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Overeating is a common phenomenon characterized by the recurrent consumption of large quantities of food, often to the point of discomfort, even when not physically hungry.

This behavior is recognized and is associated with various physical and psychological health issues. There are multiple forms of treatments for overeating disorders, but the first on the line is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT has been proven effective for many patients with eating disorders. Read on to learn more about cognitive behavior for overeating. 

Meanwhile, are you considering booking an appointment with a licensed therapist with professional experience, and skillful at using different clinical approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy for overeating?

The BetterHelp platform connects you to a vast number of qualified therapists and counselors. Take that step of finding an everlasting solution today and start a journey toward a happier and healthier you.

Types of Eating Disorders 

1. Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia nervosa features an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and extreme efforts to control weight and shape.

Individuals with anorexia often severely restrict their food intake, leading to dangerously low body weight. 

Treatments for anorexia typically involve a combination of therapy, nutritional counseling, and medical monitoring. 

However, cognitive behavioral therapy is mainly used to help individuals challenge their distorted thoughts and behaviors around food and body image.

In some cases, antidepressants may help the patients to treat other aftermath conditions such as depression or anxiety.

2. Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia nervosa features recurrent episodes of binge eating. Sometimes, it follows compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, or excessive exercise.

Therapy for bulimia includes CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). To manage this disorder and its aftermath, healthcare providers may prescribe antidepressants. 

3. Binge Eating Disorder:

Binge eating disorder involves recurrent instances of consuming substantial quantities of food without subsequent compensatory actions.

Individuals with binge eating disorder often feel a lack of control over their eating and experience shame or guilt about their binge episodes.

While children and teenagers are less prone to meeting the criteria for BED compared to adults, behaviors associated with it, like loss of control eating (defined as feeling unable to control eating regardless of the quantity consumed), are widespread among them.

Therapy for binge eating disorder typically involves CBT, interpersonal therapy, or dialectical behavior therapy.

Doctors may recommend medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or alternative antidepressants to assist in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

4. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):

ARFID manifests as a reluctance or limitation in food consumption, frequently stemming from a diminished interest in eating, avoidance triggered by food’s sensory traits, or apprehension regarding the potential adverse effects of eating.

This condition may lead to substantial weight loss, nutritional imbalances, and disruptions in social and professional capacities.

Unlike anorexia, individuals with ARFID do not necessarily have a distorted body image, but the impact on their physical health can be severe.

5. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED):

OSFED encompasses eating disorders that don’t meet the precise criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or BED but result in considerable distress and impairment.

This can consist of atypical anorexia nervosa (where weight is not significantly low), atypical bulimia nervosa (without regular compensatory behaviors), or purging disorder (purging without binge eating).

Individuals with OSFED may experience many of the same physical and psychological effects as those with the more well-known eating disorders.

Recognizing various eating disorders is crucial for identifying signs and symptoms, seeking suitable treatment, and offering support to those impacted. 

It’s vital for individuals struggling with eating disorders to receive professional help from healthcare providers on platforms like BetterHelp. These professionals specialize in managing eating disorders and mental health.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Overeating: How It Helps?


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tailored for overeating is a structured, brief psychotherapy designed to assist individuals in recognizing and altering their adverse thought patterns and behaviors linked to overeating.

It functions based on the notion that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, proposing that altering our thought patterns can result in changes in behavior.

CBT assists individuals grappling with overeating by tackling the root causes of their eating habits, primarily addressing the thought patterns and beliefs that fuel them.

Many individuals who struggle with overeating have negative thought patterns related to food, body image, and self-worth.

CBT helps them identify these thoughts and challenge their validity, ultimately replacing them with more positive and adaptive thought patterns.

Moreover, CBT also aids individuals in cultivating coping mechanisms for addressing triggers associated with overeating.

By acquiring skills to identify and regulate emotional triggers, stressors, and environmental cues contributing to overeating, individuals can foster healthier coping strategies, diminishing the tendency to resort to food for solace.

Furthermore, CBT for overeating helps individuals build skills in behavioral self-regulation.

It includes learning to recognize hunger and fullness cues, developing mindful eating practices, and creating structured eating patterns that promote healthier food choices and portion control.

What Typically Happens During a CBT Session? 

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), sessions are methodically structured around specific objectives, emphasizing collaborative efforts between therapist and client.

Typically, each session commences with establishing an agenda jointly agreed upon by both parties.

Subsequently, goals for the upcoming session are set, laying a clear roadmap for therapeutic endeavors. A pivotal aspect of CBT involves:

  • Recognizing and challenging negative thought patterns.
  • Fostering a more accurate perception of challenging situations.
  • Promoting effective responses.

Furthermore, CBT ensures regular homework assignments to facilitate symptom alleviation beyond the confines of the therapy room.

These assignments encompass relaxation exercises, journaling, worksheets, or applying newfound strategies in real-life scenarios.

Debriefing sessions in subsequent meetings entail evaluating the efficacy of these tasks and refining approaches for the ensuing week.

CBT embodies an interactive therapeutic approach where clients actively participate in skill acquisition and symptom management.

Central to this process is the collaborative alliance between therapist and client, marked by transparency, mutual education, and joint decision-making regarding session content and therapeutic strategies.

Potential Risks Associated With CBT 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) stands as a prevalent psychotherapeutic approach renowned for its effectiveness in addressing a range of mental health issues.

However, like any treatment, being aware of potential risks associated with CBT is essential.

1. Return of Negative Feelings:

There is a risk that the negative feelings associated with the problem being treated may return, but with the skills learned in CBT, it should be easier to control them.

2. Not Suitable for Everyone:

Due to its structured nature, CBT might not be appropriate for individuals with intricate mental health requirements or learning challenges.

3. Potential Unwanted Adverse Effects:

Similar to all psychotherapeutic approaches, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is not exempt from the possibility of undesirable side effects.

A recent study elucidates the types and frequency of these adverse effects through structured interviews conducted with psychotherapists trained in CBT.

4. Lack of Understanding of Mental Illness:

There are differing perspectives on how CBT understands mental illness, with some evidence suggesting that the tests used in studies do not track problems with reasoning, which raises questions about the understanding of mental illness in the context of CBT.

5. Risk of Bias in Trials:

There are methodological and conceptual problems in psychotherapy trials, including CBT, which can prevent adequate placebo control and undermine causal inference.

As a result, it can affect the overall quality of evidence supporting the effectiveness of CBT.

Research Studies

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common effective treatment for overeating disorders, addressing the mental and behavioral aspects that contribute to disordered eating.

In a study by Fairburn, M.D. and others (2009), it was found that CBT effectively reduced binge eating episodes and led to significant improvements in eating attitudes and behaviors among individuals with binge eating disorder.

The study demonstrated that CBT focused on identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts and beliefs about food and body image and implementing behavioral strategies to regulate eating patterns, resulting in sustainable improvements in participants’ eating behaviors.

Furthermore, another study conducted by Palavras, M.D. et al. (2016) examined the impact of CBT on individuals with bulimia nervosa.

The findings indicated that CBT led to a reduction in binge eating and purging behaviors, as well as improvements in overall psychological well-being.

The study highlighted the importance of addressing the underlying cognitive distortions and dysfunctional beliefs associated with food and body image through CBT interventions, ultimately leading to positive outcomes in the treatment of overeating disorders.

Moreover, a meta-analysis by Vocks, Ph.D., and colleagues (2010) synthesized the results of multiple studies on the efficacy of CBT for eating disorders, including binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

The meta-analysis concluded that CBT was significantly more effective than control conditions in reducing binge eating and purging behaviors and improving psychological and emotional functioning.

The study provided further support for the use of CBT as a primary treatment approach for overeating disorders, emphasizing its ability to address both the cognitive and behavioral components of these disorders.

Alternative Psychological Treatments for Overeating


Overeating can be a complex issue with psychological underpinnings, and several alternative psychological treatments can be considered for addressing this behavior.

1. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): 

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) has demonstrated equivalent long-term effects to CBT for the treatment of binge eating disorder.

It focuses on addressing interpersonal issues and their connection to eating disorder symptoms.

IPT, although it may progress more slowly than CBT, has demonstrated effectiveness in mitigating loss of control eating and weight gain in overweight adolescents.

2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another alternative treatment that has shown promise in addressing overeating behaviors.

DBT focuses on developing mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.

It has been used in the treatment of various eating disorders and may be beneficial for individuals struggling with overeating.

3. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: 

Psychodynamic psychotherapy aims to help individuals understand the underlying causes of their eating disorders. It addresses rigid thinking patterns and behaviors associated with overeating.

The overall goal of this therapy is to facilitate a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological factors contributing to overeating.

4. Group Therapy: 

Group therapy offers individuals a valuable source of support and a platform to openly converse about their feelings and concerns with others who can relate to their experiences and challenges.

It can be an effective way to find support and work through overeating behaviors in a supportive environment.

5. Family Support: 

Involving family members in the treatment process can be crucial for success. Family support helps the individual seeking treatment understand the eating disorder, recognize its signs and symptoms, and provide a supportive environment.

Overall, a holistic approach encompassing psychological, emotional, and behavioral dimensions is essential in tackling overeating and its associated disorders.

Expert guidance and support are imperative to crafting effective strategies for conquering overeating tendencies and cultivating healthier eating habits.


How does overeating Lead to Depression and Anxiety even though we eat for pleasure? 

Overeating can lead to depression and anxiety, even though eating is often associated with pleasure.
The relationship between overeating and mental health issues is complex and can involve various factors. 
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America confirms that individuals grappling with obesity and binge eating disorders often contend with concurrent mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
These conditions can exacerbate one another: excessive eating, contributing to weight gain, and loss of control over binge eating may precipitate depression. 
Conversely, depression itself may also trigger overeating as a coping mechanism.

Can behavioral therapy be effective in weight loss treatment? 

Behavioral therapy is effective in weight loss treatment. How? Therapists search for the causes or triggers that lead to depression and overeating and work on finding solutions for both immediate treatment and long-term management.
The initial stages of therapy concentrate on addressing overeating tendencies and devising strategies to cope with symptoms of depression.
CBT can also help in assessing weight and body image concerns, and it can provide coping mechanisms to improve body image, which can, in turn, improve depression and reduce overeating tendencies.

Emma Loker

I attribute my extensive knowledge to a 1st Class Honours degree in Psychology and my current studies to become a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at the University of Cambridge.


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