Inpatient Care for Binge Eating: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 16, 2014
3 min read

When you get inpatient treatment for binge eating disorder, you live, sleep, and get around-the-clock care at a hospital or eating disorders medical center. It’s pretty unusual for people with the condition to need this type of treatment, but some do.

It's rare partly because outpatient care, which involves getting treated somewhere without an overnight stay, “is pretty effective for most people with binge eating disorder,” says Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD. She's co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Inpatient treatment can be successful, though. Research shows that most people who receive it quit bingeing.

You might need it for binge eating if:

  • You also have severe depression or anxiety, or you think about suicide. Most of the time, these issues -- not the binge eating disorder -- will be the main reason you’re admitted to a hospital or treatment center. But doctors will treat your binge eating disorder, too.
  • Binge eating causes you serious medical problems, such as an unstable heart rate.

The treatment will be tailored to your needs. Your health care team might include:

  • A primary care doctor
  • Nurses
  • Psychiatrists
  • Dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Therapists

You might get:

  • Regular checks by your medical team
  • Fluids through a vein (IV fluids)
  • Medications, such as antidepressants to improve your mood
  • Regular therapy sessions
  • Group therapy, family counseling, and nutritional counseling

How long you stay at a center depends on how severe your symptoms are, and your health insurance coverage. Inpatient treatment can be expensive and may not be covered.

Your treatment team will help you:

Improve your health. Doctors will work to improve any issue or condition -- such as a heart problem or suicidal thoughts -- that puts you in danger.

Learn to recognize and change thoughts and actions that trigger bingeing.In most cases, psychologists or therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you turn negative thoughts into healthier, more realistic ones.

Eat healthier. You’ll get three non-calorie-restricted meals and one to three snacks daily. Shedding pounds won’t be a focus, though.

“Binge eating disorder patients are often disappointed when they realize that treatment doesn’t focus on weight loss,” Thomas says.

There’s a good reason for that: “Dieting is actually one of the biggest risk factors for bingeing,” says Angela Guarda, MD. She is the director of the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program. “Restricting calories often makes bingeing worse.”

Once you stop bingeing, you can talk to your doctor about finding a weight loss program that can help you drop pounds without upping the odds that you’ll be tempted to binge again.

Inpatient care usually lasts just a few weeks. Recovering from binge eating disorder, though, typically takes at least 8 weeks of inpatient or outpatient therapy. Continuing treatment after you're home is important.

When you finish inpatient therapy, your doctor or treatment team will probably refer you to outpatient care.

If inpatient treatment doesn’t bring the results you were hoping for, don’t give up.

“Different people respond to different treatments,” says Walter Kaye, MD. He's the director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego. “Just because your doctor initially recommended one type of treatment doesn’t mean it’s going to be a magic bullet.”

Fortunately, there are many treatment options. “Sometimes it takes several tries, but if you keep at it, chances are, you’ll get better,” Kaye says.

For more information about binge eating, treatment, and how to find support and professional help, visit the National Eating Disorders Association.