While there are many things you can do to help yourself stop binge eating, it’s also important to seek professional support and treatment. Health professionals who offer treatment for binge eating disorder include psychiatrists, nutritionists, therapists, and eating disorder and obesity specialists.
An effective treatment program for binge eating disorder should address more than just your symptoms and destructive eating habits. It should also address the root causes of the problem—the emotional triggers that lead to binge eating and your difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and other uncomfortable emotions.
If obesity is endangering your health, weight loss may also be an important goal. However, dieting can contribute to binge eating, so any weight loss efforts should be carefully monitored by a professional.
Therapy for binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder can be successfully treated in therapy. Therapy can teach you how to fight the compulsion to binge, exchange unhealthy habits for newer healthy ones, monitor your eating and moods, and develop effective stress-busting skills.
Three types of therapy are particularly helpful in the treatment of binge eating disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on the dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors involved in binge eating. One of the main goals is for you to become more self-aware of how you use food to deal with emotions. The therapist will help you recognize your binge eating triggers and learn how to avoid or combat them.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for binge eating disorder also involves education about nutrition, healthy weight loss, and relaxation techniques.Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the treatment of choice for people with binge eating disorder. With the support of decades’ worth of research, CBT is a time-limited and focused approach that helps a person understand how their thinking and negative self-talk and self-image can directly impact their eating and negative behaviors.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy will often focus on identifying and altering dysfunctional thought patterns, attitudes and beliefs, which may trigger and perpetuate the person’s pattern of harmful eating behaviors.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy used in the treatment of binge eating disorder focuses on the traditional foundations of CBT therapy — helping a person understand, identify and change their irrational thoughts (the “cognitive” part), and helping a person make the changes real through specific behavioral interventions (such as promoting health eating behaviors through goal setting, rewards, etc.).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is time-limited, meaning that a person with binge eating disorder will go into treatment for a specific period of time with specific goals in mind. Like all psychotherapy, it can be conducted in either an outpatient (once weekly) or inpatient setting. If done in an inpatient setting, eating disorders are often treated at residential treatment facilities (see below), since eating is such an integral and necessary part of our lives.
CBT for binge eating disorder will focus on helping the person with binge eating disorder break their pattern of unhealthy eating. CBT will help the individual with binge eating disorder monitor their eating habits and avoid situations that make them want to binge. The treatment will also help them cope with stress in ways that don’t involve food and to eat regularly in order to help to reduce food cravings.
Cognitive behavioral therapy will also help the person with binge eating disorder better understand their dysfunctional and broken beliefs about their own self-image, weight, body shape and dieting. This is done through traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques such as challenging black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking, and the other irrational beliefs commonly held by people with binge eating disorder. CBT also helps a person to better understand the connection between their emotional state and eating — especially eating or turning to food when feeling bad.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on the relationship problems and interpersonal issues that contribute to compulsive eating. Your therapist will help you improve your communication skills and develop healthier relationships with family members and friends. As you learn how to relate better to others and get the emotional support you need, the compulsion to binge becomes more infrequent and easier to resist.Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for binge eating disorder and has the greatest research support.
Psychotherapy can involve a significant time and financial commitment, particularly if you are struggling with other issues (sexual abuse, depression, substance use, or relationship problems).Psychotherapy can be very helpful in addressing not only your disordered eating, but also your overall emotional health and happiness.The focus of psychotherapy treatment will be to address the underlying emotional and cognitive issues that result in the disordered eating.
People with binge eating disorder often “binge” — that is, they consume a large amount of food in a very short time. Unlike bulimia, however, they do not then induce vomiting of the food they’ve just eaten. People with binge eating disorder engage in this behavior to help fight off negative emotions, as a coping skill, or to help combat depression.
- Family Therapy is another form of psychotherapy is known as family therapy. Family therapy helps a person with binge eating disorder see and understand the often-times dysfunctional role they play within the family, and how their eating behaviors maintain that role.
Family therapy is usually conducted with the person who has binge eating disorder and their family. However, in some instances, a few family therapy sessions may involve therapy without the person who has binge eating disorder present. This may help the family understand the roles they are playing in supporting the disordered eating, and suggest ways the family can help the person with binge eating disorder acknowledge the problem and seek out treatment.
- Dialectical behavior therapy combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness meditation. The emphasis of therapy is on teaching binge eaters how to accept themselves, tolerate stress better, and regulate their emotions. Your therapist will also address unhealthy attitudes you may have about eating, shape, and weight. Dialectical behavior therapy typically includes both individual treatment sessions and weekly group therapy sessions.
Medications for binge eating disorder
Medication is not a cure for binge eating disorder. A number of medications may be useful in helping to treat binge eating disorder symptoms as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy, group support, and proven self-help techniques.
While many medications may be prescribed for symptoms related to binge eating disorder, only Fluoxetine (brand name: Prozac) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of binge eating disorder nervosa. This medication has been found to decrease the number of episodes of binging, as well the desire to vomit, in people with moderate to severe binge eating disorder.
As of now, medications such as Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil) — which are approved for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder — may help the person with binge eating disorder have less depressed feelings, as well as be less obsessed with food and their weight.
At appropriate doses (similar to those used for OCD treatment), antidepressants have been found to decrease the strength of urges to binge for some individuals. Individuals with a positive response to these medications have reported a lessening of their carbohydrate cravings, which appears to help prevent binging.
Helping someone with binge eating disorder
Warning signs that a loved one is bingeing include finding piles of empty food packages and wrappers, cupboards and refrigerators that have been cleaned out, and hidden stashes of high-calorie or junk food. If you suspect that your friend or family member has binge eating disorder, talk to the person about your concerns. It may seem daunting to start such a delicate conversation, and your loved one may deny bingeing or become angry and defensive, but there’s a chance that he or she will welcome the opportunity to talk about their painful struggle.
If the person shuts you out at first, don’t give up; it may take some time before your loved one is willing to admit to having a problem. And remember: as difficult as it is to know that someone you love may be have an eating disorder, you can’t force someone to change. The decision to seek recovery has to come from them. You can help by offering your compassion, encouragement, and support throughout the treatment process.
If your loved one has binge eating disorder
- Encourage him or her to seek help. The longer an eating disorder remains undiagnosed and untreated, the more difficult it will be to overcome, so urge your loved one to see a health professional.
- Be supportive. Try to listen without judgment and make sure the person knows you care. If your loved one slips up on the road to recovery, remind them that it doesn’t mean they can’t quit binge eating for good.
- Avoid insults, lectures, or guilt trips. Binge eaters feel bad enough about themselves and their behavior already. Lecturing, getting upset, or issuing ultimatums to a binge eater will only increase stress and make the situation worse. Instead, make it clear that you care about the person’s health and happiness and you’ll continue to be there for him or her.
- Set a good example by eating healthily, exercising, and managing stress without food.
- Take care of yourself. Know when to seek advice for yourself from a counselor or health professional. Dealing with an eating disorder can be stressful, and it will help if you have your own support system in place.
Support for binge eating disorder
Breaking the old pattern of binge eating is hard, and you may slip from time to time. This is where the support of others can really come in handy. Family, friends, and therapists can all be part of your support team. You may also find that joining a group for binge eaters is helpful. Sharing your experience with other compulsive eaters can go a long way towards reducing the stigma and loneliness you may feel.
There are many group options, including self-help support groups and more formal therapy groups.
- Group therapy – Group therapy sessions are led by a trained psychotherapist, and may cover everything from healthy eating to coping with the urge to binge.
- Support groups – Support groups for binge eating are led by trained volunteers or health professionals. Group members give and receive advice and support each other.
Self-Help for Binge Eating Disorder
There are a variety of self-help methods available for eating disorders, including binge eating disorder. Self-help support groups are a great way of getting emotional support while trying to make changes in one’s life to support a healthier self-image and eating behaviors. Self-help books on binge eating disorder can be a great place to start to gain some insights and tips on changing one’s self-image and disordered eating.
Since many people with binge eating disorder use food as a coping skill for dealing with negative emotions, finding other, healthier coping skills may be a good place to start.
Our positive self-image and eating issues blog Weightless is a great place to find more tips on improving your coping skills and self-image. However, you can also start with these tips about how to improve your body image from the Something Fishy website:
- Wear clothes you feel comfortable in – Dress to express yourself, not to impress others. You should feel good in what you wear.
- Stay away from the scale – If your weight needs to be monitored, leave that up to the doctors. How much you weigh should never affect your self-esteem.
- Stay away from fashion magazines – Unless you can look through these magazines knowing they are purely fantasy, it’s just better to stay away from them.
- Do nice things for your body – Get a massage, a manicure, or a facial. Pamper yourself with a candlelight bath, scented lotion, or a new perfume.
- Stay active – Movement therapy helps improve your sense of wellbeing. Take up Yoga or Tai’ Chi, play volleyball with the kids, or bike ride with friends. Make angels in the snow or sandcastles at the beach. Be active and enjoy life!
Residential Treatment Facilities for Binge Eating Disorder
One place where all of the above treatment options are available is called a residential treatment center. Such treatment centers are located throughout the United States and in many other countries as well, and focus on the treatment of all the different types of eating disorders (including binge eating disorder). Such facilities usually include a wide range of specialists — psychologists, medical doctors, nutritionists, meditation and relaxation professionals, and fitness experts. They help a person learn all of the skills necessary (through the cognitive-behavioral techniques outlined above), and put them into daily practice in a safe, relaxed setting.
Often these kinds of treatments may be paid for by an individual’s private health insurance, for up to a certain period of time (often 30 days). Check with your health insurance provide to see if such coverage is available for you.