Binge Eating Disorder: What It Is and How to Get Help

Medically reviewed by: Erika McElroy, Ph.D.
Monday, March 13 2023

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., and one of the newest eating disorders formally recognized in the reference book on mental health conditions and disorders used by therapists, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5-TR (DSM-5-TR). BED is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, and is also more common than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia.

So if you’re struggling with BED, know that you’re not alone. Help is available and recovery is possible. Read on to learn more about BED, how to get help, and what treatment and recovery looks like. 

What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating. Binge eating is eating large quantities of food, often very quickly and to the point of discomfort. People who binge eat: 

  • Feel a loss of control while binging
  • Experience shame, distress, or guilt afterwards
  • Don’t use unhealthy measures (such as purging) to compensate for the binge eating 

Many people overeat or eat too quickly every once in a while, especially during times of stress. Occasional overeating is not the same as having BED. To be considered an eating disorder, binge eating behavior has to: 

  • Happen repeatedly 
  • Occur at least once a week for three months
  • Cause extreme distress

BED can affect people of all body sizes and ages, as well as people of all racial and ethnic groups. BED is more common in younger and middle-aged people, but older people can have BED, too. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of BED, you may feel out of control and helpless. But rest assured, you can reach recovery. Here’s how to get the support you need. 

Get professional help 

Recovering from BED takes more than willpower, and you don’t have to go it alone. The first step toward recovery is connecting to a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders to get a diagnosis. You can also see a medical doctor for a diagnosis. They’ll likely then refer you for further assessment or more specialized psychotherapy focused on BED as part of your treatment plan. 

Psychotherapy can help treat BED 

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, has been proven to be effective in the treatment of BED. There are many forms of psychotherapy that can be used to treat BED, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive remediation therapy (CRT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), dialectical behavior therapy (DPT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and other evidence-based treatment approaches.

The treatment approach that’s right for you will depend on your symptoms, behaviors, experiences, and goals. In the first few sessions with your therapist, they’ll ask about your thoughts, feelings, and eating habits to better understand your eating behaviors and symptoms. Your therapist may also have you complete clinical questionnaires. With these, you’ll answer questions about your well-being before and after sessions to help your therapist track how you’re doing and see your progress over time. 

The goals of treating BED are to reduce eating binges and achieve healthy eating habits, but you may have other goals, too. That’s why your therapist will also talk to you about specific goals you may want to achieve. Based on these initial discussions and clinical questionnaire results, you’ll next work with your therapist to create a treatment plan that’s right for you. 

As you begin your recovery journey, it’s important to connect with a therapist who can address your specific needs. Consider asking them these questions to help you decide if they’re the right fit.

Extra support can address other health challenges  

Symptoms of BED may involve physical health concerns and other mental health challenges. For example, 78.9% of those with BED meet criteria for at least one other mental health diagnosis, such as an anxiety or depressive disorder. 

If you have other mental health disorders or other health risks in addition to BED, your treatment plan may involve a combination of psychotherapy and nutritional counseling, and in some cases, medical and psychiatric monitoring and care. This may mean you have a care team working together with you on your treatment. For more severe cases of BED, treatment may involve residential care (24-hour care at a live-in facility) or in-patient care (a continuum of care 24 hours a day in a hospital setting). 

What’s important is that your treatment plan addresses your eating disorder symptoms and any other medical issues, as well as psychological, biological, social, and cultural factors that are contributing to your BED. 

Treatment and recovery looks different for everyone 

Treatment isn’t one-size-fits all. It all depends on your symptoms and your unique needs and goals. 

Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all, either. It’s up to you and your care team to define what recovery looks like for you. It may mean less frequent binge eating episodes or eliminating the behavior all together. It could also involve developing a healthier relationship with food and your body image. Reaching the unique goals you defined with your therapist and/or care team is a key sign that you’re making progress toward recovery. 

Start your journey toward BED recovery  

Recovery from BED doesn’t happen overnight, so remember to give yourself grace. You might not follow your treatment plan perfectly at first. That’s okay. There’s no “right” timeline to recover from BED or any eating disorder. What’s important is that you take the necessary steps towards recovery — get a diagnosis from a professional, seek the mental health care (and any other necessary professional care) that’s right for you, and work with your therapist or care team to develop and make progress on your treatment plan. 

If you think you’re experiencing BED symptoms and are ready to get help, SonderMind can connect you with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders to help you get on track toward recovery.

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