Treating binge eating 

Binge eating disorders are usually treatable and most people will eventually get better with appropriate help and support.

The main treatments are outlined below.

Self-help programmes

A self-help programme is often the first step towards recovery. There are many different types of self-help and it's important to find one that suits you. Your GP may be able to recommend a self-help book or self-help group that would be suitable.

You can find information on self-help books from your local library or from the eating disorders charity Beat, which also has information on finding self-help and support groups for eating disorders.

If you are referred to a mental health professional for help, they might encourage you to work through a self-help book under their supervision. This is called "guided self-help".

For some people, a self-help programme alone may be enough to help them overcome their eating problems.

Psychological therapy

You may also be referred for psychological therapy to help tackle the underlying problems that cause you to binge eat.

The three main types of therapy used to help people who binge eat are:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for binge eating disorder (CBT-BED) – a specially adapted type of CBT that involves talking to a therapist and working out new ways of thinking about situations, feelings and food
  • an adapted form of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) – therapy that mainly focuses on improving your ability to control and regulate your emotions
  • interpersonal therapy (IPT) – therapy that focuses on relationship-based issues and how they may be influencing your eating habits

These therapies can be very effective in helping people who binge eat, although it's not clear how long-lasting the results are.

It’s common to experience some periods where the problem improves (remission) and periods where they get worse (relapses), especially in the early stages of treatment.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Some people may be prescribed a type of antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) instead of, or in addition to, a self-help programme.

SSRIs boost levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain, which may help lift your mood and lead to an improvement in your eating habits. However, the long-term effects of the treatment for binge eating are unknown.

Common side effects of SSRIs include:

  • feeling agitated, shaky or anxious
  • feeling or being sick
  • indigestion
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or feeling very sleepy
  • low sex drive

These side effects will often improve over time, although some can persist.

Read more about the side effects of SSRIs.

Losing weight

Although the treatments mentioned above won’t address your weight directly, you may experience some weight loss if you are able to control your bingeing – particularly if you combine treatment with regular exercise.

If you are struggling to lose weight, your GP or a weight loss management health professional (such as a dietitian) will be able to draw up a weight loss plan that will provide you with the nutrition your body needs to be healthy, as well as helping you to lose weight.

You may be advised to follow this plan alongside your other treatments, or after your psychological issues have been dealt with.

Your plan may involve:

  • keeping a food diary to see if there is any pattern to when you binge and to highlight the types of food you binge on
  • having regular, planned meals and not skipping meals
  • eating healthy snacks between meals to stop you getting hungry
  • not depriving yourself of specific foods – you may be encouraged to include some unhealthy foods in your eating plan to reduce your urge to binge on them
  • having a balanced, calorie-controlled diet as recommended by your GP or other healthcare professional
  • exercising regularly – most adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week

It's important that you lose weight healthily. Extreme dieting and cutting out meals can make binge eating worse.

Read more about treatments for obesity, losing weight and healthy eating.


Reading Well Books on Prescription

Reading Well Books on Prescription is an early intervention service to help people understand and manage their mental health. The agency provides a core book list of accredited titles recommended by healthcare professionals that covers a range of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders.

Media last reviewed: 11/05/2016

Next review due: 11/05/2019

Page last reviewed: 13/11/2014

Next review due: 13/11/2016