Can Weight Loss Treatments Help Binge Eaters

Can Weight Loss Treatments Help Binge Eaters? By Kim O'Brien Root
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

If you’re a binge eater, you may be concerned about your weight. Many people who binge eat are overweight or obese. So you might wonder: Are weight loss surgery and medication good options?

It’s a tough question to answer, even thought up to 20% of patients seen in weight loss clinics have binge eating disorder.

“We really do not have good, evidence-based information on how to help people manage their weight and health effectively after treatment for an eating disorder,” says Cynthia Bulik, PhD. She is the director of research at the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and author of Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop.

The First Thing to Know About Treatment

Treatment for binge eating disorder does not focus on dieting or losing weight. Before you consider weight loss treatments, you need talk therapy to help you learn why you binge eat and how to change that behavior. You also need to work with a doctor and dietitian to create a healthy meal plan and exercise routine.

If you still have major health problems due to your weight after getting binge eating treatment, talk to a doctor “who understands the dangers of dieting for someone with a history of binge eating,” Bulik says.

“There is no reason to exclude weight loss treatment, or any form of treatment, from people with obesity,” says Abigail Natenshon, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist in Highland Park, IL, who specializes in eating disorders. “But self-understanding needs to happen first.”

Obesity Medications

Sometimes, doctors prescribe medication along with binge eating therapy. Topiramate (Topamax) is a drug that affects brain chemicals involved with appetite. It has been shown to help reduce or stop binges. One of the side effects is weight loss, so it is also used to treat obesity. Early studies suggest it is safe and it works in obese patients who have binge eating disorder.

Other drugs sometimes used to treat binge eating disorder, such as antidepressants, do not seem to have an effect on weight loss.

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