Curbing Impulsive Eating in Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) wasn’t recognized as an official disorder until the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. At this time, the DSM-5 characterized BED as “recurrent episodes of binge eating,” which involves “eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances [1].”

To be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, individuals must also experience “a sense of lack of control over eating during the episodes,” such as “a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating [1].” Impulsivity plays a large part in both of these criteria being met.

Researchers have learned that individuals that struggle with binge eating have high reward sensitivity to food, meaning they are more sensitive to the rewarding effects of food on the brain [2]. This “high level of reward sensitivity towards food-related stimuli could increase the likelihood of binge eating and decrease the ability to inhibit or control eating [2]. Teaching individuals skills to interrupt impulsive eating behaviors can be incredibly helpful in guiding them toward recovery.

Recognizing Physical Sensations

Many individuals that struggle with eating disorders experience disconnection from their bodies. This may relate to having a history of trauma, a co-occurring mental health diagnosis, or simply not having been taught how to identify and connect to sensations of the body.

Increasing daily participation in mindfulness can help an individual to increase awareness of their current experience of emotions and physical sensations. The goal is to identify these feelings without judgment or attempting to change them. Individuals can practice this through meditation, deep breathing, connecting with their five senses, progressive muscle relaxation, or any number of mindfulness activities.

Connecting Physical Awareness While Eating

Woman struggling with Binge Eating DisorderAs one builds a mindful connection to their body, they can connect these sensations to their eating experience. This awareness allows individuals to engage more mindfully with food, recognizing their cravings for certain types of food as well as when their body is expressing hunger and fullness.

Individuals should allow themselves time to connect with these emotions by slowing down their eating pace. It is also helpful to engage in emotional tracking during meals, checking in with the body and mind every 5 to 10 minutes. If you are an eating disorder professional, it can help to have meals or snacks with your patients as they learn these skills to guide them through this practice.

Being Honest About Your Binge Eating Disorder Struggle

A big part of learning to combat the impulsivity and loss of control felt during binge eating involves the development of effective coping skills. To learn these, one has to work with a treatment team composed of, at minimum, a therapist and dietitian.

These professionals can help guide you through the journey of psychoeducation of binge eating as well as helping you to become an intuitive eater and supporting you in gaining coping skills that actually work for you. Learning these skills is not only helpful to combat binge eating urges but to cope with the emotional states and thoughts that lead to these urges.

Being open and honest with your team as you find what works and what does not is important. You can undoubtedly combat binge eating behaviors but do not be afraid to get to know your body and your support system to help you in doing so.


[1] American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA.

[2] Ince, B. (2021). Can we change binge eating behavior by interventions addressing food-related impulsivity? A systematic review. Journal of Eating Disorders, 9:38.

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 April 23, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on April 23, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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About Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC

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.