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Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Bonnie Brennan

Yesterday, in our interview, eating disorder expert Karen Trevithick revealed key facts about binge eating disorder (BED), including common myths and why dieting doesn’t help (in fact, it exacerbates the disorder).

Today, Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, clinical director at Eating Recovery Center’s Adult Partial Hospitalization Program, delves into what causes BED (dieting is a common trigger) and how to effectively treat it.

Q: What do we know about what causes BED?

A: Although the exact causes for binge eating disorder are unknown, there are some potential triggers that, for individuals genetically predisposed to eating disorders, could cause BED behaviors.

After all, eating disorders, such as BED, are biologically based illnesses and do run in families. Individuals with an immediate family member who has struggled with disordered eating behaviors are more likely to face their own eating disorders struggles.

There is also a fair amount of research citing dieting could lead to binge eating. When an individual restricts calories or certain foods or entire food groups during the day, there is an increased likelihood that he or she will overeat or binge in the evening to compensate for earlier restrictive behaviors.

We live in a “dieting culture” that identifies – even strives to live by – “good” and “bad” foods. For individuals struggling with BED, restricting a certain food or food group increases the likelihood that he or she will binge on any food (not necessarily the one they are restricting) in an attempt to satisfy the craving for that food.

There is also a strong emotional component when it comes to BED. For some people, food is used as a way to manage depression, grief, anxiety, stress, etc. And for people who do binge, they report certain numbness and almost feeling disassociated after a binge; however, this quickly shifts to feelings of shame and guilt for having binged.

Q: BED is highly treatable. What are the effective treatments for this disorder?

A: Most of the time, BED is treated on an outpatient level of care, where an individual is meeting with his or her treatment team once to a few times each week, but maintains his or her life at home. However, if there are complications or additional medical issues, then BED can be assessed for a higher level of care.

For example, if an individual has had gastric bypass surgery or a lap band procedure in the past and experienced complications, it may be most impactful for him or her to be treated at an inpatient level of care to stabilize any medical issues.

Due to the underlying emotional issues seen with BED, therapy is quite helpful to discuss emotions and feelings. As for specific treatment models, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be helpful for patients struggling with binge eating disorder. CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes through a goal-oriented process.

Groups such as Overeaters Anonymous (OA) can also be helpful for BED patients as they provide a level of “peer support” that is crucial for individuals struggling with or managing this disorder.

At Eating Recovery Center, we have found acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to be quite helpful for patients struggling with BED. With ACT, patients are encouraged to accept the negative thoughts or feelings they may have and commit to overcoming them, but not changing or eradicating them.

Q: If someone thinks they have BED, what should be their next steps?

A: If someone is concerned he or she may be struggling with binge eating disorder, it is important to consult with a physician and seek an assessment from a qualified eating disorders specialist at a local eating disorders treatment center.

At Eating Recovery Center, we offer a confidential chat option through the website where individuals who are either concerned about themselves or a friend or loved one can chat with a Master’s level therapist, get their questions answered and learn what next steps should be, specific to their situation.

Many individuals struggle the most with BED behaviors in the evenings, therefore, many treatment programs, such as Eating Recovery Center’s Evening Intensive Outpatient Program, and group meetings, such as with OA, are available during this time frame.

Q: Anything else you’d like individuals to know about BED?

A: For any of the eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, BED or eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), there are similar characteristics; most importantly individuals use the intake of food – or lack thereof – and manipulation of their bodies to cope with problems and confusing emotions.

One thing that is important to note: BED patients often feel as though they do not deserve eating disorders treatment unless they are skinny. It is critical to dispel the myth that eating disordered individuals must be skinny in an effort to encourage everyone to seek the treatment they deserve and experience lasting…recovery.

Again, I just want to reiterate that while BED is a serious and difficult illness, it’s absolutely treatable. You can get better, and you can recover. The key is to seek professional help (with someone who specializes in treating eating disorders).

If you’ve had binge eating disorder, what has helped you recover?

Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Bonnie Brennan

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2013). Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Q&A With Bonnie Brennan. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 May 2013
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