How to Help Someone with Binge Eating Disorder

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There are no quick or easy solutions to help binge eating disorder or anyone who’s struggling with weight, food and/or body image problems. Keep in mind that whatever is going on with food, it is only a symptom of the problem; the real problem is not food.

People who binge are often coping with uncomfortable or painful emotions or conflicts. They eat as a way of comforting or distracting themselves from something painful and upsetting. They can get so accustomed to eating as a way of coping that they never actually recognize the emotional trigger.

It’s important to recognize that whatever is going on with food, it’s not about willpower.

Help Someone with Binge Eating Disorder

Here’s how to determine whether a friend or loved one is struggling with binge-eating disorder:

Signs Someone Might Be Struggling with Binge Eating Disorder

  • Eating more quickly than normal or eating large amounts of food even when not physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment or fear of judgment 
  • Obsessed with their weight and food
  • Frequent tries at restrictive diets 
  • Feeling unhappy, anxious or other negative emotions about their body weight, shape or food.
  • Feeling disgusted with themselves, depressed or guilty after a binge.
  • Hiding food

Here are some suggestions for what to do and what not to do when you are trying to help binge eating disorder to someone.

Here are some suggestions for what NOT to do when trying to help binge eating disorder to someone.

Don’t be the food police

Just don’t do it. It doesn’t help at all. Saying, “Do you think you should eat that?” or “Maybe you should make a healthier choice” only causes the person to feel judged and not want to open up to you at all.

Don’t be logical

Binge eating isn’t logical. It’s psychological. Conventional diet wisdom isn’t going to help here, because bingeing is not about willpower. It’s a way of coping that hurts more than it helps.

Don’t say things like…

  • “Just eat less”
  • “Just eat a little bit”
  • “You just need to eat less and exercise more.”

Don’t offer appearance-based reassurance.

For instance, if a friend says that they feel fat, don’t tell them how great they look. If they are using “fat” as a way of hiding big emotions such as anxiety, depression, vulnerability, fear, and more, then these reassurances won’t help.

Don’t compliment other people who’ve lost weight.

Although binge eating is about deeper issues than weight and food, when you comment on someone else's weight loss, that can actually trigger binge behavior by putting a focus on appearance.

Here are some things to do instead:

Focus on feelings and not on behavior.

If someone you know is out of control with food, there is a reason for it and the reason has to do with what’s eating at them, not what they’re eating. 

It isn’t about willpower and it isn’t about control. If they are turning to food, they’re turning away from something else. Instead, ask open-ended questions that delve into the person's thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Good questions to help someone with binge eating disorder:

  • How can I help?
  • How do you feel?
  • What’s going on with you?

All of these suggestions can help someone turn to you for comfort instead of to food.

To Wrap It Up

Helping someone that is suffering from binge eating is not an easy task. Rather than jumping to conclusions or engaging in some of the suggestions in this post, sit down and have a conversation. Help them to feel heard and find solutions together.

Looking for a resource for someone you know? Share my free Facebook group where they will find a community of supportive members who can help them along this difficult path.

 The Author



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Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio. Her recent TEDx talk is Why Binge Eating is NOT about Food. (we can link to it once it is up)



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