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Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Ellen Shuman, Part 3

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This is the last part of my interview with the amazing Ellen Shuman. Ellen is an emotional eating and binge eating recovery coach. She’s also the vice president of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA).

Ellen already shared her insight on myths about BED and her own struggles and recovery from the disorder.

Below, she discusses how BED is treated, how you can find reputable help, what coaching is and when it’s appropriate for BED and more much.

Q: What are the first steps individuals should take when seeking help for BED?

A: If you think you have a problem with a binge eating disorder, find a mental health professional in your community who specializes in emotional eating and binge eating disorder and get assessed.

My advice–do your research! If you are lucky enough to identify several therapists in your community who say they have expertise working with BED, call them and interview them thoroughly.

Ask what they know about binge eating disorder? Have they treated many people with BED vs. bulimia and/or anorexia? I also suggest respectfully asking the therapist if he or she is a member of any eating disorder organization? Does he/she attend conferences (like BEDA, the Binge Eating Disorder Association, NEDA, or AED)?

While the answers to these questions are not deal breakers, what you hear may be an indication of a particular interest in this disorder and a desire to stay current with the latest research and most effective clinical strategies.

Readers of this blog are also welcome to attend one of my free informational telephone seminars about emotional eating issues and binge eating disorder. Most people find it’s a great first, non-threatening step toward learning about emotional eating and BED and about how to find help.

Since the seminar is taught by telephone, people can participate without being seen. It eliminates the shame some people feel when they first begin to explore BED. Anyone interested is welcome to register at

Q: What are the best ways to treat BED?

A: Psychotherapies like dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy, individual and/or group settings, are recommended for people with BED.

The goal of psychotherapy is to replace old negative ways of thinking and behaving with healthier habits that will help a person reduce bingeing episodes, depression and/or anxiety.

If a person can learn to reduce body dissatisfaction thoughts, improve their relationship and communication skills, cope better with issues that underlie and drive their binges, if they can learn to better tolerate feelings, then binges will likely reduce.

While there are no medications specifically prescribed for the treatment of binge eating disorder, sometimes antidepressants, which impact brain chemicals like serotonin, have been found to be helpful in reducing symptoms of BED, like depression and compulsivity.

I’ll admit bias here, because this is what I’ve been doing professionally for almost two decades…I believe in coaching, when appropriate. What I mean by ‘when appropriate’ is that for many people with binge eating disorder, there is a point of readiness for Coaching.

It’s when they already have some insight, can identify feelings, any depression and/or anxiety is being successfully treated, and the person is ready to learn new practical skills and tools for emotional regulation.

Coaching is not therapy. It’s life-skill training. As a coach, I help people figure out what they want, what the behaviors would look like today that would get them there. And then, in the here and the now, we identify and eliminate barriers that are in their way.

Sometimes, people we work with in our coaching practice, by telephone, also have a therapist in their own community. We coordinate care and create a team on the person’s behalf, again, when a person is ready to learn new skills and to try them out.

Other people start coaching when they are finished with therapy and are ready to work on specific life goals. Because binge eating disorder becomes be all-consuming, when in the throes of it, other aspects of a person’s life tend to get put on hold.

With some recovery under their belt, now it’s time to dust off old dreams or to create new ones. We have found that coaching can be very effective when the timing in right.

Q: Can you talk about the most effective self-help strategies for overcoming binge eating and tools for recovery?

A: If you are an emotional eater, but not to the degree where it is a full blown binge eating disorder, self-help strategies, alone, might be very useful. When we see a diagnosis of binge eating disorder, we generally do not recommend people try to treat that on their own.

That said, there are some self-help strategies even people with BED can find helpful when coupled with professional guidance. For example, support groups, in person and online, and self-help workbooks can be powerful tools.

Personally and professionally, I believe strongly in self-help and support as an adjunct to the work anyone is doing with a therapist or a coach. I felt so strongly about this I designed an online support network, called the A Weigh Out Members’ Circle. In addition to weekly “Empowerment Tools,” with suggested action steps, we’ve found that 24/7 access to others who ‘get it’ can be a very useful when it comes to reducing binges.

Readers of your blog are welcome to sample everything we offer in the Members’ Circle. We suggest a free three week trial to see if we’re a good fit. Everyone is welcome to learn more and to sign up at

Q: In one interview you explained that emotional eating exists on a continuum, and that we use food to distract from the feelings or thoughts we don’t want to experience. We essentially avert our attention from unpleasant emotions (or any intensity of emotion) by shifting our attention to food, instead. What are healthy ways that we can tolerate and regulate our emotions without masking them with food and food thoughts?

A: First, it’s important to understand that, somewhere along the way, some of us learned to use food and food thoughts as our primary way to disconnect, from anything we’d rather not tolerate. The good news is that most people can also learn healthier and more effective ways to cope.

We can learn to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings and how to tolerate even the uncomfortable ones. We can learn alternate ways to self-soothe. With mindfulness work, we can recognize when we’re distorting the facts of any given situation to fit how we happen to feel about that situation.

When you learn to identify your desired outcomes, and how to be more effective at getting those outcomes, life gets calmer and you’ll binge less. You can learn to have healthier relationships. You can become more empowered and create the life you truly want.

More about Ellen:

Ellen Shuman is the founder of Acoria Eating Disorder Treatment, A Weigh Out Life Coaching, and the A Weigh Out Members’ Circle,  She is Co-Chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders “Health at Every Size” SIG. She can be contacted at [email protected] or (513) 321-4242.

A huge thank-you to Ellen for a comprehensive and thoughtful interview!

By the way, just another reminder that you can still email me your post link or paragraph on creativity by Monday night. Email me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com.

What are your thoughts on Ellen’s interview? What would you like to know about binge eating disorder? Please don’t hesitate to ask either in the comments or by sending me an email!

Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Ellen Shuman, Part 3

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Ellen Shuman, Part 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 19, 2018, from


Last updated: 20 Jan 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jan 2011
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