Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

Overeating: Can you binge on healthy foods?

February 5, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Overeating can affect your health negatively, even with “healthy” foods
  • Some foods marketed as healthy alternatives to sugar or fat may not be all they seem
  • If binges continue, then underlying causes have not been addressed
  • For some, a focus on “clean” eating may lead to orthorexia

People with binge eating disorder try different ways to quit binging, but it can be disheartening when these plans do not work. In these situations, some may think, “Since I cannot stop completely, maybe it’s better if I binge on ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ foods instead.”

For example, instead of candy, you may choose to have dark chocolate instead. You may try to lower your soda intake by drinking more fruit juices or smoothies. This may sound reasonable, but is this effective?

The answer is not so simple. Let's take a look.

Overeating = calories surplus = not healthy

According to the dictionary, a binge is a period of excessive indulgence in eating, drinking, taking drugs, or other substances. An excess of any food means your calorie intake is over the limit, which can lead to weight gain and potentially insulin resistance.

Dt. Rita Faycurry, an experienced Registered Dietitian explains, “If you’re adding whole vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lentils, and lean meats to your diet, congratulations. If you eat a banana instead of a bag of Oreos or swap sugary cereals for whole-grain toast—these are great steps toward getting the nutrition you need. However, there may be a health risk if you eat too many bananas or an entire bag of bread in one sitting.”

Indeed, research shows that binge eating is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and more.

“Healthy” is subjective

There is a lot of misinformation about food, and the multi-billion dollar advertising industry is partially responsible. For example, sugar-free foods are sold as healthy alternatives to food with sugar. However, the truth is more complex because:

We need sugar

Sugar is not the enemy; our bodies need it. All the carbohydrates we eat are converted to sugar (glucose) for energy and help sustain cell function.

The real issue is the amount of added sugars in many highly-processed foods putting us at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other issues. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), almost half of the added sugars in an American diet come from sugary drinks, which can harm our health.

Even foods without added sugars may cause harm if consumed in large quantities like fruit juice. In fact, a study showed that drinking one serving of fruit juice a day was linked to a 21% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It may be better to eat a whole apple instead.

Sugar-free and fat-free foods are not always better

Dt. Faycurry says, “There are no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ foods. It is important to eat a wide range. The key is to be aware of their nutritional value and how much (or how often) works best for your needs.”

Diet Coke may be less harmful than regular Coke, but it has no nutritional value. Studies show that even moderate intake of diet sodas is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, and more issues. In May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against using artificial sweeteners to control weight or reduce the risk of chronic conditions.

Similarly, substituting all fats in your diet with fat-free fare is not ideal. For instance, fat-free potato chips are not nutritious; an avocado (that has fat) is more dense with nutrients. However, overeating avocados can also be problematic.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) notes that eating too much fat is linked to weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.

If you are tired of fighting the urge and effects of binge eating, know that with the right support, recovery is possible. Consider using Fay to reach out to a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance.

If you’re still overeating, the root cause of binge eating remains unaddressed

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), binge eating disorder involves:

  • Eating more than the usual amount of food in a specific window of time, and
  • Experiencing a lack of control over eating during this period.

Dt. Faycurry elaborates, “Binging or overeating has many underlying causes, including hormonal and psychological factors. Binge eating can be a coping mechanism against trauma or grief, and is linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and even PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). If the real reasons why you binge are not addressed, it may be difficult to break free from binge eating, even with dietary substitutions.”

There is a risk of developing orthorexia

According to NEDA, self-oriented perfectionism is the strongest risk for an eating disorder. This means you tend to set unrealistically high expectations for yourself. For these types of perfectionists, trying to direct binges towards ‘healthier’ options, may trigger more disordered eating, like orthorexia.

Orthorexia Nervosa is the fixation with eating “healthy” or “clean” foods. Here, the main concern is not the type of food being consumed, but the obsession with it.

Dt. Faycurry says, “Compulsive thoughts, guilt, shame, and stress around what you eat—even nutrition-dense foods—may lead to binges. Too many rigid rules around eating can make it impossible to stay on track. Breaking one of them, even slightly, may lead to a ‘Last Supper’ mentality where you tell yourself that you might as well eat all you want because you are going to stop tomorrow.”

It may sound counterintuitive, but breaking the binge-restrictive cycle involves thinking less about food and building mindful eating habits.

If you are trying to quit binge eating, you do not have to do it alone. Fay can help you find registered dietitian nutritionists near you, covered by your insurance.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.