Daily Exposure Therapy for Binge Eating Disorders: FAQs

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Binge eating disorder (BED) is one of the most common eating disorder subtypes in the United States. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, BED is three times more common than anorexia or bulimia nervosa combined. Characterized by an uncontrollable tendency to eat to a point that it is physically uncomfortable during binge episodes, these disorders can be severe, and that means binge eating disorder treatment often involves multiple types of therapy. An effective treatment option for binge eating disorder recovery is daily exposure therapy.

What Is Daily Exposure Therapy?

In general terms, exposure therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy is commonly part of treatment for varying types of disorders relative to anxiety, such as phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder. During exposure therapy, individuals are exposed to things that provoke anxiety, but exposure takes place in a controlled environment. For example, someone who has anxiety relative to spiders would be exposed to things like spiders in a jar, in a picture, or in the hand of another person. The principles behind daily exposure therapy make it logical for use in binge eating disorder treatment.

How Does Daily Exposure Therapy Help with Binge Eating Disorder Recovery?

Daily exposure can help people during binge eating disorder therapy because it addresses one of the driving factors behind the disorder: anxiety. Those with BED tend to have anxious feelings associated with eating or even eating in the presence of others. Through daily exposure therapy, individuals are exposed to the things and situations that would normally drive their behaviors.

For example, someone who binged specifically on a certain type of food may be exposed to that food regularly in a controlled situation and would talk through what they were feeling throughout the exposure. Food is not the only thing used in exposure therapy during treatment at a binge eating disorder treatment center. Exposure therapy can be used to help with other anxiety-driven behaviors, such as eating alone, practicing certain eating-related rituals, and more.

What Is Graded Exposure Therapy and How Does It Work for BED?

Exposure therapy can take place in multiple ways because there are several variations of the treatment. One of those variations is graded exposure therapy. Graded exposure therapy requires the client to make a list of the things they fear in an orderly fashion from what they least fear to what they are most afraid of. During graded exposure therapy, the therapist will start out with exposure to the things that would be easiest to work through according to the list the client made.

For someone who has BED, their list may look something like this:

1. Fear of eating in the presence of others.

2. Fear of foods that contain high-fat content.

3. Fear of not being able to stop eating when more food is present.

During graded exposure therapy for BED in a binge eating disorder treatment setting, the therapist will start with the least feared item by possibly having the client eat in the presence of one person and then maybe a few more people will be present during the next session. Once the client is comfortable eating in the presence of others, the therapist will work on providing those triggering foods in with the meal, and so on.

Overall, exposure therapy can be a highly effective way to help people during binge eating disorder therapy. There are many different types of therapy used in binge eating disorder treatments programs.

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