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Binge eating disorder

Treating binge eating

Binge eating disorders are usually treatable and most people will eventually get better with appropriate help and support.

The main treatments are outlined below.

Self-help programmes

A self-help programme is often the first step towards recovery. There are many different types of self-help and it's important to find one that suits you. Your GP may be able to recommend a self-help book or a self-help group that would be suitable.

You can find out about self-help books at your local library or from the eating disorders charity Beat, which also has information about online support groups and peer support groups for eating disorders.

If you're referred to a mental health professional, they might encourage you to work through a self-help book under their supervision. This is called "guided self-help".

For some people, a self-help programme alone may be enough to help them overcome their eating problems.

Psychological therapy

You may be referred for psychological therapy to help tackle the underlying problems that cause you to binge eat.

The three main types of therapy used to help people who binge eat are:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for binge eating disorder (CBT-BED) – a specially adapted type of CBT that involves talking to a therapist and working out the patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are driving your problem, to help you change your behaviour 
  • an adapted form of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) – therapy that mainly focuses on improving your ability to control and regulate your emotions
  • interpersonal therapy (IPT) – therapy that focuses on relationship-based issues and how they may be influencing your eating habits

These therapies can work very well, although it's not clear how long-lasting the results are.

You may experience periods where the problem improves (remission) and periods where it gets worse (relapses), particularly in the early stages of treatment.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Some people may be prescribed a type of antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) instead of, or in addition to, a self-help programme.

SSRIs boost levels of a chemical in the brain called serotonin, which may help reduce the frequency of binges and lift your mood. However, the long-term effects of the treatment for binge eating are unknown.

Common side effects of SSRIs include:

Most of these side effects will usually improve within a few weeks, although some can persist.

Read more about the side effects of SSRIs.

Losing weight

The above treatments won't help you lose weight but, importantly, will help you stop gaining weight. Dieting isn't recommended during treatment because it makes it much more difficult to stop binge eating. Regular exercise alongside treatment may help you lose weight.

The treatments described above will typically include a plan to help with eating and exercise. Your plan may involve:

  • keeping a food diary – to see if there's a pattern to when you binge and to highlight the types of food you binge on
  • having regular, planned meals and not skipping meals
  • eating healthy snacks between meals – to stop you getting hungry
  • not depriving yourself of specific foods – you may be encouraged to include some unhealthy foods in your eating plan to reduce your urge to binge on them
  • having a balanced, calorie-controlled diet – as recommended by your GP or other healthcare professional
  • exercising regularly – most adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week (read more about the physical activity guidelines for adults)

It's important that you lose weight healthily. Extreme dieting and cutting out meals can make binge eating worse.

If you're struggling to lose weight, talk to your GP or a weight loss management healthcare professional, such as a dietitian.

Read more about treating obesityweight loss and healthy eating.