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Are you about to seek treatment for binge eating disorder? We'll walk you through the steps you can expect during therapy to make your binge eating disorder treatment slightly less intimidating.

Binge eating is many things. A source of great comfort, and a source of great guilt. A way to give yourself love, and a way to compensate for a lack of self-love. Something that takes complete control, and something through which you aim to take control back. Something to fill a void, and something that causes one. 

Binge eating is also something else: under-acknowledged. Despite the fact that binge eating disorder is much more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, it's one of the last eating disorders to have become formally recognized as such, and one of the least talked-about, too.

Only around 28 percent of people who are currently suffering from binge eating disorder are receiving treatment, and less than half of all sufferers will receive binge eating disorder treatment their lifetime. [1]

Fear has got to be one of the biggest obstacles standing between you and receiving the help you need. Binge eating has, after all, been your coping mechanism — and losing that coping mechanism is downright daunting. Understanding what happens during the treatment of binge eating disorder may be the key to unlocking that fear, and that's what we're here for. 

What Are The Underlying Causes Of Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is, as you know, characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating — but without the purging or other compensatory behaviors, like excessive exercise, that define bulimia. Many people indulge in a little extra food to make themselves feel better occasionally, but people with binge eating disorder binge eat when they're not hungry and even when they feel beyond full. For people with binge eating disorder, binge eating gradually becomes the norm. Your binge eating episodes cause you to feel immense shame and guilt, often leading to even more binge eating, and you're likely to hide your eating habits from others. [2]

What got you there? Research suggests that there are several subtypes of binge eating disorder. For some binge eaters, binge eating disorder really is the main problem. Others, however, develop binge eating disorder as the result of underlying psychological distress. [3]

The reasons people develop binge eating disorder include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Extreme stress or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social and media pressure to attain a particular body type
  • Coming from a family background in which people close to you suffered from an eating disorder, in which you were criticized for your eating habits or body type, or in which your dietary habits were strictly controlled [4, 5]
Eating disorders including binge eating disorder are, in other words, frequently a subconscious way to cope with existential questions and to exert control over your life — and if your binge eating disorder is a symptom rather than a cause, the treatment of binge eating disorder should likewise be about more than changing your eating habits. 

The Most Used Therapeutic Approaches Towards Binge Eating Disorder

The main forms of therapy employed during the treatment of binge eating disorder are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, a highly effective form of therapy during which you and your therapist explore how your thought patterns impact your behavior, in this case binge eating. CBT can be seen as a practically-minded therapy that helps you implement rapid change.
  • Interpersonal therapy, a form of therapy that focuses on your interpersonal relationships and emotions. IPT is great for people who want to deal with their emotional baggage, which can play a tremendous role in the development of binge eating disorder. 
  • Behavioral weight loss therapy, which focuses on the physical aspects of binge eating disorder by teaching you to self-monitor your weight, educating you about healthy nutritional patterns, and introducing exercise. [6]

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most widely employed form of psychotherapy today, and it has in turn given birth to many "offshoots" — some of which are highly effective in the treatment of binge eating disorder. Dialectical behavioral therapy and guided self-help CBT can both be seen as subtypes of CBT. The guided self-help form of cognitive behavioral therapy is delivered through books, CDs, or the internet in combination with less frequent sessions with a therapist [7], and it is suitable for people with less severe binge eating disorder and those who would otherwise remain on a waiting list without any treatment. 

Regardless of the kind of therapy you receive, your treatment may take place:

  • One-to-one with a therapist
  • In a group setting with other binge eaters
  • Together with relatives or other loved ones

They may also comprise a combination of all of these settings, and your treatment may take place in an inpatient setting at a treatment center for eating disorders, or in an outpatient setting. Inpatient care may be needed if you are feeling suicidal or have severe health issues as the result of your binge eating disorder.

All these different forms of therapy may sound like a foreign language to you if you're not familiar with therapy yet, but the ultimate aim of all these forms of binge eating disorder treatment is to help you embrace healthy eating patterns and deal with the underlying issues that have led you to develop binge eating disorder. To help you achieve this, your binge eating disorder treatment team may stick to the principles of one form of therapy, or take bits and pieces from different principles to help you achieve your aim of being free from binge eating disorder. 

What Can You Actually Expect In Binge Eating Disorder Treatment?

While it is difficult to tell you exactly what to expect, because your binge eating disorder treatment will be tailored to your personal needs, we can tell you that therapy for binge eating disorder is only one component of your treatment. Aside from seeing a therapist for talk therapy or receiving guided self-help, you are also likely to see a nutritionist or dietician to teach you about changed eating patterns and see a medical doctor to address your physical health, which may in some cases include bariatric surgery. You may also see a psychiatrist, as pharmacological treatment is sometimes recommended as a part of your binge eating disorder treatment. [8]

The treatment of binge eating disorder starts with an intensive first phase, during which you and your therapist will look at what you want to change and what the obstacles that stand between you and freedom from your eating disorder are. It is crucial that you are motivated and completely on board with your binge eating disorder treatment at this stage, as the success you attain during the first phase of treatment largely determines your final outcome [9]. 

You will learn to self-monitor your eating habits and identify what triggers your binge eating episodes, and keep a record of your thoughts and feelings. This practical stage, during which you focus on the changes you are making, will require you to keep a journal. Weekly weighing sessions may also be part of your first stage of treatment, you will learn what your eating disorder is doing to your body, and you will be encouraged to eat three regular meals and two or three snacks with no eating in between. [10]. 

During the next stages of your binge eating disorder treatment, you'll evaluate how you are doing and identify what may be holding you back from recovery. You can expect in-depth sessions about what led you to develop binge eating disorder, how you are feeling about yourself, how you see your body, and what situations are still triggering the urge to binge eat

As you enter the final stage of treatment, it is important that you have social support from people you care about, and that you don't place too much focus on your weight. While attaining a healthy weight is an important part of the treatment of binge eating disorder in those sufferers who struggle with overweight or obesity, a tendency to over-evaluate your weight or the calories you are taking in is likely to cause you to relapse. You want to learn to feel confident and healthy and to have a healthy relationship with food, not to replace binge eating disorder with another eating disorder. [10]

Can You Ever Truly Recover From Binge Eating Disorder?

Yes, you can! Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (including self-help cognitive behavioral therapy) and interpersonal therapy both have success rates of over 70 percent. That means that most people with binge eating disorder no longer engage in binge eating after 20 therapy sessions. Furthermore, more than half of patients receiving CBT and IPT are still free from binge eating disorder a year after treatment has ended. [11]  Stand-alone behavioral weight loss therapy has a lower success rate [12], but it can still form an essential part of the treatment of binge eating disorder. 

Binge eating disorder is, as we said at the beginning, many things. With the right treatment, it can be the best of all things for you, quite soon — in the past. 

 

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