Binge Eating Disorder or Overeating—How to know if Your Teen is Struggling

You may notice your teenager overeat occasionally or maybe seem overeager when it comes to food. Perhaps you’ve observed your teen skipping meals but consuming a large amount of food in a short time period. Maybe she turns to food for comfort when life gets stressful? Should you be concerned that her eating habits are an indicator of something problematic, like an eating disorder?

When it comes to eating disorders, like binge eating disorder, there are many stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding these mental illnesses.

Among eating disorders, binge eating disorder is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined [1]. However, binge eating disorder often goes under the radar because symptoms may go undetected. Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring binge eating episodes that leave a person in distress, feeling guilty, embarrassed or ashamed about their behaviors. How might this look in a teenager?

Binge Eating Disorder in Teenagers

Teenagers are not immune from eating disorders, including binge eating disorder. In fact, teenagers may be more susceptible to developing an eating disorder during a time of intense transition and change in their lives. Being aware of your child’s eating behaviors as well as red flags that may point to an eating problem is important for prevention and early intervention.

Binge eating can be confused with overeating, but there are stark differences between these behaviors. While overeating at times can be part of normal eating, binge eating disorder, in contrast, is a severe, psychological illness that can result in damaging consequences if left untreated. Understanding the difference between overeating and binge eating can be helpful for knowing if your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder.

Many teenagers who struggle with binge eating disorder may also be unaware of the severity of their symptoms. They might feel ashamed of their behaviors or unsure why they seem unable to stop eating at times. Added to this, teenagers also experience a tremendous amount of pressure from peers and are inundated with media messages about dieting and weight loss. For a teenager who is suffering from binge eating disorder, this can make their circumstances much more complex to work through.

Weight Stigma and Binge Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are also falsely characterized by weight and body size, but the reality is that teenagers can develop an eating disorder at any size or weight. It is commonly misunderstood that only teens who are thin or underweight are susceptible to having an eating disorder, but this only contributes to the stigma surrounding these mental illnesses. Weight and body size should not be used as a marker for an eating disorder, including binge eating disorder, as many teenagers may not think they are “sick enough” to get help, simply because they are not in a smaller body size.

If your teen has had weight fluctuations, no matter their size, this should not be dismissed. Weight loss is often ignored, even condoned in teenagers who are in larger bodies, but this may be an indicator that a significant eating problem is present. To understand what your teenager might be struggling with, it is important to be observant and aware of their behaviors, especially around food and their bodies.

Binge Eating Disorder versus Overeating

Binge eating disorder is more than just overeating at meals. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder that might be present if your teenager is struggling:

  • Consumption of a large quantity of food in a short time period
  • Feeling a lack of control over one’s ability to stop eating
  • Avoiding social situations in which food is present
  • Eating alone and in secret
  • Hiding or hoarding large quantities of food
  • Appearing uncomfortable eating around others
  • Issues with anxiety or depression
  • Declining performance in academics, work, sports, etc.
  • Overly concerned with weight and body size
  • Frequently dieting and actively trying to lose weight
  • Low self-esteem

These signs and symptoms could be defining of binge eating disorder, and if you recognize any of these behaviors in your teenager, it is important to seek out professional help and support.

Why Your Teen Might Struggle With Binge Eating

Seeing your teenager struggle with overeating can be confusing. You may wonder why your adolescent has adopted unhealthy eating behaviors. While it might appear that your teen has a lack of self-control when it comes to eating, there is so much more that may be influencing their eating behavior. When it comes to binge eating disorder, there are often underlying issues that might be triggering binge eating, including psychological factors that contribute to their attitude, beliefs, and perception of food.

For some adolescents, binge eating may arise as a means for coping with difficult or stressful situations. For others, binge eating may be an attempt to suppress emotions that feel overwhelming or uncomfortable. In reality, binge eating is much more than just the food itself. Underlying issues that have been unresolved may cause a teen to binge eating or act compulsively around food. Trying to address their behavior with food without appropriately dealing with underlying causes can worsen problematic eating habits. Getting to the root of these underlying issues with professional treatment is a necessary part of truly healing from binge eating disorder.

Getting Your Teen Help for Binge Eating Disorder

If your teenager appears to be struggling with food, eating, or with accepting their body, you can help connect them to the resources they need for healing and recovery. The important thing you can do as a parent is to help them feel heard, understood, and loved. Give your teenager a safe place to discuss some of the issues with which they are struggling and remind them they are not alone.

Binge eating disorder is more than just appearing to have a lack of self-control around food or an obsession with eating. Binge eating disorder is a real condition that can be influenced by multiple factors that may be related to underlying issues. For these reasons, it is critical to get your teenager the help they need and support for your family as you walk through this journey toward healing.

At The Meadows Ranch, we can provide your teenager with comprehensive help for binge eating disorder and will walk alongside your family every step of the way toward lasting healing and recovery. Connect with us today to learn more about our eating disorder treatment for adolescents.



[1]: National Eating Disorder Association, “Binge Eating Disorder”, Accessed 1st August 2018