Psychological treatment of binge eating disorder with EMDR therapy

Psychological treatment of binge eating disorder with EMDR therapy

The binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that causes great interference with social and personal life. It is characterized by the compulsive and uncontrolled ingestion of a large amount of caloric foods and in a disorganized way . There are no compensatory behaviors as in bulimia, based on the use of laxatives, vomiting or exercising, but there may be a subsequent compensation characterized by the presence of feelings of guilt and shame, which can lead to restrictive diets that they in turn cause more binges.

Causes of binge eating disorder

The circumstantial causes or triggers that have caused binges throughout the history of the person can be diverse, and may be related to constant diets or the presence of other previous eating disorders.

The emotional causes, however, are not so explicitly manifested. The image of the iceberg can be a good metaphor for this, since 10% is what is seen and 90% is what remains hidden under the water.

These deeper causes are normally found in childhood and adolescence, since it is in these stages that situations tend to occur that mark a course in one’s relationship with oneself and the type of relationship with food is established.

Some of the situations that may be related to the experience of traumatic events could be the presence of a relationship based on abuse or mistreatment or humiliation by the parents, eating habits that entail punishment or demands from the parents, have a family and / or social model focused on the image or have experienced a situation of rejection towards the physical, among others.

Dissociation as a defense mechanism against trauma at the origin of binge eating disorder

Eating disorders, and specifically binge eating disorder, have a progressive and hardly noticeable onset. The presence of traumatic situations, as mentioned above, produces a need for the brain to protect itself and acquire a certain degree of control over what happens around it, that is why protection mechanisms are needed that help to have a life “apparently normal ”, and keep fears and insecurities within a range of control.

This could be framed within what are called dissociative parts, referring to parts within oneself with different emotions and needs. For example, the body part needs to be accepted and valued, and the self-destructive part, generally characterized by the presence of binge eating, needs to “fill a void.”


The work with these parts, usually acquires a fundamental role at the beginning of the therapy, because the avoidance or resistance to change, is usually conditioned by these parts that have been acquiring over the years, rigid forms and structures and very stable. To work with these parts, there is a very useful tool: the EMDR technique.

EMDR to reprocess emotions linked to binge eating

EMDR is a technique based on adaptive information processing. We all have this natural mechanism to reprocess traumatic events, but sometimes, certain situations produce an intense reaction that makes it difficult to start such processing and the fragmentation of information. The application of EMDR makes it possible to reconnect those neural connections to each other to recover beliefs, emotions and bodily reactions that could not be completed at first, allowing the integration and elimination of discomfort and emotional disturbance.


The technique consists of the bilateral stimulation of the two cerebral hemispheres through eye movements, sounds or taping (alternating taps on the hands). Small rounds of stimulation are performed, generating memories that are shared with the therapist until the level of disturbance disappears.

How do you work with EMDR in binge eating disorder?

The application of the bilateral stimulation of the EMDR technique in binge eating disorder could be carried out on two aspects: on the addiction (pleasant association of binge eating) and on the origin (the trauma itself).

The first refers to knowing when binge eating is associated with “pleasure”, since it can become addictive behavior. The onset of any addictive behavior is based on the need to re-experience the same short-term pleasure that occurred the first few times, thus increasing the level of bio-emotional dependence.

For this, the EMDR bilateral stimulation technique would be performed on that specific memory where the binge and the sensation of pleasure associated with it would acquire greater coherence. The person would have to concentrate on this memory and on the bodily sensations that were generated and the assessment from 0 to 10 of the pleasure obtained through the ingestion.

Through EMDR we would be able to establish a greater distance with pleasure and a greater proximity to the emotions of discomfort , feeling full, etc. and we would achieve the untying of the binge as a way to calm a negative mood.

The application of the EMDR technique in binge eating disorders could continue, with the reworking of traumatic memories of the past and present that in previous steps have been established as the causes and triggers of current binges.

In EMDR, the past and the present are connected through triggers that are currently reminiscent of previous events, for example, a criticism, a physical gesture, a specific emotional state.

In addition, from this approach, positive and negative beliefs, emotions and the part of the body where they are located are also processed , this is crucial because the situations that affect us generate responses in these three types of variables.

The last part of the EMDR treatment would consist of preparing future situations that could act as binge triggers , to be able to process them through bilateral stimulation and acquire strategies and tools to prevent a certain state of mind from bidding on the response of eating compulsively.


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