Binge Eating Recovery: What Is Binge Eating Disorder?


Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder that’s often misunderstood and typically loaded with guilt and shame. If you’re working towards binge eating recovery and you find yourself struggling, know that you’re not alone, and that recovery isn’t hopeless.

Getting a better understanding of binge eating disorder can help you correctly identify your triggers in order to start healing your relationship with food. Binge eating isn’t something to be ashamed of — in fact, shame can make the problem worse.

At Ruby Oak Nutrition, we’re a group of eating disorder dietitians based in Raleigh, NC who help people of all ages overcome binge eating disorder and other eating disorders. We take a non-diet, weight-inclusive approach to care.

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Understanding binge eating disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a complex and serious eating disorder characterized by regular episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, while feeling distressed, guilty, or out of control.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, individuals with BED don’t engage in compensatory behaviors — AKA purging, laxative use, or excessive exercise — after binges. Binge eating episodes are often marked by feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, leading to a cycle of emotional distress and further bingeing. BED can affect individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, and it often co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

The symptoms of binge eating disorder can have physical, emotional, and social consequences. It’s not unusual to feel like your binges are running your life.

Physically, frequent binge eating can lead to rapid weight changes, high blood sugar levels and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. (At Ruby Oak Nutrition, we’re a group of weight-inclusive dietitians, which means we don’t focus on weight as the be-all, end-all measure of health. That said, rapid weight changes can sometimes be a sign or symptom of a larger problem. Because of this, we often ask our clients about their weight history in order to give the best care possible. Still, we never focus on weight loss in our work with clients.)

Emotionally, binge eating disorder can lead to feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, and hopelessness, exacerbating the cycle of restricting and binge eating and emotional distress.

Socially, BED can impact your relationships, work or school performance, and overall quality of life, because it can cause you to withdraw from social activities or feel shame about your eating behaviors. Seeking professional help and support from qualified healthcare providers is so helpful for binge eating recovery, because it helps you address the underlying causes and develop effective strategies for breaking free from binge eating.

Why you should work with an eating disorder dietitian for binge eating recovery

An eating disorder dietitian plays an essential role in supporting your binge eating recovery journey. It’s important to find someone who’s qualified and understands disordered eating.

Dietitians are healthcare professionals who have completed specific education and training in dietetics, and who hold advanced degrees and licensure. They are qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy and are regulated by professional bodies. On the other hand, “nutritionists” have varying levels of education and qualifications, and their scope of practice can differ depending on their training and credentials. It’s best to work with a registered dietitian (RD) when recovering from an eating disorder, because they have advanced training.

Another benefit of working with a dietitian is that they can accept health insurance. If a dietitian is in-network with your health insurance plan, you’ll likely pay less for nutrition counseling. At Ruby Oak Nutrition, our dietitians are in-network with Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna insurance plans, and many of our clients pay nothing out of pocket for nutrition counseling.

In addition to a dietitian, you’ll also want to have a mental health therapist on your treatment team. You may also need to work with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication that could help with some of the underlying causes of your binge eating.

Mapping the binge eating disorder recovery journey

A true recovery plan for binge eating disorder will address the physical, emotional, and behavioral components that can contribute to the binge eating cycle. Here are some key aspects of binge eating disorder recovery, including strategies for addressing triggers, stabilizing your food intake throughout the day, and fostering self-awareness throughout the recovery process.

Empowering mind-body connection

Central to binge eating recovery is tuning into your body’s cues around hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Many people with BED believe that they have no self-control, and that their binges happen because they aren’t able to stop eating when they’re full.

As binge eating dietitians, we often find that the problem stems from ignoring hunger, not fullness. Many of our clients skip meals or eat very little throughout the day; they’ve basically learned how to completely ignore their hunger cues. Some of them don’t even have hunger cues during the day anymore. Then, that hunger will catch up to them in the evening or at night. Once they start eating, they end up bingeing and unable to stop.

In binge eating recovery, getting on a regular eating schedule is an important first step. When you feed your body regular meals, your hunger cues slowly come back throughout the day. After a while, it’s easy to sense hunger at the appropriate times, and it’s easier to feel fullness and feel less out-of-control around food.

Leaning into intuitive eating (when you’re ready)

Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that helps you trust your body’s signals of hunger and fullness rather than relying on external rules or restrictions, and that encourages you to eat without guilt. By tuning into your body’s cues and giving yourself permission to eat all foods without judgment, you can develop a healthier relationship with food and reduce the likelihood of binge eating episodes.

Intuitive eating emphasizes self-care, satisfaction, and flexibility, promoting long-term well-being and enjoyment of food. Early on in the binge eating recovery journey, intuitive eating might not feel possible. That’s normal! In the early stages of recovery, we offer extra support and some guidelines (like gentle meal plans and/or eating schedules). Once you feel more comfortable trusting your body’s cues, we help you move away from these guidelines and towards intuitive eating.

Unveiling underlying factors

We encourage all of our clients to work with a mental health therapist as well as a dietitian. (In fact, we straight-up require that some of our clients have a therapist, depending on what they’re struggling with.) Therapeutic modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) provide valuable insights and coping mechanisms for addressing the root causes of binge eating disorder.

As dietitians, we’re not equipped to help you work through past traumas and emotional triggers that might be related to binge eating disorder. That’s why a mental health therapist is such in important piece of the recovery puzzle. That said, we can help you come up with behavioral strategies to avoid or better deal with some of the triggers that you identify in therapy.

Expanding your toolbox of coping mechanisms

Often, binge eating is a coping mechanism. While it’s fine to use food to soothe certain emotions sometimes, it becomes problematic when it turns into binge eating, or when food is the only coping mechanism you use. Learning more about how and why you use food to cope with your emotions can help you figure out other strategies, so that you’re not always turning to food.

Celebrating progress and resilience

Binge eating recovery is a journey that takes time. Think about it: You didn’t fall into these behaviors overnight, so it’s unrealistic to think that your thoughts and patterns will change right away. It’s important to take small steps, like adding breakfast a few times per week and then working up to daily breakfasts, or committing to going out with friends once per week on nights you typically binge to try and avoid your usual binge triggers.

It’s equally important to celebrate these small wins, instead of beating yourself up for the things that are still going “wrong.” For example, if you’re able to go from 4 binges per week to 2 binges per week in the span of a couple of months, that’s huge progress! Instead of dwelling on the fact that the binges are still happening, recognize that they’re getting less and less frequent. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say.

Practicing self-compassion and enriching your life outside of recovery

True binge eating recovery isn’t just about decreasing and eventually eliminating binge eating. Sure, breaking the binge eating pattern is the ultimate goal, but there’s so much more to sustainable recovery than that. There are so many factors that contribute to your overall health and well being, and creating a fulfilling, sustainable life will help support continued recovery. Focus on nurturing meaningful relationships, make time for things you enjoy (when possible), eat foods that you like, figure out your favorite ways to be active, and do your best to manage stress levels (although we know that this isn’t always possible).

Embarking on the path to binge eating recovery requires courage, commitment, and support.

By leveraging the expertise an eating disorder dietitian and other professionals, embracing intuitive eating principles, and embracing holistic recovery strategies, it’s possible to break free from binge eating and find a more peaceful relationship with food.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, let us help!

We’re a group of anti-diet dietitians who specialize in eating disorders, disordered eating, perinatal nutrition, intuitive eating, and general health concerns. We pride ourselves in our collaborative, compassionate approach to nutrition counseling. Our clients feel heard and validated by our work together, and they get the support they need to make lasting changes to their habits and their relationship with food. Learn more about eating disorder nutrition counseling here.

If you’re not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

You might also like:

What Is Bulimia Nervosa? How Can a Dietitian Help?

What is Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders?

What Is Anorexia Nervosa? How Can a Dietitian Help?

What Is Disordered Eating? How Do I Know if I Have It?

How to Deal With Extreme Hunger in Eating Disorder Recovery

Free Intuitive Eating Course

Looking for a free intuitive eating course? Whether you’re new to the anti-diet approach or you’ve been trying to work towards intuitive eating for a while, our 5-Day Intuitive Eating Starter Course is a great start for anyone who’s tired of obsessing over “wellness” and constantly struggling with food and body acceptance.


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