Binge Eating Disorder

How to stop binge eating? | Binge eating disorder treatment

June 28, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Contents

Key Points

  • Binge eating disorder occurs when a person habitually overeats while feeling a loss of control over their eating habits.
  • Recovery from binge eating disorder is possible with the right treatment and support.
  • Binge eating disorder treatment consists of psychotherapy, nutrition and diet therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Tired of battling the urge to binge and having food cravings control your life? You're not alone. 

Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common eating disorders in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Although it can't be completely cured, binge eating disorder can be managed well with proper treatment and support.

Let's explore ways to stop binge eating and regain control over your life.

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder where compulsive overeating becomes a regular struggle.

Registered Dietitian, Rita Faycurry, RD, explains, "Binge eating involves consuming large amounts of food quickly and feeling like you can't stop. While it's normal to eat too much occasionally, living with an eating disorder means it starts to control your daily life and affect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”

While binge eating disorder cannot be cured completely, it can be managed well with the right treatment and lifestyle changes.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder

Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a short time
  • Eating when not hungry or already full
  • Eating quickly during binge episodes
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating
  • Low self-esteem and self-loathing related to body image and eating habits
  • Frequently dieting without significant weight loss.

Unlike bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, compulsive eating during a binge is not followed by compensatory behaviors like purging, exercise, fasting, and laxative misuse.

If ignored, binge eating disorder can lead to health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and more.

What's the best binge eating disorder treatment?

Binge eating disorder is a recent addition to DSM-5, the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, so there is still some debate surrounding the best treatment for binge eating disorder.

Most experts, however, agree that treating eating disorders should include a combination of psychotherapy, nutritional therapy, weight management, lifestyle changes, and medications when needed.

This type of holistic therapy can help people stop binge eating or reduce the urge to binge eat.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy for binge eating disorder may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT, or cognitive-behavioral therapy, is a type of talk therapy where a psychologist or counselor helps people develop healthy coping skills to manage mental health conditions, including eating disorders. CBT can help change thought patterns around binge eating, lower emotional eating triggers, and help build a healthy relationship with food.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): Interpersonal therapy, or IPT, is a type of talk therapy focused on improving personal relationships and social functioning to help manage mental health issues. A therapist may use interpersonal therapy to help people struggling with binge eating disorder deal with grief, loss, conflict in relationships, and stressful transitions.

Medications

There are several types of medications for binge eating disorder treatment, including:

  • Vyvanse (lisdexametamfetamine): Vyvanse is the only FDA-approved medication for binge eating disorder. Originally an ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medication, it helps manage impulsivity and enhances cognitive processing, which can reduce episodes of binge eating.
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs): Since binge eating disorder and other eating disorders often co-exist with other mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and others, sometimes antidepressants like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may be prescribed.
  • Anticonvulsants (Topamax): Topamax, an anti-convulsant, has been shown to reduce binge eating episodes, quiet food cravings (food noise), and aid in weight loss.

Additionally, GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic (semaglutide) are being studied as a potential treatment for binge eating disorder because they fight obesity, reduce overall appetite, and lower food cravings for sugary, high-fat, and salty foods.

Nutritional Therapy

Nutritional therapy and meal planning are some of the cornerstones of treating eating disorders like binge eating disorder. This is because, over time, binge eating can lead to gut health issues, obesity, insulin resistance, nutritional deficiencies, and even malnutrition.

Faycurry, RD explains, "It is possible to be malnourished even if you have obesity because you may not be eating nutrient-dense foods or your body isn't absorbing nutrients properly. A Registered Dietitian can help identify and fix nutritional deficiencies in your diet."

If you're tired of fighting binge eating urges and would like seek professional help, Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian, covered by insurance.

Apart from these therapies, lifestyle changes can help you stop binge eating.

Lifestyle changes to stop binge eating

There may be any reasons why you binge so here are some lifestyle changes that can help you reduce overeating and binge eating episodes.

Avoid restrictive diets

Severely limiting your food intake can lead to intense food cravings and a sense of deprivation, which might trigger binge eating episodes. People who binge may often skip breakfast, eat little or nothing at lunch, and find themselves binge eating at night due to intense hunger.

This pattern is known as the binge-restrict cycle, and it can be harmful because it creates a cycle of guilt, emotional distress, and unhealthy eating habits, making recovery from binge eating disorder more difficult.

Building a healthy relationship with food is key, and restrictive diets usually do more harm than good in the long run.

Eat at regular intervals

Try eating three regular, balanced meals a day with 2-3 planned snacks to reduce the urge to binge. 

According to Faycurry RD, “Regular meals help avoid intense hunger cravings that lead to overeating later. Also, by not depriving your brain of a variety of foods, you minimize the risk of binge eating later as compensation for 'being good' during the day."

Eat more whole foods

Incorporate more whole grains, vegetables, and fruit into your diet.

This way, you get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need, as well as soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber can help lower hunger pangs and feel full for a longer time.

Fiber also helps your body absorb essential electrolytes and add bulk to your stool, which improves your digestion.

Get enough protein

Dietary guidelines suggest aiming for 10-35% of your diet to come from protein, but bear in mind that individual needs vary.

Excess protein simply converts to fat, so a personalized plan from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you meal plan based on your specific needs.

Exercise

According to physical activity guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services, adults need a minimum of:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like brisk walking). This boils down to about 20 minutes a day.
  • 1-3 days a week of resistance training for muscle strength.

Exercises like walking and yoga can reduce binge eating episodes and help with anxiety and depression, which may contribute to binge eating. Aerobic exercise regulates the brain's reward system, making food addiction easier to manage. Plus, exercise can boost positive body image and increase self-esteem.

Fix your sleep

There’s a strong connection between eating disorders and sleep problems. 

Research shows that sleep deprivation can boost appetite and trigger binge eating and overeating in those at risk. Even worse, sleep issues can intensify eating disorder symptoms and complicate treatment.

Guidelines recommend getting eight hours of sleep, but for those with mood, eating, and sleep disorders, that's easier said than done. Worrying about not getting enough sleep can actually make it harder to fall and stay asleep.

Consider seeing a therapist to understand and address your sleep struggles. Depending on your individual needs, you may need help with your mental health, medications, or other types of therapy.

Track emotional eating

Emotional eating is eating too much to cope with emotions.

The key difference between emotional eating and binge eating is that emotional eating does not involve a loss of control over food. However, it is a risk factor for eating disorders like binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, or anorexia nervosa, and can lead to health issues like obesity.

While emotional eating can happen in response to positive or negative emotions, binge eating is often triggered by negative emotions. To manage, try journaling feelings before and after binge eating episodes to identify and avoid triggers.

Common binge eating triggers include holidays, vacations, being alone, transitions like after work, evenings before bed, relaxing in front of the TV, or after conflicts. 

Recognizing these patterns is the first step in getting help for eating disorders.

Find support

Remember, eating disorders are mental health conditions and recovery from binge eating disorder isn't a straight path. Slips and relapses are normal but can be overwhelming to handle on your own.

The right support can help you stay on track, manage complex emotions, learn healthier coping mechanisms, and improve your health.

Consider consulting a trauma-informed Registered Dietitian to help you stop binge eating. Fay can connect you to Registered Dietitians who specialize in eating disorders, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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