What Is Binge Eating Disorder and How Can It Be Treated?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have many health risks. However, when most people hear the term “eating disorder”, they mainly think of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, not binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States today, affecting more than 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men. Those with binge eating disorder are unable to easily alter their actions and behaviors related to food and, in some cases, may be dealing with other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Luckily, with the help of a strong support system and early intervention, binge eating disorder treatment can be extremely successful. Keep reading to learn more about the disorder and the available options for binge eating treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Before family begin to consider the right binge eating disorder treatment program for their loved ones, they must first understand what makes this type of eating disorder unique. Similar to bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring instances of uncontrollable binge-eating. People with this type of eating disorder eat large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder do not turn to compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting or laxative use after a binge. This very serious mental health disorder is often accompanied by feelings of shame and guilt after a binge. Those with any eating disorder, including binge eating disorder, may experience devastating physical, emotional and social consequences if their condition is left untreated.

Binge Eating Recovery: Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Because individuals with binge eating disorder often have intense feelings of shame and guilt surrounding their binge eating behaviors, it can be difficult for friends and loved ones to detect the disorder. Some of the most common warning signs loved ones can look for include:

  • Feeling out of control in regards to food
  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eating food more quickly than normal
  • Eating large amounts of food without feeling physically hungry
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Feelings of guilt, sadness or disgust after binge eating
  • Eating alone or in secret due to embarrassment surrounding binge eating behaviors
  • Feeling sad or angry about body shape and/or weight
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or sad about binge eating episodes


What Are the Long-Term Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder?

One of the most important reasons doctors push for early intervention in the binge eating disorder treatment process is to help reduce the risk of serious health problems in the future. When people overeat, they end up with a very sore and stressed stomach. With binge eating disorder, the lasting effects of strain on the digestive system can become complicated. Below are four major health issues that may be associated with binge eating disorder.

Excessive Weight Gain and Obesity

Excessive weight gain is one of the most common symptoms of binge eating disorder. Approximately two-thirds of people with binge eating disorder are overweight. Many people with the disorder experience negative feelings about their fluctuating weight, leading to feelings of low-self esteem, anxiety and depression – all of which can result in more overeating. Other long-term health issues can occur, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Sciatica (low back pain)
  • And more

Heart Disease

Another benefit of seeking binge eating treatment is the potential prevention of the negative health effects associated with heart disease. Obesity makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood throughout the lungs and body. Additionally, excess fat stored around the midsection may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and high cholesterol. Over time, these health risks can increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Depression and Other Mood Disorders

Co-occurring mental health disorders can also be common when someone is experiencing an eating disorder. Some individuals who repeatedly binge eat do so to temporarily boost their mood. However, this can lead to feelings of guilt, which in turn can cause additional binge episodes. Eating too much food when not hungry can be a warning sign of binge eating disorder and other mood disorders, such as depression.

It is important for families to be aware of the different binge eating disorder recovery programs before choosing a treatment facility. If a loved one has a co-occurring mental health disorder, he or she will need access to specialized treatment.

What Options Are Available for Binge Eating Disorder Treatment?

Similar to an individual with bulimia nervosa, those with binge eating disorder often experience negative feelings surrounding food including guilt, shame and anxiety. As symptoms progress, it can be common for emotions to become exaggerated, and at times, lead to feeling out of control. Finding appropriate binge eating treatment is a critical step on the path to recovery.

Levels of Care

While there is not one simple binge eating disorder treatment method that will work for everyone, there are varying levels of care offered. For example, residential treatment may be the best option for someone who needs access to 24-hour care due to other serious health issues related to their eating disorder, such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts.

Another option for those who are deemed by a medical professional to be both medically and psychiatrically stable is a day treatment program. This option typically involves regularly scheduled therapy sessions at an eating disorder counseling center over the course of several months.

Residential treatment programs for eating disorders offer patients access to a comprehensive array of therapies in a safe and comfortable space. In residential treatment, patients typically have access to a wide range of specialists including medical doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and support staff. With this level of care, patients learn the skills necessary for a successful recovery.

Medications may be prescribed as part of the binge eating disorder recovery process. Common medications used in eating disorder treatment may include anti-depressants, stimulants and anti-seizure drugs.

Psychotherapy Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT is often the treatment option of choice for those with binge eating disorder. Patients focus on understanding how their way of thinking, negative self-talk or  poor self-image directly impact their disordered eating behaviors. Over time, they are taught to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and attitudes that can trigger past patterns of harmful behaviors.

CBT is a time-limited treatment, meaning a patient will seek treatment at an eating disorder counseling center for a specific period of time with specific goals set in place. By learning to understand and identify irrational thought patterns or the “cognitive” part of their disorder and then make real-life changes to correct those patterns (behavioral), patients can set goals that surround positive eating habits and new ways of coping with stress.

  • Family Therapy

Another popular treatment option for eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder, is family therapy. This treatment focuses on helping patients and family members understand the role they play within the family dynamic and how disordered behaviors may perpetuate this cycle.

Treatment involves both the patients and their family. However, there may be some instances where therapy sessions do not involve the individual with binge eating disorder. This is typically scheduled to help the family better understand the condition and the roles they may have played in regards to the disorder, as well as how they can help support the recovery process.

What Are the Benefits of Early Intervention for Eating Disorder Treatment?

Eating disorders carry the highest mortality rate of any known mental health illness. They are also unique among mental health disorders as they manifest into physical health complications and potentially long-term health issues such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. Research shows the various treatment options for eating disorders work best when delivered early on.

Early identification and swift action from loved ones has been shown to improve the speed of recovery, reduce many common symptoms associated with binge eating disorder and greatly improve the likelihood an individual will avoid relapse. Studies have shown when young kids with anorexia nervosa are exposed to family-based therapy within the first three years of developing the disorder, they have a much greater chance of a successful recovery.

Whether an individual chooses a day treatment program or a residential eating disorder treatment program, starting on the path toward recovery as soon as possible will often result in a better overall outcome.

Learn More About Treatment Options for Eating Disorders with Oliver-Pyatt Centers and Affiliates

At Oliver-Pyatt Center’s eating disorder counseling centers, our patients and their families receive access to a dedicated team of professionals ready to guide them through the recovery process with compassion and great care. We are proud to provide the highest quality treatment in a safe, comfortable and home-like setting. With a highlighted focus on psychiatric and medical care, we provide the tools to start on the path to recovery.

Not only do we provide state-of-the-art facilities and a top-quality professional staff, patients can also take advantage of nutrition therapy, yoga and dance, individual therapy, group therapy, off-site activities and more. We believe everyone can achieve true recovery. As our patients receive professional support, they are able to gain confidence in their ability to make positive changes and choices for themselves while they work toward a successful recovery.