Compulsive Eating vs Binge Eating: What Are The Differences?

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Compulsive eating and binge eating are both eating disorders that are often confused. Both disorders feature eating food in excess, even when you are not hungry.

The main difference between both conditions is that compulsive eating isn’t necessarily a medical condition, while binge eating disorder is a mental health condition. 

Compulsive eating causes you to overeat even when you are not hungry, or your body doesn’t need food. Binge eating is a mental health disorder that features recurring bouts of compulsive eating. It’s a mental condition that makes you unable to control the urge to eat. 

Both conditions can cause physical discomfort, social embarrassment, and emotional distress. One may view compulsive eating as a symptom of a binge eating disorder, but not everyone who eats compulsively has a binge eating disorder. Compulsive eating might also be referred to as food addiction. 

Read on to learn more about the differences between both conditions and how to recognize them. An eating disorder needs to be correctly diagnosed by a doctor or your healthcare provider. 


Compulsive eating and binge eating feature one main common symptom: eating large amounts of food in one go. A significant thing to note is that symptoms of compulsive eating are often not as severe as symptoms of binge eating disorder. 

Symptoms of compulsive eating 

People who eat compulsively will only eat more than they need to eat from time to time. However, frequent episodes of this might be classified as a binge eating disorder. Symptoms of compulsive eating include: 

  • Eating very quickly 
  • Feeling self-disgust or guilt after eating a large quantity of food 
  • Eating large amounts of food even when you don’t feel hungry 
  • Eating until it becomes physically impossible to continue 
  • Hiding eating habits from friends and family because of feelings of embarrassment 
  • Rapid weight changes 
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal problems 
  • Hoarding food 

Symptoms of binge eating 

Unlike compulsive eating, binge eating is a mental health disorder. People with binge eating disorder experience frequent episodes of compulsive eating, also known as binge eating episodes.

For it to be classified as a binge eating disorder, a person should experience an episode of compulsive eating at least once a week for at least three months.

A lot of the symptoms of compulsive eating are similar to binge eating, the main difference being the frequency of binge eating episodes. 


At first glance, one might think that the causes of compulsive and binge eating are the same. Though similar, they have several differentiators that make them unique conditions.

For instance, compulsive eating may be brought on by factors such as stress or hormonal fluctuations.

Binge eating disorder is more likely to occur in people with a high risk of developing addiction disorders. 

Causes of compulsive eating 

Compulsive eating may result because of specific emotional triggers. Experts often suspect that it’s more of a developed behavioral habit. This means that its learned behavior is due to external factors.

For instance, observing your parents or a sibling eat compulsively could also make you eat compulsively. Psychological factors could also cause you to overeat, like stress eating. Some people eat compulsively because they are bored, distressed, or in a bad mood. 

Causes of binge eating 

As with many mental health conditions, it’s unclear what causes binge eating disorder. Scientists suspect a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.

Some research shows that people who have relatives with impulse control disorders are at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorders than others. Some research links the condition to depression, although it’s unclear if people develop depression due to the disorder or develop binge eating disorder as a result of being depressed.

In some scenarios, restrictive dieting may trigger binge eating disorder. 

Some people are at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder. The following categories of people have been identified as having an increased risk of developing binge eating disorder: 

  • People who are obese 
  • People living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes 
  • People living with childhood trauma 
  • People with relatives who have binge eating disorder


There are no specific tests for diagnosing compulsive eating or binge eating disorder. For a diagnosis to be made, your doctor will take a look at your medical and family history.

A physical examination and some routine lab tests might also be carried out. Your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and their frequency. 

Diagnosis of binge eating disorder

The DSM-5 provides specific criteria for diagnosing eating disorders. For binge eating disorder, they provide that the following conditions need to be met for a diagnosis: Eating a large amount of food in a short period and feeling out of control when bingeing on food.

The bingeing is also required to occur at least once a week for three months. Binge eating episodes are also required to meet at least three of the following criteria: 

  • Eating rapidly than usual 
  • Feeling disgusted or guilty after a binge eating episode 
  • Eating until physically uncomfortable 
  • Eating large amounts of food even when not physically hungry 
  • Eating in secret due to feelings of embarrassment 


Making a proper diagnosis of both conditions is essential to ensure a person living with either condition gets the appropriate treatment they need. 

Treatment for compulsive eating 

There’s no specific treatment for compulsive eating. In many scenarios, compulsive eating episodes are one-off scenarios and nothing to worry about.

If they are recurring, then you might have a binge eating disorder. If you’ve had an episode of compulsive eating or worry you might develop a binge eating disorder, it doesn’t hurt to speak to a mental healthcare professional.  

Treatment for binge eating 

A binge eating disorder can be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. As it’s a mental health condition, you will need to consult with a mental health professional. You might also be asked to make a couple of lifestyle changes.

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) for treating binge eating disorders. The medication works by decreasing the frequency of compulsive eating episodes in people with binge eating disorders.

If undiagnosed or untreated, binge eating disorder can lead to complications such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol. 


Preventing binge eating disorder can be tricky; however, preventing compulsive eating, which could lead to binge eating disorder, is possible. A couple of things that could help you avert compulsive eating include: 

  • Recognizing your eating habits: If you observe that you eat large amounts of food when sad, angry, or depressed, this might lead to compulsive eating. People often use food as a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions. Talk to a mental health professional instead. 
  • Avoid restrictive diet: Some people who have a restrictive diet might binge eat after coming off a diet. Healthy diets shouldn’t cause feelings of deprivation or hunger. 
  • Talk to someone: If you have confusing habits and behaviors around food, you should talk to a mental health expert about it. While it might not always indicate an eating disorder, it could be a precursor to one. 


Compulsive eating is a condition that causes you to keep eating even when you are full and have become physically uncomfortable. It can cause feelings of embarrassment and emotional distress.

Binge eating disorder features frequent episodes of compulsive eating. In some ways, compulsive eating is seen as the main feature of binge eating disorder. 

A Word From Verywell 

If you or someone you love is living with either condition, you should know that it’s nothing to feel ashamed about. Binge eating disorder is a condition that affects up to x amount of Americans every year.

Experiencing a compulsive eating episode periodically is typically nothing to worry about; however, you should contact your healthcare provider if it happens often. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are compulsive eating and binge eating the same thing?

Binge eating is a mental health disorder comprised of recurring episodes of compulsive eating. Compulsive eating, on the other hand, causes a person to overeat or eat even when they are not hungry. Although both conditions are similar in the sense that they make a person overeat, they are not the same. 

Is binge eating fatal? 

If left untreated, binge eating can lead to medical complications that could be fatal. Obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure have all been linked to binge eating disorders. 

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.