Binge Eating Disorder Treatment: Is It Time To Get Help?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/14/2020

People often look at bingeing in a casual, even humorous way. Sitcoms show people gobbling up ice cream after a breakup, a scene complete with jokes to match. Many people enjoy binge-watching an old series on TV. But if you have binge eating disorder, it’s no laughing matter. BED can cause severe emotional and physical problems, and it doesn’t go away easily. Here’s how to know if you need help and what kinds of treatment are available.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder, or BED, is a mental health condition characterized by episodes of binge eating. You eat large quantities of food, usually very quickly, and feel shame and remorse afterward. It’s the most common of all the eating disorders, at least in the U.S., but its consequences can be deadly. It can lead to weight gain, obesity, and all the medical problems that go with that.

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Binge Eating Disorders Diagnosis

The symptoms of binge eating disorder are more complex than simply overeating. Diagnosing BED requires assessing the binge eating episodes, what happens during and after them, and other factors related to the overall condition and when it happens.

What Is A Binge Eating Episode?

An episode of binge eating can be easy to notice once you understand what to look for. Two essential factors define a binge eating episode.

First, it happens within a specific, relatively brief time, such as within 2 hours. During this period, you eat much more than most people typically eat in the same amount of time and the same situation.

Second, you feel out of control during the episode. You feel like you just can’t stop eating or that you can’t control how much you eat.

What Happens During And After The Binge?

When mental health professionals diagnose binge eating, they look for certain factors associated with bingeing. You might have BED if any three or more of the following statements about what happens during and after the binge episode apply to you.

  • You eat much faster than usual.
  • You eat until you’re so full, you’re uncomfortable.
  • You eat a lot when you don’t feel hungry.
  • Your embarrassment about overeating causes you to eat alone often.
  • Afterward, you feel guilty, disgusted, or depressed.

Other Diagnostic Criteria Of BED

When you have BED eating disorder, you feel extremely distressed during binges. Your binge eating episodes continue for at least three months, at a rate of at least one episode per week. You don’t try to compensate for your overeating by purging as you would if you had bulimia. And, your binge eating doesn’t happen when you’re experiencing bulimia or anorexia. After considering all the above factors, your psychiatrist or psychologist will diagnose BED if you meet all the criteria.

Depression And Eating Disorders

For many people with eating disorders, depression is a part of the problem. You may start bingeing because you feel sad or upset or bad about yourself. After you overeat, your dissatisfaction with yourself grows. You might criticize yourself for your bingeing behavior. You might feel like a failure or experience extreme guilt about eating so much.

Yet, it isn’t easy to tell whether the eating disorder caused depression or vice versa. It might be that the binge eating started because you were already depressed. Many people who once had depression develop BED later in life. Why does this happen? It’s hard to say.

There seems to be a genetic link between risk for both eating disorders and depression. The same genes may affect your chances of having either or both. Also, the same brain chemicals that increase depression can play a part in binge eating episodes.

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Both conditions bring emotional turmoil. Either one can cause your self-esteem to plummet. In fact, statistics show that 22.9% of people with a history of BED attempted suicide at some point in their life. And because these two conditions happen together so often, treatment for binge eating disorder usually includes some treatment components for depression.

Body Image And Eating Disorders

Body image is the way you see and feel about your body. Suppose you look in the mirror and feel comfortable with your shape, size, and other body features. In that case, you have a positive body image. People with a positive body image see their body as it is and accept it as such, and they realize that their appearance is only one small part of who they are.

But if you have an eating disorder, you likely have a negative body image. If so, you’re dissatisfied with your appearance. You might call yourself fat, disgusting, or other derogatory names. Then, feeling bad about what you look like leads to more of the behaviors associated with your eating disorder, leading to a cycle of increasing distress and physical deterioration.

And the truth is that not everyone with BED is overweight. The condition can happen to anyone, even people of a healthy weight. But if you have BED but aren’t overweight, you might still have body image problems. You might have a distorted body image. In other words, you look in the mirror and see an exaggerated image of yourself. To yourself, you may look fat and out of shape, but others don’t see you that way. So, BED therapy will almost always address body image issues.

Taking A Binge Eating Disorder Quiz

Sometimes it’s hard to look at a list of symptoms and come to a realistic conclusion about whether they apply to you. It’s too easy to overthink it or be too hard on yourself. So, how do you know if you might have binge eating disorder? A mental health professional can assess your condition and make a diagnosis. But how do you know if you need to seek their help?

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One way to begin is to take a quick binge eating disorder quiz. It’s a simple screening test that gives you an instant, objective answer to whether you have significant BED symptoms. The test asks a few straightforward questions, and you just click on the responses that describe your behaviors and feelings. Then, you can take the report with you if you decide to seek help.

Treatment For Binge Eating Disorder

Treatment for binge eating disorder is similar to treatments for many mental illnesses. Some of the same psychological techniques and therapies are used. However, BED treatment is specifically designed to help people with this disorder.

Types Of Treatment That Might Help

Treatments for binge eating disorder include several types of psychotherapy. Some of them are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – a psychological technique used in BED treatment to assess the thoughts behind feelings and behaviors associated with binge eating. Once you identify and evaluate your thoughts, you can choose different beliefs if they’re more helpful and change your behavior.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)  – Therapy usually lasts about 12-16 weeks and consists of three phases. In an initial stage, the therapist identifies and assesses the disorder and interpersonal factors. In the second phase, the therapist uses psychological strategies to help you deal with the first phase’s problem areas. In the third and final stage of IPT, the therapist prepares you to manage your BED confidently on your own.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – DBT consists of two parts. First, there’s the individual counseling and group skills training. In the group sessions, you learn coping skills to deal with the feelings behind your binge eating. In individual therapy, you deal with your emotions and thoughts. You learn to accept yourself and change the behaviors that are causing you distress.

Medications are sometimes also used to treat BED. Antidepressants can be helpful, especially for people who have depression symptoms along with their binge eating symptoms. Another drug that’s commonly used for binge eating disorder is an anticonvulsant medication called Topamax. Although this med was designed as a seizure medication, it can help with other conditions, including BED.

Who To See For BED Eating Disorder Treatment

When you’re ready to get help, it’s a good idea to talk to someone specializing in BED and related mental health problems. An eating disorder therapist can work with you to help you deal with and overcome your bingeing behaviors. At the same time, they can help you manage symptoms of other mental disorders that sometimes go with BED, such as depression or anxiety.

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You may wonder, “Where can I find an eating disorder therapist near me?” Depending on your area, there may be a therapist with that specialty very close to you. However, if there isn’t, you can choose an eating disorder therapist working through an online counseling platform. This allows you to have specialized treatment wherever you are.

Conclusion

Binge eating disorder can turn your life upside down. Suppose your binge eating is causing you severe distress, depression, or medical issues. In that case, it’s a good idea to seek help for the condition. With the right combination of psychological approaches and possibly medications, you can gain control over your eating and learn to accept yourself for the beautiful person you are.