Treating binge eating

It is important that you seek medical advice if you think that you have a binge eating disorder. Your GP will assess you and recommend the best course of treatment for you.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends the following treatments for eating disorders:

These are described in more detail below.

Self-help programme

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

You can find information on self-help books from your local library or from the eating disorders charity Beat, which also has information on finding self-help and support groups for eating disorders.

If you are referred to a mental health professional for help, they might encourage you to work through a self-help book under their supervision. This is called “guided self-help”.

Psychological therapy

People who binge eat are encouraged to stop relying on the cycle of bingeing and guilt as a way of dealing with their emotional problems.

It is possible to make a full recovery from binge eating by using certain types of psychological therapy, such as:

  • 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 new ways of thinking about situations, feelings and food 
  • an adapted form of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) – you discuss all aspects of your binge eating disorder with a therapist. DBT has been used effectively to treat other mental health disorders associated with impulsiveness
  • interpersonal therapy (IPT) – another form of brief therapy that has been shown to be helpful in treating patients with binge eating and bulimia 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that can help reduce binge eating. They are usually prescribed in combination with therapy.

SSRIs boost levels of a substance called serotonin. When serotonin is released in the brain, it helps to lift your mood. NICE recommends the use of SSRIs to help reduce binge eating, but the long-term effects of the treatment are unknown.

Known side effects of SSRIs include:

Read more information about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Losing weight

Although there are a number of psychological treatments available to treat binge eating, they might have a limited effect on your body weight.

However, underlying psychological issues need to be dealt with first to allow someone to regain control of their eating habits.

If you are overweight, you should follow a weight-loss plan that is drawn up by a healthcare professional, such as your GP or a dietitian (a food and nutrition specialist). The plan may involve the following:

  • keeping a food diary to highlight when you binge and the types of food you binge on that you think are fattening – you will be encouraged to include these in your eating plan to reduce the urge to binge on them
  • avoiding eating sugary foods, as eating quality carbohydrates (see below) will provide a slow and sustained energy release throughout the day
  • eating regular meals and snacks, and including complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and cereal, lentils and potatoes – this will help keep you feeling full as well as stabilise your blood sugar

Read more information on eating good food and maintaining a healthy diet.

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