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Binge eating disorder in adolescence | ParentEdge


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Binge Eating in Adolescence

Raj is a 14 yr. old school going adolescent. His room is his world – he studies, sleeps, chats with friends, and listens to music, all from his room. It looks like a typical bedroom, except for what’s hidden in the closet corners, and under his bed. There are stacks of chocolate bars, several chips and juices, hidden away without the knowledge of his parents.

Raj has not yet finished the day’s homework, and has just gorged on a bag full of cookies and chips and he is looking for more chips to eat. He knows that he will soon feel guilty about eating all this, especially since he is overweight, but at this point he cannot control and just has to eat.

Binge eating refers to eating large amounts of food, usually much more than most people would normally eat. It is characterised by a sense of lack of control over eating when the binge eating episode occurs. Usually, people who binge-eat may avoid eating in front of others and binge in private; thus the presence of this condition may go unnoticed. Binge eating is common among adolescent and college-age youth, and is associated with increased body fat, weight gain, and increases in psychological symptoms in childhood.

Some key features of binge eating include:

  • Eating much faster than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment about the amount of food one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or guilty after eating

Here are some warning signs to look out for that indicates the presence of binge-eating in your adolescent:

  • You may notice large amounts of food missing from the refrigerator or shelves. You may also find wrappers in your teen’s room or in dustbins.
  • You may frequently find food stashed across several places in the house, especially in your child’s room, like in closets or bathroom drawers, and other unusual places not meant for food storage.
  • You may have noticed your child eating huge amount of food when alone or indulging in excessive eating at night, frequently.

If you feel that your child is showing frequent binge eating episodes, then you can do a lot to help. Some suggestions are as follows:

  • Remember that food may be a way of coping with emotional issues. If there are frequent episodes of binging, try to find out if your teen is having issues at school, or with friends, and the like.
  • Read and educate yourself about binge eating. There may be more than one reason to binge eat and thus, you being aware of the possible causes can help drastically.
  • Once you know what you are dealing with, try and talk to your child about it. It is more than likely, that on being offered unconditional support, your child will open up his world to you about the bingeing.
  • Listen to what your child has to say, and avoid any blame game. Binge eating is not under your child’s control, so reflect and understand how you as a parent can help.
  • Seek professional help if needed. Just having someone to talk to who will not judge you helps and only third party professionals who have no personal relation with your family can provide that, they are trained to do so. Go to a psychologist or counsellor of your choice, and they will lead you from there.

Remember, the key to dealing with your teen is support, calm and patience. This is the time of utmost care and losing restraint in front of your teens will only increase their ordeal and will definitely not help them in coping.


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Shobhika Jaju is a NET qualified psychologist who would love to be reborn as a shrink every single time. She is the founder of Silver Linings: Guidance & Counselling Centre, in South Goa, & hence is effectively putting her love for psychotherapy & her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology to good use. Shobhika also works at Little’s School, Fatorda (Goa) & writes for several print and online media on a regular basis. She facilitates workshops on topics promoting personal enhancement & spreading mental health awareness. She is affiliated to the American Psychological Association, Bombay Psychological Association, Goa Psychological Association & the Movement for Global Mental Health. Her website can be accessed at silverliningsgoa.com.

9 thoughts on “Binge Eating in Adolescence

  1. Kritika Srinivasan

    Thanks for the interesting post Shobhika. Does binge eating occur only in adolescence or can it start at a younger age as well? Also, it can surface in older people as well, is that correct? Or only in people who have a history of binge eating during adolescence?

    1. shobhika

      Binge eating, although common in adolescence, is also very much prevalent in childhood.

      Binge eating can occur frequently among older people as well.

      Although, anybody can become a victim of binge eating, people with a history of the same in adolescence, are more predisposed to exhibiting episodes of bingeing in later life.

    1. shobhika

      Binge eating can be caused by several factors, some of which may be biological, social or cultural and emotional.

      Emotional reasons like anxiety, depression are strongly linked to bingeing and so are low levels of self-esteem.

      There are several social and cultral causes like: pressure to be thin may add to shame and embarrassment regarding one’s body weight and lead to bingeing; parents may unintentionally model binge behaviour; a history of sexual abuse is also a strong predictor of binge eating ; and frequently being subjected to frequent negative comments about body shape and size may give rise to bingeing as a form of coping behaviour.

      Biology plays a big role in binge eating:
      – abnormalities in the hypothalamus, which regulates the satiety signals in the brain, may give rise to increased food intake as our brain is not getting the signal that our stomachs are full.
      – Genetics play a role in bingeing as well.
      – And finally, low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin may also play a role in compulsive eating.

    2. Rima

      Kritika, I used to be one of them. Always thought it was mostly emotional but when I changed my nutritional habits by 360 degrees, my body began feeling so alive, I no more needed to eat large amounts, quickly, or frequently. I no more craved sugar or chocolate either.

      I figured it is both emotional and biological. In biological – getting nutrition from organic veggies at least 3 full meals of veggies and a meal of organic fruits and high protein + sleep from 10pm to 4am. It totally eradicated my binge eating.

      Once the habit is formed, it is stored in the brain’s memory as a response or defense mechanism hence if formed in childhood, it remains until consciously worked on.

      1. Kritika Srinivasan

        Thanks for sharing this Rima. As our children approach adolescence in a world that is completely different from the one we grew up in, there is so much to be apprehensive and careful about!

        1. Rima

          Hi Kritika, all the apprehension goes away when we understand that all we have to do is LOVE ourselves and our children. That is the only place required to keep the focus on.

          Sadly, we do everything else- so many classes to make our children smart, best school, etc.. but we dont have time to share with them or to show them our love.

          1. shobhika

            Thank you Rima for sharing your experience. It is only when we start talking about our struggles and journey’s, can more people benefit. :)

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