Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Binge Eating Disorder

Lady working with therapist with Body Awareness Therapy

For those outside of the mental health realm, the term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may sound completely foreign. However, within the behavioral health world, it is a must-know word and method of treatment.

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavior Therapy was developed by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960s. Through his work and research, Beck noticed that individuals struggling with depression “experienced streams of negative thoughts that seemed to arise spontaneously [1].” Beck referred to these as “automatic thoughts” and found that they occurred regarding the individual’s ideas about themselves, others, and the world.

After this discovery, Beck began working with individuals on changing these negative automatic thoughts. He found that this helped individuals to think more realistically and that this improved their emotions, which lead to more functional and effective actions.

So began one of the most widely used and effective treatments for mental illness. Over 1,000 studies have been performed confirming the effectiveness of CBT on treating psychological problems, psychiatric disorders, and medical issues that have a psychiatric component [1].

CBT and Binge Eating Disorder

The success of CBT is also clear in the treatment of eating disorders, as it is “significantly more efficacious in reducing core behavioral and cognitive symptoms than control conditions, alternative psychological interventions, and pharmacological treatments in patients with bulimia nervosa (BN), binge-eating disorder (BED), and other specified feeding and eating disorders [2].”

Woman receiving CBT and Binge Eating Disorder treatmentThis success may be even more prevalent when treating individuals with BED using CBT. A 2018 study provided CBT to individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder and found that more individuals with BED abstained from disordered eating symptoms after treatment than those with bulimia nervosa or atypical eating disorders [2].

In practice, CBT can be helpful in individuals feeling more in control of their thoughts and, therefore, their eating/bingeing behaviors. Many individuals report that they do not feel in control when a binge occurs, expressing that they feel they engage in these behaviors in a daze or feel as if it is not them.

Treatment that helps individuals to identify and notice what they are thinking helps them to learn what thoughts trigger bingeing behavior as well as helps them to be more present and in control at the moment of the binge.

If individuals can change these triggering thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts, their corresponding feelings and actions will change. CBT provides individuals with the understanding, skills, and practice to engage in this process.


[1] Unknown (2019). History of cognitive behavior therapy. Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, retrieved from

[2] Linardon, J., Messer, M., Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. (2018). Meta-analysis of the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy for binge-eating–type disorders on abstinence rates in non-randomized effectiveness studies: Comparable outcomes to randomized, controlled trials? International Journal of Eating Disorders.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

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 27, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on February 27, 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.