Cognitive Behavioral Model of Binge Eating Disorder

Woman returning to college

For someone with binge eating disorder (BED), trying to understand the “why” behind the behaviors can feel elusive and frustrating. Having thoughts such as, “Why do I keep doing this? I feel so stupid. I feel so out of control. What is wrong with me?” after bingeing and subsequently feeling disgusted or depressed is one of the most common experiences for those with BED. [1]

There are different theories on what life experiences and individual factors contribute to BED, such as those proposed by Kari Anderson, Ph.D. (Interview with Dr. Anderson). She understands BED primarily as a way to regulate emotions through bingeing rather than through safe and caring relationships.

While not antithetical to Dr. Anderson’s approach, psychologists from Sydney, Australia, recently published an article in the Journal of Eating Disorders proposing a cognitive-behavioral model for understanding how core beliefs about oneself, emotions, and food contribute to the bingeing cycle commonly found in BED. [2]

At the heart of their theory’s core is low self-esteem (feeling negative about oneself). The authors write, “when core low self-esteem is triggered (experienced as a range of feelings and beliefs, measured by negative statements about the self), negative affect is experienced.”

In plain English, this means that when an individual is triggered to think poorly of oneself, it leads to negative emotions that feel too much to endure. The psychologists go on to write that these individuals tend to respond in one of two ways:

  • The begin to restrict their eating habits to feel better about themselves, yet this restriction ultimately leads to bingeing behaviors.


  • Beliefs about eating such as “eating helps me cope with negative feelings,” “once I start, I can’t stop,” and “I deserve to have a pleasure like bingeing” are triggered, and they engage in a binge episode.

Lady standing by ocean at dawn thinking about Binge Eating DisorderThe authors of the study hypothesize that these ways of responding could reflect two different types of binge eating. The first type would “represent the type of binge eating that is more strongly maintained by a sense of loss of control and maybe more commonly observed in people with restrictive eating disorders.”

The second type “could represent the type of binge eating that is more strongly maintained by its function to comfort and self-soothe, and maybe more commonly observed in people who do not restrict their eating.”

Whether there is more than one type of binge eating disorder remains to be seen. Regardless, current theories all seem to agree that learning to cope with difficult emotions is a key factor in recovery, and this is something that individuals can learn to do with help and practice.


[1] Burton, A. L., & Abbott, M. J. (2019). Processes and pathways to binge eating: development of an integrated cognitive and behavioural model of binge eating. Journal of Eating Disorders, 7(1). doi: 10.1186/s40337-019-0248-0

[2] Binge Eating Disorder. (2018, February 22). Retrieved January 17, 2020, from

About the Author:

Travis Stewart Headshot PhotoTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help.

This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment. His website is

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published February 7, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on February 7, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.