A Guide On How To Treat Binge Eating Disorder

Understanding binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is one of the most common eating disorders, affecting about 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men in the United States.¹ It is characterized by eating a very large amount of food in a short amount of time. The main difference between binge eating and other eating disorders is that binge eaters do not try to purge after they have eaten by vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise.

Over time, binge eating disorder may cause weight gain, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.¹

The good news is that binge eating disorder is a highly treatable condition. This article will cover how to treat binge eating disorder, including psychotherapy, medication, supplements, and self-help methods. We will also explain how to find the best treatments to best support your recovery.

Therapy for binge eating disorder

Eating disorders share a lot of similarities with mental health disorders, leading many researchers and healthcare professionals to put them in the same category. Because of this commonality, psychotherapy is considered one of the best forms of treatment for eating disorders.

Here are the main types of therapies used to treat binge eating disorder:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the more successful treatments for binge eating disorder and other types of eating disorders.¹

This treatment involves a series of therapy sessions of varying lengths depending on the individual’s needs. For example, you might meet for 60 minutes of therapy once a week for 16 weeks, or longer if necessary. Sessions can be one-on-one and/or group sessions. Both techniques have shown success.

The goal of CBT is to change the patient’s thinking patterns to treat their binge eating disorder. If binge eating is a result of negative thoughts, CBT focuses on changing these thoughts. This does not happen all at once, but it does happen over time, and for many people, it's how to manage their binge eating disorder on an ongoing basis.

Here are some negative thought patterns targeted through CBT:

  • Black and white thinking – This is when you're only able to see two possibilities. For example, if you didn't win, you must have failed. Through CBT, you can learn to see the successes between winning and failing.

  • Focusing on the negative – A person with binge eating disorder often sees only the bad. It can be difficult to see a bad situation and look for something positive in it, but CBT can help.

  • Catastrophizing – Where you see every hurdle or problem as bigger than it is. For example, being late for work might feel like you’re about to be fired, rather than just being late.

  • Overgeneralizing – This is when you have already decided how something will turn out, even if you don't have all the information you would need to assess the, for example, you might be reading this and thinking that CBT can't possibly work for you. 

Here's how CBT can treat or manage binge eating disorder:

  • Habits – Helping to change your eating habits to avoid common triggers, like feeling intense hunger.

  • Discover – You may not know what triggers are causing you to binge. CBT can help you to understand them.

  • Control – During a binge, you might feel a lack of control over your thoughts and behavior. CBT helps you to take back control.

CBT can be used alone or in combination with other treatment methods. In a study that compared CBT to receiving no treatment at all, 68% of people receiving CBT for 15 weeks stopped binging during treatment. Only 18% of those who received no treatment stopped binging during the same period.¹

Interpersonal therapy (ITP)

In some cases, the main trigger for binge eating could be a relationship. It could be with anyone, including a friend, family member, or partner.

If you struggle to process negative emotions you are interacting with this person, interpersonal therapy can help. By managing these stressful situations, you might find it easier to deal with your emotions, which can reduce the likelihood of bingeing.¹

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can be helpful if you need to learn skills to better tolerate stressful situations. if you struggle with controlling your emotions, DBT can assist you in managing binge eating disorder through techniques including:

  • Developing a more stable sense of self

  • Impulse control

  • Controlling emotions

  • Seeing the connections and consequences of your actions

  • Accepting change

Medication for binge eating disorder

Medication can also help to treat and manage binge eating. This is often the case when there is an imbalance in the brain or the body is unable to send the correct signals.

Prescription medication

  • Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) – This ADHD medicine is a common treatment that was approved by the FDA to treat moderate or severe binge eating disorder.²

  • Topamax (Topiramate) – Used to treat seizures, but it has also been found to reduce episodes of binge eating. However, it comes with some uncomfortable side effects that you will need to discuss with your doctor.²

  • Antidepressants (SSRIs) – These may be necessary if binge eating is related to chemical imbalances and depression.³

Supplements

If you are wondering how to treat binge eating disorder with supplements, you should first talk to your doctor. Some supplements might be helpful, while others can interfere with certain medications.

Some of the supplements you could ask your doctor about include:

  • Multivitamin – It is suggested that some cravings can signal a vitamin deficiency, so taking a multivitamin might help to balance your nutritional needs.⁴

  • L-Tryptophan – This supplement may boost serotonin levels, which can help with anxiety. However, depending on where you live, this may require a prescription.⁵

  • 5HTP – This supplement can also increase serotonin, which might help with depression and anxiety. However, it can also interfere with prescription antidepressants.⁶

  • St John's wort – For mild cases of depression, St John's wort may help. Be careful, however, as most brands don't pass DNA testing so you should be cautious of which one you buy.⁷

Self-help treatments for binge eating disorder

Even though binge eating disorder can sometimes cause a sense of helplessness, self-help treatments may help you feel more in control.

Try not to focus on calories

For many individuals with binge eating disorder, reducing calories can backfire by causing the brain to overcompensate by increasing your hunger and making you binge later. Instead of focusing on calories, focus on the types of foods you eat. Load your plate with high-fiber foods that increase satiety.

Eat healthy fats

Your body and your brain need healthy fats to function properly. Healthy fats also help you to feel fuller for longer. Try eating avocados, fatty fish, olives, nuts, and seeds to nourish your body with the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats it needs.

Distract yourself by doing the things you like

Cravings and the impulse to eat are often short-lived. To distract yourself until they pass, try going for a walk, doing some yoga, calling a friend, or reading a book.

Join a support group

You can find self-help groups in-person and online for binge eating which can support you along with difficult bumps in the road on your journey to recovery.

Behavioral weight loss (BWL) to treat binge eating disorder

It’s important to note that the thought of losing weight often triggers many people with eating disorders. Therefore, behavioral weight loss (BWL) therapy is often recommended to help you manage the compulsion to binge.

BWL therapy is guided by a trained weight-loss specialist. This could be a nutritionist, nurse, doctor, or health professional at a weight-loss clinic. The idea is to develop a healthy relationship with food and make small changes that can become lifelong habits. This type of therapy might look a little different for every patient, but it is usually done in combination with other treatments.

Accessing treatment for binge eating disorder

If you are not sure where to start looking for help, you can try The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) which has an online directory of specialists.⁸

You can also make an appointment with your primary care physician. Your doctor can help you find help that is right for your symptoms, covered by your health insurance, and is located near you.

The lowdown

Understanding how to treat binge eating disorder can be the first step to developing a healthy relationship with food. As no two people are the same, treatment plans are highly individualized to promote physical and psychological recovery. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered one of the best treatments for long-lasting results, but there are also many other treatments to help you recover.

Binge eating disorder is highly treatable and seeking treatment early can lower the risk of developing long-term damage or chronic diseases related to weight. Where needed, treatment can also help people with binge eating disorder lose weight in a healthy and lasting way.


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