You are currently viewing What is the difference between binge eating and binge eating disorder?

What is the difference between binge eating and binge eating disorder?

Many people are confused with what is Binge Eating versus what is Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating can be a normal way of eating at times, overeating at others, or part of an eating disorder. The term seems so common these days. Binging is far too subjective and needs more objective information that quantifies the term outside of the classification in conjunction with an eating disorder.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a binge as an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence or excessive and compulsive activity. (1) The medical dictionary defines the term as an act of excessive or compulsive consumption, especially of food or alcoholic beverages.

This binge term could match an overeating or overdrinking episode, Thanksgiving dinner, unrestrained eating on what some term “cheat day” (using this term itself may set you up for a binge), or even binge-watching a show on Netflix all can be a binge.

As a matter of fact, the term is used so regularly, that people quantify what type of binge they have.  For example, food, tv shows, and alcohol all count as items people binge on. We hear “I binged on Netflix last night,”  or “I binged on Yellowstone episodes.”

…unrestrained and often excessive indulgence or an excessive and compulsive activity.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized as the excessive consumption of food that meets a specific criterion and is diagnosed by a medical or mental health professional.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the disorder is defined as regularly eating large amounts of food in a 2 hour or less window of time that is significantly more than what most people would eat in a similar situation, with a marked sense of loss of control and stress. The binge episodes occur weekly for the last 3 months.(2)

There may be a feeling of distress, disgust, embarrassment, or guilt regarding the behavior. The sense of loss of control can be one of the big determining keys since the quantification of the amount of food and normal circumstances have so many variables. 

A binge eating episode classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is an occurrence of eating excessive food in conjunction with the sense of lack of control to be counted as a binge eating episode.(2)

The binge episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating food until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Consuming food much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone because embarrassed about the amount one is eating
  • Consuming large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or guilty afterward(2)

Someone experiencing these behaviors needs to be ready to be honest with themselves. This is an important step that is most difficult to admit to oneself and others.

If you are concerned with your eating and want a quick evaluation, grab the Binge Eating Quiz.

What does Binge Eating Disorder look like?

You cannot tell by looking at someone if they binge eating disorder. There is no typical weight, shape, or size of a person with the disorder. In addition, individuals may not be willing to disclose their behaviors, while others may not even realize the volume of food during their emotionally charged episode.

Instead of looking for physical signs, one might look for behavior patterns.

How to tell if someone has the disorder

If you suspect someone you know has binge eating disorder, a few common signs to look for include:

  • Food wrappers hidden in cars, bedrooms, disguised in trash containers
  • Large amounts of food disappear in a short amount of time
  • Eating alone or being secretive about food
  • Extreme concern for body shape and weight
  • Rapid weight fluctuations (3)

A person with Binge Eating Disorder may not acknowledge they have a problem. They may minimize the behaviors so the support of their loved ones will be important.

Why are the objective details of a binge important?

Describing the objective details of a binge as to the amount of food consumed is key. In general, subjective reports are based on interpretations, emotions, and opinions and can leave too many uncertainties and do not provide concrete answers. Objective binges are measurable and more clearly identifiable. 

Subjective binge is the belief that the amount consumed is large and excessive enough to count as a binge but in reality, the amount could be classified as a small or moderate amount of food.

As a subjective occurrence, binge eating is difficult to quantify. The person reporting the binge and the evaluator could have different ideas of what a small, moderate, or large amounts of food entail.

Objective binges can be measurable and observable. Quantifying the volume of food consumed in a 2-hour or less discreet window allows the objective binge to be evaluated. In Binge Eating Disorder, the comparison is to what most people would eat in a similar situation.

Evaluations are used to determine if “binge eating” is normal overeating versus excessive. However, getting a good idea of the amount of food can be difficult, due to the secrecy and embarrassment a person experiences from the judgment of themselves for consuming the food.

But honestly, if a person has a concern for the volume of the food they are eating or feels distressed, either of these 2 reasons indicators is a good reason for following up with a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in the emotional aspects of eating.

What is loss of control around eating?

Regardless of the type of binge, the loss of control feeling can be a focal point for clarification.

The loss of control is a feeling that is centered around not being able to stop eating. or control what is eaten. Yet even this definition leaves an interpretation to clarify. 

What do the conditions have in common?

Both conditions involve the consumption of large amounts of food. To clarify, the food is more than what the person typically eats on a regular basis and is also in excess of the energy needs at the time in similar situations.

Context details are important when assessing binge eating episodes. For instance, during holiday times meals are often more than at other times.

There can be a state of stress, blame, and frustration with oneself for a binge episode in both conditions.

Overeating food can be considered binge eating. The context is key, as well as the person describing the event and how the term is quantified. Outside of eating disorders, a universally accepted definition of a food binge is non-existent.


  • eating more food than the body can use for energy at the time
  • may experience physical discomfort from the volume of food consumed
  • may involve having strong emotions
  • eating without physical hunger at times
  • frustration with self for binging

Key differences

Binge Eating Disorder has a minimum of once weekly average for binge episodes that must be met for a diagnosis. On the other hand, binge eating occurs sporadically.

Furthermore, the length of time is the previous 3 months in Binge Eating Disorder. However, in binge eating, the episodes could be happening for less than 3 months.  So if you are binging but the binges are happening for only 2 months, you would not meet the diagnostic classification for binge eating disorder, YET!

Another key difference is that there is marked stress and disgust with oneself for binge eating in Binge Eating Disorder, while the act of binge eating in someone without the disorder may not be a HUGE concern.

Most importantly, there is not one criterion that determines a diagnosis for the level of distress. However, the bare minimum criteria must be met in the disorder. The distress level is determined by a professional, who is qualified to diagnose the condition and can determine the severity and totality of the behaviors.

In addition, the loss of control is another distinguishing criterion for the disorder.  The loss of control is a feeling that the food eaten cannot be limited or the eating episode cannot be stopped. 

average of binge episodes ONCE A WEEK or moreaverage of binge episodes LESS THAN once a week
feeling LOSS OF CONTROL with binge episodeMAY NOT feel a loss of control with binge eating episode
binge episodes for AT LEAST the previous 3 months Binge episodes LESS THAN the previous 3 months
MARKED DISTRESS about binge eatingFrustrated about binge eating but not extensive
DIAGNOSED by clinician term used but NOT diagnosed as a disorder
Variables with some potential differences between binge eating and Binge Eating Disorder

If you are concerned about binge eating

Binge eating may be a form of overeating, emotional eating, and quite honestly, a way to keep yourself safe. 

If you are questioning if you have a problem, feel distressed about your eating, or feel a loss of control, you can benefit from identifying and addressing the eating issues. 

Registered Dietitians Nutritionists specializing in binge eating and eating disorders have a lot of experience exploring and connecting key nutrition themes related to binging.

Having a trusted dietitian that is supportive, understanding, and non-judgmental is a great partner to investigate and help solve eating challenges. 

Early recognition and diagnosis of an eating disorder

Early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of an eating disorder, such as Binge Eating Disorder, is important. There are serious long-term complications that may result from eating disorders. Someone loses their life every 52 minutes from an eating disorder.(5)

Eating disorders and the cost to treat are on the rise. The medical complications from eating disorders are dangerous. The Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) estimates that 9% of the US population (28.8 million Americans) will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. The number of eating disorder cases is estimated to increase by nearly 5% over the next decade. (5)

Diagnosing and early treatment can help reduce the chance of developing chronic diseases. Addressing the behaviors before they become chronic and treatment-resistant not only improves recovery chances but also reduces the financial burden for both the individual and the healthcare system.

Help for your binge eating

Simply put binge eating is consuming excessive amounts of food. The difference may come down to the feeling of loss of control and the diagnosis. Binge eating disorder is a diagnosis of a condition where a person eats excessive amounts of food on a weekly basis with feeling a loss of control for at least the previous 3 months.

Intake and needs can have great variability from person to person based on size, age, activity pattern, previous meals consumed, and alteration of gastrointestinal systems, such as with bariatric surgery.

Many of my new clients feel their binges are excessive but this is not always the case.  If you feel you have a binge eating problem, you are not alone. There is help from many qualified practitioners, including myself.

If you are worried your eating might classify you as having a binge eating disorder and would like to do a quick screen, Grab the Binge Eating quiz here  

Additional resources that may be helpful:


  1. binge. 2021. In Retrieved November 18, 2021, from,binge
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®), American Psychiatric Pub
  3. Muhlheim, L., Runyan, B. International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals A Vision of Hope Symposium, May 2020. Eating Disorders Overview Certification Education Core Course 2. [Conference presentation]. Virtual Conference 2020
  4. Kornstein S. G. (2017). Epidemiology and Recognition of Binge-Eating Disorder in Psychiatry and Primary Care. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 78 Suppl 1, 3–8.
  5. STRIPED, Academy for Eating Disorders & Deloitte. US Access Economics:

Kathryn Fink Martinez

Conquer food fear and overwhelm! My passion is helping guide people who are embarrassed about their struggle with food and teaching them simple habit changes that lead to a life with more energy, happiness, and the freedom to eat the foods they truly enjoy. Find a realistic food and exercise approach and remove the uncertainty about what to eat. Get started with some of the free resources on my Confidence in Eating website, especially the Bariatric Success Guide., Emotional Eating Quiz, and Binge Eating Quiz resources. I offer telehealth nutrition programs so you can live your life knowing how to nourish your body, mind, and soul.