Treatment for Binge-Eating Disorder

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Binge-eating disorder is a type of eating disorder that involves consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. Those who have binge-eating disorder may eat until they are uncomfortably full, usually to cope with emotional distress and negative emotions. These episodes of bingeing are difficult to control and often result in feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment.

Causes of Binge-Eating Disorder

The exact cause of binge-eating disorder isn’t entirely known, but certain factors may increase a person’s risk for developing the disease, such as genetics and gender. Those who have binge-eating disorder have shown an increased sensitivity to dopamine, the hormone that regulates feelings of reward and pleasure. Women are also more likely to develop the disease, with 3.6% of women suffering from binge-eating disorder, compared with 2% of men [1].

Binge eating is not actually about food, but instead can be the result of emotional distress, making it a mental health concern. Almost 80% of those who have binge-eating disorder suffer from other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a substance use disorder [1]. Body image also plays an important role in the development of binge-eating disorder. Those who have the illness report negative views of their body and attempts at dieting [1].

Eating disorder cases, including binge-eating disorder, have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be due to increased isolation, changes in routine, higher levels of stress and grief, and fear of food scarcity [2]. During times of uncertainty, receiving the proper mental health treatment is more important than ever.

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Therapies Used to Treat Binge-Eating Disorder

Therapy techniques used to treat binge-eating disorder can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). These can be used in individual, family, and group therapies.

Group therapy is often at the core of binge-eating disorder treatment, and groups are led by a licensed therapist or other mental health experts. In group therapy sessions, discussions cover topics such as trauma, mindfulness, relationship-building, coping with loss, and body image.

There are many benefits to receiving therapy in a group setting. Group therapy brings patients out of isolation and gives them the chance to connect with others who share their concerns. They have the opportunity to practice healthy communication and build strong bonds with others in recovery.

Treatment might also include experiential therapy, providing hands-on ways of coping with binge-eating disorder symptoms. This includes movement therapy, art therapy, recreational therapy, and therapeutic outings.

Levels of Care Available 

Treatment for binge-eating disorder can take place at one or several levels of care depending on the patient’s unique concerns and where they are in their recovery process.

Levels of care for binge-eating disorder include:

  • Residential treatment – Residential treatment is an option for those who can benefit from 24-hour support with a structured therapy schedule. During residential treatment, patients stay at a treatment facility while they receive therapy several times a day. This allows patients to disconnect from their everyday obligations to focus on treatment and recovery.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP) – In a PHP, patients participate in multiple therapy sessions throughout the week but return home or to on-campus housing in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP) – In an IOP, patients still participate in therapy several times a week, but their schedule is less rigorous than in other levels of care. IOP can also offer a step-down level of care after residential treatment or PHP.
  • Outpatient treatment – Referrals to outpatient treatment are an important part of continuing care. Recovery is often a lifelong process, so continuing with regular weekly or as-needed therapy sessions can keep patients on track.

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The Importance of Receiving Treatment

Eating disorders such as binge-eating disorder can have dangerous consequences if left untreated. Those who have untreated binge-eating disorder often develop health concerns such as obesity, leading to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke [3]. Binge-eating disorder is also associated with chronic pain, sleep problems, and irritable bowel syndrome. Women may also struggle with fertility problems, complications during pregnancy, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Someone who is struggling with binge-eating disorder is at an increased risk for co-occurring mental health concerns and substance use disorders [3]. The longer someone goes without proper treatment for binge-eating disorder, the longer they may have to live with feelings of guilt, isolation, and negative body image. With the right treatment, lasting recovery from binge-eating disorder can be achieved. If you or someone you know is struggling with binge-eating disorder, help is available.


[1] Mandle, E. (2019, December 3). Binge eating disorder: Symptoms, causes, and asking for help. Healthline.

[2] Sole-Smith, V. (2021, March 31). Trapped in the house with an eating disorder. The New York Times.

[3] Trevithick, K. Eating disorders. Healthy Women.

About Timberline Knolls

Timberline Knolls BannerAt Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, located outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and girls who are living with mental health disorders. Our private facility offers female-only treatment programs for eating disorders, addiction, and a range of mental health conditions. We work closely with each person to develop treatment goals to maximize strengths while focusing on individual needs. Our treatment team understands that each woman has unique needs and that she must play a role in her journey to wellness.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of 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 on June 1, 2021. Published on
Reviewed & Approved on June 1, 2021 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC