“Hunger, Emotions and Binge Eating Disorder” 

by Paula Edwards-Gayfield, LPCS, CEDS

For individuals with a diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder (BED), their feelings of hunger may spiral into a binge in which eating becomes out of control. The thoughts that occur before, during or after a binge can be overwhelming and emotional.

Emotional hunger is often confused with physical hunger and is even more difficult to satisfy, often resulting in emotional eating. Emotional eating is the practice of consuming food, usually “comfort” foods, in response to emotional needs rather than physical hunger. Emotional eating can be triggered when someone is both truly hungry and is also having difficulty managing emotions. Approximately 75% of overeating occurs in response to our emotions.

Although BED is not the same as emotional eating, the individual’s experience of “hunger” may be similar. While not as well-known as Anorexia or Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder is the most prevalent of the eating disorders and is characterized by the following:
• engaging in recurrent episodes of binge eating
• consuming large amounts of food even when not hungry
• eating until uncomfortably full
• experiencing a lack of control over eating, as though you cannot stop

Individuals are often embarrassed or ashamed of their eating behavior and will binge in secret or hide evidence of the binge. Overwhelming feelings of shame often result in a binge cycle; the individual may experience temporary relief while binging, then feel badly again (both physically and emotionally), and then binge.

At Renfrew, our clinicians and researchers know that BED may originate from psychological, physiological, socio-cultural, and/or environmental factors. An individual diagnosed with binge eating disorder may experience depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. Often, they will have difficulty expressing or tolerating overwhelming emotions/or managing impulsive behaviors and, more often than not, they tend to be critical in their judgements of others and their behaviors.

While long-term recovery is absolutely possible, it rarely is achieved without professional help. Identifying an eating disorder expert is key. The clinician will assist individuals diagnosed with binge eating disorder understand what the cycle of their behaviors represents. Increased recognition of situations and feelings that trigger and maintain binge behaviors helps create opportunities for new, adaptive behaviors. Counseling focusing on increasing emotional awareness and helping individuals tolerate all emotions, positive and negative, sets the stage for positive change.

Contributor: Paula Edwards-Gayfield, LPCS, CEDS, is the Regional Assistant Vice President at The Renfrew Center, overseeing clinical and administrative operations at the Atlanta, GA; Orlando, FL; Ridgewood, NJ and West Palm Beach, FL locations. A Licensed Professional Counselor in Oklahoma and LPC Supervisor in North Carolina, she received her Master’s degree in Counseling from the UNC at Charlotte. Ms. Edwards-Gayfield has extensive experience working with adolescents, adults and families, with special interest in the treatment of eating disorders, women’s issues, relationship concern, mood and anxiety disorders, and life adjustments. A National Certified Counselor, she is a member of the American Counseling Association, the Oklahoma Counseling Association, Oklahoma Eating Disorder Association, and certified with the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp). Ms. Edwards-Gayfield is a frequent presenter at local and national conferences, primarily discussing eating disorders and diversity.


AAEDP Speaks is a collective committee effort of iaedp™’s African American Eating Disorders Professionals (AAEDP) under the leadership of Co-Chairs Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS and Paula Edwards-Gayfield MA, LPCS, CEDS, NCC. In keeping with the mission and efforts of iaedp’s African American Eating Disorders Professionals Committee, we are proud to provide a collective of voices sharing our unique, complex societal and cumulative challenges impacting eating behavior and African-Americans including racism, sexism and classism which often combine, overlap and/or intersect.       

To receive a copy of our AAEDP Membership Directory or for more information about joining or collaborating, contact our Staff Liaison, Blanche A. Williams, blanche@iaedp.com. 


*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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