Emotion-Focused Therapy for BED

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Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most prevalent of all eating disorders, affecting approximately 2.5 to 4.5 percent of females and 1.0 to 3.0 percent of males worldwide [1]. Primary symptoms of BED include recurring episodes of binge eating, feeling a loss of control during the binge, and not engaging in unhealthy, compensatory behaviors (purge vomiting, using laxatives, excessive exercise, etc.).

Currently, the American Psychiatric Association guidelines recommend cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) as the primary treatment for BED. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are also frequently used in the treatment of BED.

However, research shows that 50 percent of BED patients do not respond well to these treatment guidelines, with one study reporting that approximately 49.7 percent of BED patients continued to engage in binge eating episodes after treatment [2]. Other research shows that traditional psychotherapy techniques for BED often result in high dropout rates and failure to abstain from bingeing [3].

Given the relatively poor treatment outcomes of the current methods for treating BED, researchers and ED specialists are now beginning to explore other psychotherapy techniques to help improve outcomes among patients with BED. One therapy that shows excellent potential is emotion-focused therapy (EFT).

What is Emotion-Focused Therapy?

As its name implies, emotion-focused therapy places emotions at the center of the treatment approach. Unlike other psychotherapeutic methods for treating BED, the goal of EFT is to help clients 1) identify and accept their emotions and 2) learn healthy, positive ways to process and regulate their emotions [4].

Woman Dealing with Eating Disorders with Emotion-Focused TherapyWhy is an emotion-focused approach important when treating binge eating disorder? Research shows individuals with BED often have difficulties regulating their emotions [5]. In fact, one study states that individuals with binge eating disorder experience more intense emotions and have a much harder time regulating these emotions than individuals without BED [6]. Subsequently, people with BED often turn to binge eating as a way to regulate (i.e., numb, soothe, or avoid) their difficult emotions.

Treating BED with EFT

Given the close connection between negative emotions and binge eating episodes, many researchers and specialists are beginning to explore the efficacy of using emotion-focused therapy to treat patients with BED. In fact, one recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders indicates an EFT approach would significantly improve outcomes among people with binge eating disorder [7].

The study found that individuals with BED who underwent weekly EFT sessions over a period of 3 months showed significant reductions in binge eating episodes and binge eating psychopathology when compared with a control group of binge eating disorder patients who did not participate in EFT sessions [8]. Further, at three months follow-up, researchers found no significant change in binge eating scores among BED patients who took part in EFT sessions, indicating that the improvements they made during treatment were maintained.

While research is still limited on emotion-focused therapy for binge eating disorder, the existing literature suggests EFT may be a promising new approach for treating individuals with BED.


[1] The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. Eating disorders prevention, treatment and management: an evidence review. Sydney: NEDC; 2010.
[2] Linardon J. Review of rates of abstinence following psychological or behavioural treatments for binge-eating disorder: meta-analysis. Int J Eat Disord. 2018;51(8):785–97.
[3] Glisenti, K., Strodl, E., King, R. et al. The feasibility of emotion-focused therapy for binge-eating disorder: a pilot randomised wait-list control trial. J Eat Disord 9, 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-020-00358-5
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] Kenny T, Singleton C, Carter J. Testing predictions of the emotion regulation model of binge-eating disorder. Int J Eat Disord. 2017;50(11):1297–305.
[7] Glisenti, K., Strodl, E., King, R. et al. The feasibility of emotion-focused therapy for binge-eating disorder: a pilot randomised wait-list control trial. J Eat Disord 9, 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-020-00358-5
[8] ibid.

About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.

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 March 23, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 23, 2021, 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.