Introducing CARE IOP, Intensive Treatment for Binge Eating

A heart-shaped white bowl with a fork, knife, and spoon on top making a peace sign

Most people don’t realize that binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. In fact, BED is three times more prevalent in the U.S. than anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa combined. And in addition to the millions of Americans diagnosed with BED, many more are living with a pattern of binge eating or compulsive overeating, conditions often diagnosed as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED).

Despite the prevalence of binge eating disorder and OSFED with a pattern of binge eating, few treatment options are specifically designed to address the unique needs of those affected. Treatment has traditionally been offered in mixed-diagnosis settings that serve people with all types of eating disorders. While these programs do provide an opportunity for intervention and growth, individuals with BED or OSFED with a pattern of binge eating often report feeling unseen, unheard, or misunderstood.

To address this reality, The Emily Program has introduced CARE IOP, a virtual intensive outpatient program specifically for people with binge eating disorder or OSFED with a pattern of binge eating. This stand-alone program is designed to address the unique needs of those struggling with these conditions and honor their diverse and intersectional experiences.

The Need for Specialized Binge Eating Treatment

For those with binge eating disorder or OSFED, binge eating behaviors are incredibly isolating, often activating shame, hopelessness, and intrusive self-doubt. Interrupting these behaviors, however, is extremely challenging, as they are not a choice, and stopping them is not a matter of willpower. As with other eating disorder behaviors, they could be an adaptive response to co-occurring mental health challenges, historical trauma, interpersonal challenges, or emotion dysregulation, and they are often exacerbated by the influence of diet culture.

In addition to these challenges, people affected by binge eating often face challenges in treatment programs that don’t adequately address their unique needs. For example, one person with BED who participated in eating disorder treatment said, “I felt left out. [The other clients] could not relate to me and I felt my needs were not adequately addressed or acknowledged.” Similarly, another client reported, “It was embarrassing. I would finish a meal and internally want more, while others could barely finish what was on their plate.” Because an elevated percentage of people with BED live in higher weight bodies, people seeking treatment in more generalized eating disorder settings have also reported experiencing implicit or explicit weight bias. Coupled with the marginalization they already experience in a diet-centric culture that vilifies larger bodies, the result is often a compromised sense of comfort and safety.

In recognition of these realities, we began envisioning a specialty treatment option for those seeking support and striving toward recovery. We conducted a survey of former clients with BED who had participated in higher levels of care, and the results reiterated the need for services tailored to this population. One former client wrote, “I think that I would have benefited more from a program specifically geared toward helping reduce binge eating and overeating.” Another client said, “I think a binge eating specific program would help people feel more included.” Still another client emphasized, “There NEEDS to be a group specifically for binge eating.”

About CARE IOP at The Emily Program

Informed by the client survey, we committed to developing and offering intensive virtual programs specifically designed for people living with BED or OSFED with a pattern of binge eating. To develop these programs, we conducted additional surveys of former clients, reviewed the research, and consulted with experts in the field of eating disorders. We created curriculum that is comprehensive and inclusive, and takes into consideration the intersectional domains of client identities. We recruited experienced, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic providers eager to walk alongside and support individuals on their recovery journey.

The results of the envisioning, surveying, consulting, and reviewing is CARE IOP. CARE stands for Cultivating Awareness and Resilience with Experience/Eating/Emotions. Curriculum content includes topics such as self-compassion, counteracting internalized weight stigma, exposure with response prevention, body appreciation, and health-promoting behaviors. Skills acquisition groups are informed by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Therapeutic supported meals offer unique opportunities for clients to explore their eating patterns and overall relationship with food, with the goal of increasing attunement and a sense of peace with eating.

Like other IOP options at The Emily Program, CARE IOP services will be offered four days per week for three hours per day, along with individual therapy and nutrition counseling. Unlike other IOPs, CARE IOP is 100% virtual, providing clients an ongoing opportunity for supported self-accountability while practicing eating, food preparation, and coping within the comfort of their own private space. CARE IOP is scheduled to launch in Minnesota and Washington in March 2022, with plans to launch in other states throughout 2022 and 2023.

Learn more about CARE IOP at The Emily Program online or by calling 1-888-364-5977.

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