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How to Face the Challenges of Binge Eating Disorder Recovery

Like every other eating disorder, binge eating disorder poses many challenges for a person trying to better their life through treatment.Each person’s challenges differ according to their unique situations and their personality, so knowing the general issues that could put a wall between them and their recovery is useful in making a plan.

For people who are ready to seek help for their binge eating disorder (or for another eating disorder), knowledge is key for working to achieve their recovered selves. Here’s a rundown of the potential challenges ahead in receiving help in becoming recovered.

Lack of Motivation and A Sense of Hopelessness

Binge eating disorder is often co-morbid with depression, and that often brings feelings of hopelessness and futility. The feelings may arise after a binge eating episode, but they are just as likely to be pervasive at all times. When a sense of hope about changing their life disappears, a person might give up any thoughts of trying. They may even feel like they will never be able to control the urge to binge eat.

When depression co-occurs with binge eating disorder, the two disorders can exacerbate each other and further erode the motivation to change. The experts at most eating disorder treatment centers are skilled at treating binge eating disorder, true, but it’s common in this day in age for them to have extensive experience in treating other mental health conditions. People in treatment will often engage in talk therapy and possibly use antidepressant medication to control the client’s depression, which can free up the person’s focus on binge eating recovery.

Fear of Change

Very often, eating disorders develop and worsen because they provide a (misguided) sense of control over the person’s life –and a source of comfort. Though detrimental to their health and well-being, the person can become something akin to addicted to the behavior. Over time, it becomes more difficult to let go, causing some people to experience anxiety even at the thought of stopping.

Thankfully, becoming recovered is what provides true stability and comfort, especially upon learning adaptive coping skills in treatment. With cognitive retraining like CBT and DBT, a person can retrain themselves to cope with stressors in a less self-destructive way.

Through mindfulness practices and self-reflection, such as the practice of regular journaling, a person with binge eating disorder can overcome this feat of letting go of their disordered behaviors. It’s not a quick process, but millions have been able to overcome their fear of change.

Eating Disorders Still Carry a Stigma

Stigma about eating disorders still exist, although things are slowly beginning to change. The belief that eating disorders are caused by lifestyle choices alone makes it difficult for many to reach out for help when they need it. It might seem impossible to reach out for help because of the embarrassment they think will happen.

Eating disorder treatment specialists help their clients objectively deconstruct these stigmas and other misconceptions about eating disorders. Through their discussions, they may reveal that:

  • Genetic risk factors greatly contribute to the development of eating disorders
  • Disordered eating patterns are an illness, not a lifestyle choice
  • The embarrassment they might feel pales in comparison to the potential health risks

No case of binge eating disorder is exactly the same, and no one fears the stigmas of binge eating disorder in the same way. As such, a personalized treatment plan based on trust between therapist and client is essential to overcoming this fear.

Shame and Guilt

One of the most prominent characteristics f binge eating disorder is a sense of shame and guilt for the disordered behaviors, especially directly after a binge eating episode.One of the common ways people compensate for their guilt is increased secrecy in response and starting to withdraw from friends and family.

As the eating disorder worsens, shame and guilt may present as:

  • Skipping family meals
  • Refusing to eat in public
  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Experimenting with diet programs
  • Increased isolation
  • Making negative remarks about themselves

Through these behaviors, they try to temper those strong feelings and alleviate the resulting stress. Compensatory behaviors rarely if ever help the person overcome their feelings of guilt and shame, however. The same cognitive retraining methods we discussed earlier when implemented by an eating disorder treatment professional, can also help here.

These professionals help people see things objectively without the filter of binge eating disorder skewing their thought patterns. They let them know that their eating disorder is not their fault and doesn’t have to be a source of shame. As they work on becoming recovered, the shame and guilt start to dissipate, allowing them to live a recovered life.

Low Self-Esteem

Binge eating disorder frequently causes self-esteem to become lower and lower as time goes on. Many people with binge eating disorder become overweight, and this can also cause a drop in self-esteem. This causes the binge eating disorder symptoms to worsen, creating a cycle that reinforces itself again and again.

Group therapy sessions with other people that have binge eating disorder are one potential remedy for decreasing self-esteem. Seeing people who are in the same situation can open their eyes to the fact that they are suffering from an illness and that should be a source of shame. Binge eating treatment centers regularly hold these sessions to help their clients develop a positive outlook about themselves.

Family Difficulties

In situations where the individual’s family is unsupportive or dysfunctional, a person might resort to disordered eating behaviors. In many cases, the way the family functions can contribute to the continuation of eating disorder symptoms. Binge eating disorder also tends to make people self-isolate, weakening their relationships, and causing further stress.

Eating disorder treatment centers almost always include family therapy sessions that educate them and keep them involved in their loved ones’ recovery. They may have the family come in for individual and group therapy, for example, promoting open communication and mutual bonding. They may also have the family participate in exposure therapy and outings as deemed appropriate for the patient.

During treatment, the family exercises may include:

  • Increasing the support structure at the individual’s home
  • Education about eating disorders and their underlying causes
  • Meal planning and nutritional tips
  • Restructuring gatherings to shift the focus from food to companionship
  • Group therapy sessions including the family
  • Preparing for the return home after completing binge eating disorder treatment

The more supportive and involved the family is, the better chance a person has to fully recover from binge eating disorder.

Isolation and Social Anxiety

Very often, people with binge eating disorder feel guilt and shame – and they feel that they have no one they can talk to about those feelings. People need to know that they have someone to go to when difficulties arise in remaining recovered. Increased social separation and inability to communicate tend to worsen the symptoms of binge eating disorder.

Especially after eating disorder treatment is completed and the person returns home, social anxiety and self-isolation can quench motivation to stay recovered and keep disordered thoughts from overwhelming them. Unfortunately, binge eating disorder causes people to isolate themselves and keeps them from reaching out for help. They may also be unaware of how to voice their need for support without resorting to disordered behaviors or other ineffective methods.

The alumni groups and family therapy sessions offered at binge eating disorder treatment centers can help develop a strong social support network and learn how to appropriately reach out in times of need. Many former clients have reported that the group therapy sessions at the center helped them feel more comfortable discussing their disorder and opening up to others. This can influence a recovered life in that they take those lessons back into the “real world.”

Responsibilities and Obligations

As they try to balance their eating disorder, schoolwork, or professional life, and family obligations, many people do not have time for much else. Binge eating disorder treatment, especially in a residential program, takes a lot of time. It might seem impossible to just drop everything and go into treatment. The competing obligations may feel much too important to leave behind, delaying treatment and increasing the risk of adverse effects.

Keeping in mind that residential treatment might be necessary to save a life, which should supersede any other priority, treatment doesn’t have to overwhelming or all-consuming. There are many different levels of care available at major binge eating treatment centers, including:

  • Full residential program
  • Supervised living
  • Day treatment

The admissions team at an eating disorder treatment center can help assess what kind of program is the best option. They can also provide help in managing daily life and responsibilities by making arrangements with the person’s work and family.

Unsure How to Ask for Help

The aforementioned social isolation can make it seem like no one is willing to or able to help. Although the person with binge eating disorder is suffering, with their situation, they may feel like treatment is out of reach or unsure how to ask for help. They may convince themselves the treatment center is too far away or costs too much. Depression and low self-esteem can also make them feel unworthy of help or unwilling to consider asking for help.

Thankfully, all of these concerns are centered around fears instead, which can be resolved by talking with a trusted family therapist, who can introduce them to a supportive admissions specialist. These trained specialists can lay out the path to recovery and help people address their challenges one by one.

Upon talking to these specialists, people will receive intake paperwork, including a self-assessment, to fill out and return. By reviewing that assessment plus any pertinent medical records, admissions specialists can let them know what treatment program will work best for their needs. Then, they can set up an admission date at their preferred location, guiding them through the process step by step.


Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.