When someone has a binge eating disorder, they feel

out of control, guilty and ashamed of their behavior.

While the definition of a binge varies from person to person, generally the habit begins in childhood and carries through adulthood, and is characterized by overeating in a short period of time. It’s a pattern that can be broken, and a behavior that can be modified before obesity and deeper mood disorders grab hold.


Dietary and psychological experts say that a combination of elements – including genetic makeup, emotions and eating patterns set in childhood – can cause us to develop an eating disorder. Binge eating, anorexia and bulimia are the most common of these disorders.  

Binge eating doesn’t get as much media attention as anorexia and bulimia, yet it is the most prevalent of the three disorders among adults. The pattern is often set in childhood and remains as recurring episodes throughout life.


  • Eating much faster than others at the table
  • Commenting that they’ve eaten until they’re uncomfortable
  • Seemingly compelled to eat large amounts of food even when they’re not hungry
  • Hiding or storing food in secret places, then eating it while alone
  • Feelings of remorse about their binge eating paired with a feeling of depression or guilt afterward
  • Episodes of binge eating on an average of at least once a week for three months
  • Constantly going on, then off, highly restrictive diets (no meat, only meat, 1000 calories/day, no fat, no carbs, etc.)

Some biological abnormalities may cause binge eating. First, the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls appetite) may not be sending the message that the stomach is full. Additionally, a lack of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood and some compulsive behaviors, may also play a role in this eating disorder.

However, for most, the habits that develop into binge eating start during childhood and are often learned within the family unit. People with a binge eating disorder have learned that food is an escape, a reward, something that soothes anxiety and loneliness, is a rebellious act and a way to avoid stressful situations. 


If you see signs that your child may be bingeing, examine how your relationship to food may be affecting theirs.
  • Do you constantly chatter about dieting and restrictive food behavior?
  • Have you had a pattern of significant weight fluctuations?
  • Do you binge eat or hide food from others?
  • Do you comment on your child’s weight and food choices?
In addition, look at the day-to-day of your family life.
  • Is there a pattern of emotional or physical neglect or abuse in your home?
  • Has your family recently experienced significant trauma or loss?
  • Is there a history of depression, anxiety, mood disorders or bi-polar disorder in your child’s genetic makeup?

Your child may not recognize how damaging a lifelong habit of binge eating can be, and it’s up to you to help them face the problem directly and correct it. Remember not to focus on their body image or weight, since many of the emotional issues related to binge eating already have roots in those confused feelings. Seek help while your child is young enough to develop new stress management skills and new habits, and set them up for success. 

Talk to your child about working with a team of professionals – a doctor, counselor and nutrition expert – who can identify the cause of the disorder. These experts can determine if brain chemistry is at fault, or if emotional issues can be focused on to help them regain control.

Your teen – and the rest of the family – will need to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food that includes a smart eating plan focused on nutritional needs and portion sizes.

A therapist may suggest your teen reduce stress and build self-confidence by adding a new activity to their day. Music, art, dance, creative writing, sports and games can bring a big boost to their emotional wellbeing.

YOUR support is critical to your child’s recovery. The road may be bumpy, but it’s well worth traveling together as you set them on a path to a lifetime of physical and emotional fitness, and a healthy relationship with food.


Most people overeat from time to time. Think about how uncomfortable you might have felt after Thanksgiving dinner, or how you “can’t stop” eating jellybeans from your Easter basket until they’re all gone.

Even if you go through spurts when you feel like eating more, especially now as your bones and muscles are growing, it doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder. But if you regularly eat to the point of feeling uncomfortable, always eat really quickly, never feel full after you eat, eat in secret, turn to food when you’re upset, or always do something else while you eat (like watching TV or studying), then you may have a problem with binge eating. The disorder is also called compulsive overeating, and it makes you feel out of control and powerless.

You might have a binge eating problem if:
  • You binge eat at least once a week for three months in a row
  • You notice you eat faster than other people you dine with
  • You eat until you feel super-full
  • You hide food in your room or locker and eat it in secret
  • You feel embarrassed by how much you eat or what you eat
  • You feel bad about your lack of control over your eating
  • You are unhappy about your body shape and weight

Don’t be surprised if you don’t know why you overeat like this. It’s probably hard to pinpoint on your own. You may binge when you feel upset, sad, hurt, angry, stressed or even happy! The result, however, is that binge eaters almost always feel even sadder and more guilty after they overdo their eating.

Bingeing isn’t always an emotional response. Sometimes biology (in your body, not in the science class) is to blame. Your hypothalamus – a gland in your brain that controls appetite – may not be sending the right signals that you’re full. You may have a problem with your serotonin levels, the brain chemical that affects mood and some compulsive behavior. Binge eating can also be a response to depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.
But for most, binge eating is a habit learned in childhood at home. Some families frequently use food to soothe, comfort, express love, and deal with stress. Some families watch TV during dinner instead of sitting at the table and focusing on how much food they’re eating. Some families simply use food as a way of distracting attention from trauma and stress.

If you see binge eating as a problem in your life, face it head on. You may feel guilty or embarrassed by the situation, but right now, that’s not the biggest hurdle you have. In your teen years, you’re able to set a course for your entire life. Controlling your binge eating now can help you avoid a future of health problems, anxiety, guilt and feelings of loneliness.  

Talk to a counselor or nurse at school, and reach out to your parents for help. Ask them to arrange for professional help from doctors, nutritionists and therapists who can get you back on track to regular eating patterns and a stronger sense of mental wellbeing.
Your entire family may also get involved in this positive change. 


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