Is it possible to overcome binge eating disorder?

Written by: Dr Sylvia Tang
Edited by: Emma McLeod

Binge eating is a common disorder with a cycle that can be challenging to break. Dr Sylvia Tang has spent over 29 years helping patients with a variety of psychological conditions, including binge eating disorders. Here, she explains this psychological disorder and clarifies how it can be overcome.

A woman sat by the fridge binging on ice cream

How common are cases of binge eating disorder (BED)?

Binge eating disorder (BED), sadly, is probably much more common than realised. Many people (especially young people) will engage in comfort eating which can develop into binge eating disorder - sometimes without them realising until some time later.


What are the possible causes of BED?

Sometimes, the cause can be restricting food and controlling food intake as part of another disorder. This could be anorexia or depression and anxiety.


As a result of placing restrictions on normal meals, people can binge on foods often at night. This can get extreme and result in vomiting either spontaneously or forced purging (bulimia) as a result of discomfort from over-eating.


Sometimes, it can start as a comfort eating when low in mood, bored or anxious. This can then become habitual.


How do you define binge eating disorder?

This usually involves over-eating of carbohydrates such as biscuits, bread, crisps or chocolate. It can also involve extreme over-eating e.g. eating one loaf of bread, a packet of biscuits, multiple packets of crisps, a large bar of chocolate or a whole box of chocolates. Often, it is so uncomfortable afterwards that the only way to relieve the discomfort is to vomit. If this does not happen spontaneously, vomit is induced with fingers.


How can someone break a binge cycle?

The first thing to do would be to ensure that normal meals are being eaten in the day. Missing meals or restricting meals will lead to an increased desire to binge. Reinstating normal meals lessens the likelihood of wanting to binge and then it is really addressing the habitual element that needs to be tackled through cognitive behavioural therapy.


Is it possible to overcome BED and fully recover? How?

Treatment of any underlying conditions is essential, such as treating depression or trauma with CBT, antidepressants or therapy to improve confidence. Then, a good plan around eating is required which can be helped by a dietician. This is particularly helpful because often, people lose sight of normal eating patterns and portions. Antidepressants can also help if there is an obsessive element as this can lessen obsessional thinking.


Dr Tang can help you overcome binge eating with a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs – click here to learn more about her work and to arrange your first consultation.

Dr Sylvia Tang

By Dr Sylvia Tang

Dr Sylvia Tang is a highly-trained consultant adult psychiatrist based in London with over 29 years of experience treating patients with a wide range of mental health symptoms. Her areas of expertise include depression, anxiety, emotional instability, eating disorders, OCD and PTSD.

Dr Tang graduated with an MBBS degree from The Royal London Medical School in 1992. She later completed her specialist training at various London hospitals, including the Royal Free Hospital, and then becoming a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1997 and finally, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Her first consultant post was in 2001 at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust. Whilst practising here, she also became the Medical Director in 2006 and then the Deputy Chief Executive in 2012.

Dr Tang joined the Priory Group in 2014 as the Group Medical Director. She later became the Chief Executive of Priory Healthcare in 2016 until she left in 2019. During both periods, she was also part of several committees which included the NHS England London Clinical Senate Council, where she was one of the 11 clinical experts reviewing evidence for service reconfiguration in London, the NHSE National Mental Health Payment Steering Group and London Mental Health Strategic Clinical Network.

In regards to her approach to treatment, she believes in working closely with her patients to deliver an individualised care plan that they believe in. She has always received exceptional feedback from her patients and has even been thanked by many individuals and their families for saving their lives. She works particularly with people when they are at their most desperate to ensure they get the right care and support that they need.

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