Treatment Corner: Binge Eating

We all overeat sometimes. So what is binge eating?

  1. Eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
  2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (i.e., feeling that one cannot stop or control what or how much one is eating)

You probably know a binge eater. They are usually outgoing, very likeable people who are not always overweight. They are not antisocial hermits who stockpile Girl Scout cookies. They have trouble differentiating between “stomach hunger” (physical feelings of actual hunger) and “mouth hunger” (strong cravings of wanting to taste or eat food).

Healthy eaters are able to eat using stomach hunger most of the time. These are the people who decline a brownie because they just “don’t feel like it right now.” A binge eater is not able to do this: food is something that is restricted or overeaten.

Treatment for binge eating is usually a combination of the following:

  • Cognitive therapy to address the strong learned habit to reach for food instead of addressing the feeling that is provoking “mouth” hunger
  • “Legalizing” all foods so that a binge and restrict pattern is stopped
  • Antidepressants, especially early in treatment
  • Learning to respond to binges with compassion and not guilt or shame. Binge eaters must break the cycle of remorse, because this only fuels more binges.