Binge Eating Disorder in Adolescents

Binge eating disorder in adolescents manifests itself in the inability to cope with everyday situations. For this reason, the support of their parents is essential.
Binge Eating Disorder in Adolescents
Silvia Zaragoza

Written and verified by the nutritionist Silvia Zaragoza.

Last update: 03 January, 2023

An eating disorder is a mental illness characterized by an altered approach to food intake and a distorted perception of the body. Although increasingly easier to diagnose, binge eating disorder in adolescents tends to go unnoticed. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of it and take action.

What is binge eating disorder?

According to the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, binge eating disorder is defined as:

  • The recurrent presence of binge eating, that is, the intake in a short period of time of an amount greater than would be consumed by another person in the same circumstances and duration. Episodes usually occur at least once a week for at least 3 months.
  • A feeling of lack of control over what’s ingested at that time.

In addition, it’s associated with eating very quickly, without hunger, until feeling completely full, thus producing discomfort, and doing so alone, due to shame, and a feeling of guilt or disappointment after the episode.

Likewise, binge eating’s usually preceded by a dietary restriction or comes afterward. In short, it’s a vicious cycle and is difficult to get out of as time goes by. It’s often a pattern observed in adolescents with bulimia or night eating syndrome, although it doesn’t have to be.

A mother looking frustrated and a teenage girl looking ashamed.

The prevalence is 26.3% of binge eating disorder, although it’s especially prominent in adolescents who are overweight or obese, and can increase to 30-50% in those whose goal is to lose weight.

Risk factors for binge eating disorder in adolescents

Regarding its development, as with most diseases, the cause is multifactorial. Among the most studied are personality, as well as the social and family environment.

Generally, they tend to be insecure, have low self-esteem, and have low adaptation to change. They’re even impulsive and unable to regulate their own emotions toward themselves or others. In addition, they’re unhappy with their body.

It’s also associated with poor stress and anxiety management and depressive symptoms. However, depression is thought to be a consequence of binge eating.

Are certain foods consumed or doesn’t it matter?

For a long time, the tendency was to turn to unhealthy sweet or salty foods, as they activate the brain’s reward systems. Therefore, when eating them, the pleasure and sense of well-being are greater, as they’re palatable due to their high content of rapidly absorbed sugars and trans fats. The most involved are:

But the most recent studies show that those with binge eating disorder may also turn to healthy foods such as fruit, dates, raisins, olives, etc. So, the importance lies in the reason for binge eating and not the type of food ingested. Therefore, they’re usually foods to which the person has access at home or those that they avoid as a rule because they consider them to be forbidden.

The treatment of binge eating disorder in adolescents

Finally, the treatment of binge eating disorder in adolescents consists of a combination of psychology and nutritional education. This treatment is focused on behavioral change and the establishment of regular eating habits without posing a problem for the adolescent’s health or quality of life.

With regard to eating, the aim is to increase awareness during meals, paying attention to hunger and satiety signals. The main objective to be achieved is for the adolescent to eat at least 3 meals a day without producing any negative feelings.

At the same time, a psychologist will be in charge of addressing the causes that have led the adolescent to behave in this way and offering them tools to manage the problem. In addition, they’ll allow the child to express their emotions throughout the therapeutic process. In short, it’s important that, as parents, you show your support,  recognize the situation, and help your teen overcome it.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.