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What Treatment Options Are Available for Binge Eating Disorder?

Understanding binge eating disorder

Key points

  1. Wellness is the overall goal of treatment for binge eating disorder (BED).
  2. Inpatient or outpatient program-based treatment plans are most common.
  3. It’s possible to overcome BED with proper treatment.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It’s characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time. You may binge eat even if you aren’t hungry. While eating, it’s common to feel out of control, eat faster than normal, and continue until you’re uncomfortably full.

To classify as BED, these episodes must occur at least once a week over a period of three or more months.

How common is binge eating disorder?
BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting up to 5 percent of the general population. More specifically, it affects 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men. Over 1.5 percent of adolescents are affected.

This disorder isn’t associated with purging or other restrictions, though some people with BED may go on a fast or severe diet. Recurrent bingeing can put you at risk for obesity and its effects, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, BED has a strong psychological component. You may develop unusual eating behaviors, such as ritualistic eating practices or eating in secret. Although some may experience anger, anxiety, or shame around these practices, others may not.

What treatment programs are available?

Wellness is the overall goal of treatment for binge eating disorder. This involves reducing or stopping bingeing episodes, achieving a healthy weight, and correcting any thoughts, behaviors, feelings, or situations that can trigger a binge. Although program-based treatment plans are most common, wellness can be achieved through a number of ways.

Residential or inpatient programs

Residential treatment is often recommended if you’ve previously tried at least two different treatment methods, such as outpatient counseling or group therapy, with little success. This approach focuses on treating the mind, body, and soul for overall wellness.

You may stay at a hospital or treatment center for one to three months and receive holistic care. Your treatment plan may include individual and group counseling, nutrition therapy, and a creative outlet such as art therapy.

Your doctor will evaluate your condition and your needs before recommending an inpatient program. Inpatient treatment is intensive and often lasts less than 21 days. Care is provided around-the-clock with physical stabilization in mind. Once you’re considered stable in your condition, you’ll likely be discharged to a resident treatment center for continued care.

Outpatient programs

Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to treat BED on an outpatient basis. Your treatment team may include a therapist, nutritionist, and a doctor. If necessary, a psychiatrist or cardiologist may also be added to the team.

This treatment program typically includes appointments once or twice per week with your therapist and doctor. You may have to check in more often with your doctor so that they can monitor any changes to your health. Outpatient treatment may last for a few months to several years, depending on your needs.

If more intensive treatment is necessary, you may attend two or more meetings each week. Instead of having multiple appointments, all of your needs will be taken care of at one facility during these meetings. This typically includes individual and group counseling, as well as nutritional therapy.

What therapies are available?

Although inpatient and outpatient treatment programs often include some form of counseling, therapy is also available outside of a program environment.

After meeting with your doctor to discuss your symptoms, they may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you work through your feelings and behaviors.

You may benefit from one of the following forms of therapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you explore patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive behavior. It aims to help you pinpoint any stressors that trigger binge-eating behaviors and help you come up with a plan to control them.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of CBT. It emphasizes accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and transforming them into something positive. It also teaches coping skills to help you fight the effects of these negative symptoms.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Although IPT was originally developed to help treat depression, it’s now used to help treat eating disorders that involve bingeing. IPT is used to resolve problems in your personal relationships that may relate to your eating disorder. The goal is to help you better identify and express your emotions, as well as understand how your past experiences have shaped your current circumstance.

What other treatment options are available?

Other treatment options include:


It’s thought that normalizing serotonin levels in the brain may decrease bingeing behaviors. Your doctor will evaluate your general health before selecting a medication that best suits your needs.

Some antidepressants may help with BED symptoms, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) to treat BED. It was originally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Your doctor may also consider the anti-seizure medication topiramate (Topamax) to help with symptoms of BED.

Complementary therapies

You may benefit from certain complementary therapies while working to stay healthy and alter your behavior. Massage and acupuncture can help ease tension, anxiety, and any symptoms of depression.

You can also try mind-body therapies like yoga, tai chi, and meditation. These disciplines may help improve your sense of well-being and connection to your body.

Support groups

These groups typically meet in person once per week to provide peer support. You may share your personal triumphs and struggles, inviting feedback or suggestions from the group. This social network is built on empathy and trust, as each person in the group is affected by BED in some way.

Learn more: Is medication an effective treatment for binge eating disorder? »

Strategies for overcoming binge eating disorder

Reducing or eliminating unhealthy eating habits can be difficult. Instead of eating based on mental or emotional needs, it’s important that you begin eating only to meet your nutritional needs. Balanced meal plans using healthy food choices can help you establish a positive relationship with food.

Here are some things you can do on your own to eliminate binge eating:

  • Find an activity. Eating when you’re bored is never a good idea. Take up a new hobby, pick up a book, or go for a walk.
  • Manage stress. Instead of stress eating, try meditating or doing breathing exercises to better handle stress.
  • Limit temptation. If you’re prone to bingeing on sweets or other unhealthy foods, try removing these from your kitchen. It can be easier to resist the urge if the option isn’t available to you.
  • Let cravings pass. Listening to your stomach can help you distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. If your stomach isn’t rumbling or if you’ve eaten recently, allow the craving to subside.
  • Get a full night’s rest. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may turn to food to boost your energy.

Although there are things you can do on your own to stop binge eating, it’s important that you seek professional support. Treating BED is about more than just eliminating your unhealthy eating habits.

An effective treatment program will also address the root of the problem, or what triggers your binge eating. Working through any mental, emotional, or psychological triggers can help reduce the possibility of these unhealthy habits returning.


If you’ve developed unhealthy eating behaviors, talk to your doctor. They can work with you to determine whether your behaviors are related to BED or other eating disorder. If a diagnosis is made, they can also work with you to develop a treatment plan that best suits your needs.

It may take a while to settle into the right combination of treatments. It’s important that you stick with your treatment plan and attend all appointments. With proper treatment, it’s possible to overcome BED.

Keep reading: Are binge eating disorder and depression related? »

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