12-Week Program Curbs Binge Eating

Research Shows Talk Therapy Sessions Help Binge Eaters Eat Less

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

April 1, 2010 -- Binge eaters can help themselves eat less for up to a year by participating in a 12-week therapy program, new research indicates.

The research, which produced two studies, shows that a majority of people participating in talk therapy sessions had stopped bingeing at the end of the program.

Those participants not only lost weight but saved money because they spent less on dietary supplements and weight loss programs, according to the second study.

Talk Therapy for Binge Eating

The program consisted of getting participants to read the self-help book Overcoming Binge Eating, by Christopher Fairburn, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, and then taking part in a 12-week course in which counselors explained strategies.

Researchers enrolled 123 members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan in Oregon and Southwest Washington. More than 90% were women, and the average age was 37.

Half of the participants were asked to read the book and then attend eight therapy sessions over a 12-week period. The other half did not participate and served as a comparison group.

Researchers found that:

  • After 12 weeks, 63.5 % of participants had stopped bingeing, compared to 28.3% who didn't take part.
  • After six months, 74.5 % of participants said they'd abstained from bingeing, vs. 44.1% in the comparison group.
  • After a year, 64.2% of participants were binge free, compared to 44.6 % in the comparison group.

All participants were asked to provide information about their binge-eating episodes, how often they missed work, and how often they were less productive on the job.

They also were asked how much they spent on health care, weight loss programs, and weight loss supplements.

Researchers also report that:

  • Average total costs were $447 less in the therapy group.
  • Total costs of the therapy group were $3,670 per year, per person, compared to $4,098 in the comparison group.

Binge Eating: New Diagnosis?

"People who binge eat more than other people do during a short period of time and they lose control of their eating during these episodes," Ruth H. Striegel-Moore, PhD, a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University and lead author of the study focusing on cognitive therapy, says in a news release. "Our studies show that recurrent binge eating can be successfully treated with a brief, easily administered program, and that's great news for patients and their providers."

The researchers say the American Psychiatric Association has recommended that binge eating be recognized as an eating disorder like bulimia and anorexia. The new diagnosis, they say, may focus more attention on bingeing and how best to treat it.

In addition, the new designation could influence how insurers cover treatment and influence the number of people diagnosed.

"While program results are promising, we highly encourage anyone who has problems with binge eating to consult with their doctors to make sure this program is right for them," says Lynn DeBar, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Human Research.

Both studies are published in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.


Binge eating disorder is best described as… See Answer

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SOURCES: News release, Kaiser Permanente.

Striegel-Moore, R. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, manuscript received ahead of print.

Lynch, F. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, manuscript received ahead of print.

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