Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. People with BED have unusually large quantities of food in a short period of time and feel a loss of control over these eating episodes. It can be devastating to physical and emotional well-being. If you think you have BED, it’s important to seek treatment to reduce the binge eating. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of treatment that may help.

What Is CBT?

Broadly speaking, CBT is a type of therapy that examines the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You can expect to explore, challenge, and rework self-destructive patterns to encourage more positive thoughts. CBT is a recommended treatment for BED.

CBT has been found to be an effective treatment for some people suffering from depression. Not only does it seem to be as effective as antidepressants, but it may even be better than antidepressants at preventing relapse.

CBT has been found to help several types of mental illnesses, including:

  • mood disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse disorders
  • sleep disorders
  • psychotic disorders
  • personality disorders

What to Expect

If you are undergoing CBT, you will work on establishing normal patterns of eating. Your therapist will help you to eat well-portioned meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day and on a consistent basis. You and your therapist will also work to reduce forms of restrictive eating, such as insufficient portions, and incorporate previously feared foods. A secondary goal of treatment is to work on thoughts about weight and your shape, or your body image.

A CBT session may occur on an outpatient or inpatient basis. There are three phases involved in the treatment: the behavioral phase, the cognitive phase, and the maintenance and relapse prevention phase.

In the behavioral phase, you will work actively with your therapist to come up with a plan to stabilize your eating habits. You therapist will also introduce emotional coping strategies. You will likely be assigned homework.

During the cognitive phase, you will identify thoughts about body image perceptions and ways to cope with them. You will also tackle more extensive emotional concerns involving relationship issues and self-esteem.

The final phase of CBT is the maintenance and relapse prevention phase. During this phase, you will work on reducing triggers, preventing relapse, and maintaining your progress. The end goal is to provide the necessary tools for you to return to a healthy and satisfying life.

Effectiveness of CBT

CBT is an effective treatment for BED. One study concluded that CBT reduces binge eating in bariatric surgery candidates.

CBT was also found to be a more effective treatment than behavioral weight loss treatment (BWL) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) during the post-treatment period, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Over a two-year period, people undergoing CBT stopped binge eating for a longer period of time than those who received BWL. Because of this, the researchers concluded that CBT should be used as a first-line treatment for people with BED.

A study on predictors for long-term success of short-term CBT for the treatment of BED found that BED symptoms greatly improved with CBT. These same participants remained stable or improved during the four-year follow up period.

Other Treatment Options

Other treatment options may help BED. These include:

  • interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), which focuses on relationships and how you relate to other people
  • dialectical behavioral therapy, which helps you better tolerate stress, manage emotions, and improve relationships
  • topiramate (Topamax), an anticonvulsant medication
  • antidepressants
  • behavioral weight loss programs

Seeking Help

If your binge eating is impacting your quality of life, self-esteem, and physical health, it’s time to seek help. The National Eating Disorder Association offers a toll-free, confidential hotline (1-800-931-2237). You can call the hotline and discuss your situation. They will provide resources such as:

  • treatment providers
  • support groups
  • toolkits
  • research study information

Your primary care physician is also a great resource for assistance. Most insurance companies have a behavior health line to help you find an appropriate therapist.

With the proper support and the desire to work hard to address why you binge eat, you can heal from BED and lead a fulfilling, healthy, and productive life.


CBT is the most researched treatment for binge eating disorder. It is widely known to be an effective treatment in the reduction of binge eating. It doesn’t work for everyone, though. If you have tried CBT unsuccessfully, you may want to speak with your doctor about other treatment options.