Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. It’s highly treatable and there is hope.

Binge eating is sometimes a way to cope with issues you face in life, such as stress and trauma. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or failing in any way.

If you have binge eating disorder, know that you’re not alone. Binge eating disorder (BED) is actually the most common eating disorder. Eating disorders affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men by the age of 40.

BED is highly treatable and finding new coping strategies is one of the first steps to healing.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as periods of eating more than a usual amount of food within a period of time and feeling a lack of control over eating during the episode.

Other disordered eating symptoms associated with BED include:

  • eating more quickly than usual
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • eating alone or hiding food to avoid feeling shame
  • feelings of distress, guilt, or depression after eating

BED symptoms differ from person to person, but generally, noting a lack of control and feelings of shame are the most common hallmarks of the condition.

People living with BED can have symptoms for many years, have co-occurring physical and mental health issues, and severe self-image issues, which can make symptoms worse.

Research shows that some people can make marginal improvements by using self-help strategies, but BED most often requires treatment by a professional. Treatment can help address underlying causes so that the urge to binge can be channeled into other coping methods.

Living with BED usually involves a preoccupation with food and eating, sometimes to the detriment of other facets of life.

You may feel constant anxiety about food and find ways to hide eating from others. There are cycles of anxiety when not bingeing, a sense of numbness during a binge, and immense shame after.

Bingeing is not usually about feelings of hunger. In fact, many people will eat when they’re not hungry to fulfill the preoccupation. Much of the day may consist of attempting to find ways to control the urge to eat and berating yourself if you give in.

You may think having BED is your fault or that it’s just a lack of willpower, neither of which is true. BED has nothing to with willpower. It’s a complex disorder that can stem from all kinds of sources outside of yourself. It is not your fault.

While scientific evidence suggests that some people with BED show signs of addictive behavior, eating isn’t something that can be quit cold turkey. After all, we need to eat to survive.

Learning to live with the cause of the distress is one of the most challenging aspects. Disordered eating of all types needs to include elements of making peace with your relationship with food. Treatment can help you do that.

Dealing with BED symptoms can be debilitating, but there are resources to help you heal and learn to eat without stress and shame.

Many people living with binge eating disorder don’t have overweight or obesity. But if excess weight does accompany the disorder, complications in treatment can arise.

Within the scope of weight stigma and the huge diet industry, there is a lot of misinformation. Weight management programs, your friends and family, and even health professionals will often focus solely on excess weight and reducing calories.

Diet plans and food restriction can exacerbate BED symptoms, fueling guilt and shame, and further damage your relationship with food. When being treated for BED, many professionals suggest that weight loss is not one of the treatment goals.

Treating BED often takes a multifaceted approach that depends on your specific circumstances. Some approaches taken by the pros include:

Goals may include learning about the underlying emotional reasons for bingeing and solid coping strategies when life becomes difficult.

Repairing your relationship with food is also key. Learning how to move away from “dieting,” learning about eating intuitively, and confronting body image and self-esteem issues will likely be a part of therapy.

It’s also important to have a multidisciplinary team on your side, which may include:

  • a therapist
  • a psychiatrist (especially if there’s also concerns about depression or other co-occurring disorders)
  • a weight-neutral doctor
  • a registered dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating or disordered eating

Research shows that people with BED often have other conditions, such as other eating disorders, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), low vitamin D, sleep apnea, and inflammation.

Thus, treating BED often includes treating co-occurring conditions as well. Having a supportive doctor can help.

Doctors who support the concept of health at every size (HAES) have been increasingly regarded as important to treating BED. Instead of using weight loss as the major metric for health, HAES focuses on all aspects of mental and physical health and well-being to address symptoms.

Finding a team that will address your personal circumstances without turning to rapid or temporary weight loss as a goal can be immensely helpful.

Doing some internet sleuthing, conducting high-level phone interviews, and looking at reviews can help you find your BED dream team.

Focus on finding professionals who have had success working with people living with BED and finding out what their methods have been. If any mention a “goal weight” or any trendy diet plans, run.

When looking for a nutritionist or dietitian, adding “intuitive eating” into your search can be a great shortcut to finding the one for you.

Doctors and healthcare professionals have to do their own significant work to overcome the stigma and biases ingrained in their medical education. But they are out there. Therapists and nutritionists can sometimes recommend weight-neutral doctors to try.

While recovering from binge eating disorder, self-help practices can help support your journey.

Practice mindful eating

Rather than constructing complicated and restrictive diets, building a healthy relationship with food can mean there’s less guilt and power that food can have over you. Mindful eating can help.

Mindful eating usually entails focusing while eating with no distractions so you can better appreciate the food and feel satisfaction from it. Pausing to savor it and to pay attention to how you feel is important. Awareness is the goal.

Rethink movement

Finding joy in moving your body can help you become more in tune with it and appreciate all it offers. You don’t have to exercise for pain or weight loss, but rather for enjoyment, fresh air, and strength.

Movement can also give you power over the aspects of your past that cause you pain and trauma.

Explore your own weight biases

Internalized shame and stigma can often reflect on your feelings toward others. Recovery should include understanding and addressing those biases in yourself and others. Accepting your own body means accepting the bodies of others, too.

Surround yourself with body and recovery positive information

Finding body positive — or even better, body/beauty neutral — media and social circles can be immensely beneficial. Follow positive, diverse bodies on social media. Seek out memoirs and stories from those who have recovered from BED or self-esteem issues.

Find healthy ways to process emotions

Consider finding a way to channel restless energy when urges strike or stress gets high. Meditation, mindfulness exercises, movement, hobbies like journaling — all of these can help you channel and process emotion.

Build a support system

Finding supportive people who understand your goals and what works for you can help. Make sure they understand if you want them to avoid talking about diet or weight, for instance.

Group support can help, too. Here are some to try:

Be honest with yourself and your team

If you binged or restricted, need more coping skills, or your emotions have felt unpredictable lately, tell your healthcare or support team. Your team should be a safe place to ask for help without judgment.

Practice self-compassion

Negative self-talk only fuels those bad relationship vibes with your self-image and with eating. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and the compassion you deserve. Disordered eating is not your fault.

Notice and nix self-judgment when it happens. This could be when you find yourself deeming foods or behaviors as “good” or “bad,” or that you need to atone for bingeing or eating something you think isn’t what you should eat.

Overcoming disordered eating can feel insurmountable, but it absolutely isn’t. Seeking help to find the causes behind your disordered eating is the first step to healing yourself and your relationship with food.

Equipping yourself with the tools to recover and knowing when help is needed is key.

If you feel like you may be living with disordered eating behaviors, reach out to a healthcare professional or nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders for guidance.

If you aren’t sure about your symptoms, this questionnaire may help.