Binge Eating Disorder in Adolescent Girls

Binge eating is becoming more common for young women in the U.S., but particularly for adolescent girls. Binge eating is not discussed as much as the more well-known eating disorders of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, however it is more common. Officially classified as an

hungry girl in a restaurant eating disorder diagnosis in 2013, binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by consuming, in a specific period of time, more food than most people would eat, accompanied by a lack of control or inability to stop. In addition, three of the following conditions must be present: the individual eats more rapidly than usual; becomes uncomfortably full; eats when she isn’t hungry; eats alone due to embarrassment; and feels disgusted or embarrassed afterward. If this behavior, unaccompanied by the purging that typifies bulimia, occurs at least once a week for three months or more, a formal diagnosis may be indicated.

Emotional, Peer and Social Influences

Many young girls turn to binge eating during the stressful adolescent period, particularly if teased or bullied by other kids. Emotionally, food is the one thing in life that a teenage girl believes she can truly control. She may turn to food in this manner after recovering from other eating disorders or after a period of rigid dieting, particularly if dieting was stopped due to an emotional trauma. BED can develop as a result of a single traumatic incident or in response to an ongoing situation of abuse (emotional, physical or sexual). Often however, if a teenage girl has a poor body image and has struggled with weight loss in the past, she may turn to bingeing as a subconscious form of self-punishment. Researchers are currently exploring the possibility that young women turn to bingeing as a subconscious form of protection, to create a barrier of sorts between herself and some specific situation that causes fear or anxiety. Finally, girls with a family member who has or previously had a BED diagnosis are twice as likely to binge themselves.

Binge Eating and Comorbidity

Several emotional and mental conditions commonly occur in conjunction with BED. Anxiety and depression are by far the most common. In fact, girls with depression are twice as likely to binge. Other potential co-existing conditions include addictive behaviors, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. Physically, she may be at risk of developing obesity, diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea. Bingeing also stresses body systems, disrupting normal levels of electrolytes and digestive enzymes.

Signs and Symptoms

Young women are very adept at hiding the evidence of binge eating. The disorder was originally called night eating syndrome because, once everyone in the house has gone to sleep, she can binge undisturbed. Her car is another likely haven for bingeing. If you suspect your daughter may be bingeing, especially if she has been diagnosed with depression, watch for fast food or convenience store receipts in her pockets or in her car. Check under her bed for overlooked wrappers or crumbs. Other warning signs include changes in dress or grooming (for instance, she stops wearing makeup or starts wearing baggy clothes to school), slipping grades and an increased desire to be at home alone.

Although many parents try Overeaters Anonymous or commercial weight loss programs to combat their daughter’s binge eating, these programs are not always equipped to address potential underlying causes. Some doctors recommend antidepressants or other prescription drugs but, again, these are only able to treat the symptoms and do nothing to address the cause. Call or email Havenwood Academy for more information on how our experiential therapy programs can help your daughter overcome binge eating for good.


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