Binge eating means eating HUGE? Think again.

You know what binge eating is, right?

No? That’s ok.

Because I work in the health and wellness space, I kinda thought everyone did – until I started mentioning to people that I was starting a blog series on it, and creating an e-course. And then I realized, a lot of people DON’T. Even people who struggle with it sometimes don’t have a name to put to their pain.

For some the label might bring its own set of struggles and for others it helps to know that yes, this IS a thing, you’re not alone, and we can work with it. And that’s what this blog series is all about.

Do you think binge eating is eating a HUGE amount of food? It's so much more (and less) than this. Find out what it really is here - because it matters.

What is binge eating?

Ok, so I just googled the above question to see what pops up. Google tells me that it’s:

“…the consumption of large quantities of food in a short period of time, typically as part of an eating disorder.”

Other sources all mention the ‘huge amounts of food’ angle, and also add in words like ‘compulsion’, ‘out of control’, and ‘powerless’.

Some list binge eating as a disorder. It’s called ‘Binge Eating Disorder’, and it’s a psychiatric disorder, according to the DSM, amedical manual listing mental health conditions – and has a specific set of criteria that have to be fulfilled before you ‘have it’. Casual definitions are more loose and subjective, and self-diagnosed.

Ok… so what is binge eating?

Binge eating exists on a continuum, with full-on diagnosable binge eating disorder on one end, and occasional guilt-inducing binge sessions on the other. I define it as:

Any eating that occurs on a regular basis that you feel is out of control and results in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and you wish to stop, but can’t.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

“Any eating that occurs on a regular basis…” – I don’t think it’s necessarily about the quantity of food. That is such a subjective thing! My “huge” meal might be someone else’s regular one.

As I said last week, I have one client who labels her eating as ‘binging’, and she only has one sandwich. But she does it quite a few nights a week, and it’s against her will. So, it’s got to be more than once or twice a year, but it’s not so much the quantity, but how it makes you feel. Which leads us to:

“…that you feel is out of control and results in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness…”  – These emotions are important and powerful in the context of binging. Yes you can eat a lot at Christmas, or have a tub of ice cream after a breakup, but if you don’t feel bad about it, it’s not a binge.

It’s also not a binge if you eat one cookie, stop after just the one, and feel guilty. If you can control or stop the eating, then it’s not binging. If you feel a compulsion to eat, and feel out of control while doing it, THAT might be a binge. Which brings us to:

“…and you wish to stop, but can’t.” – Binge eating is not under your control. You don’t like what you’re doing, either during or after, but you can’t seem to stop.


Binge eating is any eating that occurs on a regular basis that you feel is out of control and results in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and you wish to stop, but can’t.

This is important

Defining binge eating in this way is important because it validates the experience. It widens the scope and makes the experience about you, not about fitting into an accepted mold or guideline. Your eating experiences are unique, as are your fears, hopes, and judgements around that eating. So, having a definition that is based on the subjectivity of the experience is important.

In this (only slightly rambling) video, I explain a bit more about this and give some examples.

What ISN’T binge eating?

I’m all for being inclusive and defining this thing widely so we can feel heard, and appreciate the wider social implications of binge eating, but there are a few myths around that I’d like to clear up before we jump into next week’s post about the causes of binge eating.

  • Binge eating is not the same as emotional eating. It’s only when your emotional eating becomes both regular and a source or distress that it might be binge eating.
  • Binge eating is not a lack of willpower. You can’t ‘just stop’.
  • Binge eating isn’t the same as regularly having large meals, or overeating on special occasions.
  • Binge eating isn’t about weight. All people who binge eat are not fat, and all people who are fat do not binge eat.


So, there we have it, Binge eating is any eating that occurs on a regular basis that you feel is out of control and results in feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and you wish to stop, but can’t.

By using this to guide us, we’ll move on next week to talk about why you are binge eating (hint: it’s trying to tell you something) because that can provide some excellent insights into how to begin to heal it. You can also check out this awesome list of 6 joyful things you can do instead of binge eating.

Tell me in the comments below: What do you think of this definition? – Because your voice is important.

About Samantha

Hello! I'm Sam and I'm an Eating Psychology Coach. I work with women who struggle with emotional eating and weight loss to develop new strategies and lifestyles so they can stop using food to cope, lose weight, and eat happy.

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2 thoughts on “Binge eating means eating HUGE? Think again.

  • Karina O'Hara

    Well done Sam ,your acknowledgement that binge eating is a continuum is great. I feel that my struggle is validated more because of the negative emotion that surrounds ( and often triggers it ) rather than defined by the amount of food I might consume . Looking forward to the rest of your posts , thanks for the help so far!

    • Samantha Post author

      Thank you, Karina! I totally agree with you there. I don’t think we can ever say to someone “Oh, you’re problem isn’t that bad… you need to eat more before I’ll take you seriously”. That’s just such a rejection of that person’s experience and their reality.
      And you are so, so welcome! <3