According to new research, self-help treatment may be more effective than traditional treatments for binge eating. The study followed 123 subjects through a 12-week program and found that the self-help participants more than twice as likely to have stopped the behavior.
Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States and is one of the most difficult to identify and treat. Binge eaters generally consume large amounts at one sitting and feel unable to stop eating. They may go long periods without eating and then eat two or more meals worth of food at one time. Many people who suffer from a binge eating disorder seek weight loss and diet remedies rather than mental health assistance.
Although some binge eaters find temporary help with weight management programs the underlying mental health issue usually cause a relapse of the behavior and can lead to dangerous yo-yo dieting. Sufferers who do seek mental health treatment may find it difficult to attain. The standard mental health treatment is based on cognitive behavioral therapy to treat the underlying problem of using food to fill an emotional void. Although the treatment may be effective, it involves extensive and expensive therapy with specially trained therapists. It can be hard to find a qualified therapist and most insurance companies have limited mental health coverage.
The new study by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research followed a group of 123 study participants. The group, mostly women with an average age of 37, binged at least once a week. Half the group was given information on nutritional services, medical treatments, and healthy eating and weight management programs. The other half of the group was assigned to a 12-week self-guided program detailed in the book titled “Overcoming Binge Eating.” They met individually with a health educator for eight sessions and followed the program outlined in the book, which included keeping detailed food diaries and recording what feelings triggered eating. The health educator functioned as a coach and confirmed what the participants were learning from the book.
After one year, 63 percent of the self-help group had stopped binge eating compared to 28 percent of the control group. The results suggest that self-directed treatment may be more effective than standard programs or traditional therapies that are out of reach for most patients. The program focused on simple things like eating regular meals, not skipping breakfast, and not going too long between meals. The results also suggest that self-help can be a lasting treatment even without the help of an adviser or therapist.
These findings, published in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, suggest that many people who suffer from binge eating disorder who don’t have access to traditional therapy can help themselves. Using a self-guided program like the outlines in the book used in this study may be an effective remedy for many binge eaters.