support groups, faith community).
  • Creating balanced meals and structured eating plans.

I encourage you to join the free Facebook site for Christian Weight loss

I further encourage you to join Faithful Finish Lines 2.0. These groups provided me with valuable resources and tools to further develop my relationship with God and allow Him to be first in my life above food.

Practice self-compassion

Have you ever heard your internal voice telling you how bad you are, how unworthy you are, and old negative messages?

I know my voice had so much fun with me. I listened to it, believing it. Even our own voices lie to us. 

Listen to God, He is the only truth. 

Next time you hear, “You can’t do this, you never have been able to”, ask yourself “Is this true?”

Go to God in prayer, go to His word. What does His word say about you?

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Psalm 139:14

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103: 12

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

1 Peter 2: 9

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Isaiah 1: 18 

Does God’s Word lie? No. If He says you are forgiven and worthy, you are.

Does this mean that you will never have a setback? No. We are human. We will err, but God is there to help us through. We can use the setbacks to improve and move on.

Setbacks do not make us unworthy, they simply teach us as we keep on.

Seek professional support

Professional help is important, especially for Binge Eating Disorder. Please call or see a professional for treatment.

Whether you are experiencing binge eating disorder and/or emotional eating, a faith-based support group is critical to your success in finding food freedom. 

Please consider joining the free Facebook community Christian Weight Loss Community

Also, please consider joining Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 for step-by-step guidance to a closer relationship with God and weight loss. 

FAQs About Emotional Eating vs. Binge Eating

Is emotional eating a sin?

Emotional eating itself is not a sin. The primary sin in regards to eating is gluttony. A pattern of regularly overeating or emotional eating can lead to gluttony, so it is not definitively an area of sin but definitely an area to have caution. 

Can I overcome emotional eating and binge eating on my own?

While self-help strategies are valuable, professional support (therapist, faith-based counselor, support group) often significantly helps with achieving lasting freedom. Consider joining Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 and/or the Free Christian Weight Loss group. Also, if you feel you have a binge eating disorder seek professional help.

How do I stop binge eating and emotional eating?

Focus on the long-term process: understanding triggers, developing healthy coping mechanisms, seeking support, and cultivating self-compassion with God’s grace.

What are some healthy alternatives to emotional eating?

Some practical alternatives to emotional eating are: prayer, journaling, walking in nature, connecting with supportive people, creative hobbies, and stress-reducing activities.

Where can I find help for emotional eating or binge eating?

There are many helpful resources to include: therapists, registered dietitians, faith-based coaches such as The Holy Mess and So Very Blessed who have helped thousands of women to overcome emotional eating and binge eating disorder, eating disorder support groups, and Christian resources focused on a balanced relationship with food.

Emotional eating and Binge Eating Disorder have differences that include the amount of food consumed at one time and the degree of severity.

They also have an important similarity in that they stem from feelings of unworthiness. Please turn to God and ask Him to walk you through the practical advice in this article.

“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”

Philippians 4:13
A graphic image with text over lay reads as: Emotional Eating vs Binge Eating—Find Clarity And Freedom. In the left side is a photo of a woman holding a plate of food with a glass of green smoothie in the table.

A Weight Loss Prayer for Food Obsession

A Weight Loss Prayer For Emotional Eating

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