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Binge Eating Disorder: Teen Version

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KEY POINTS

  • Binge eating disorder is an eating problem that causes you to often eat large amounts of food within a short time with a feeling of being out of control.
  • Treatment involves learning healthy eating habits, therapy, and possibly medicine. The earlier you seek treatment, the more successful it is likely to be.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time and eat only at regular meal times. Eat a variety of healthy foods. Do not keep foods around that may start binge eating.
  • Keep a food diary. Write down when you eat, how you are feeling, how hungry you are, what you eat, and how much you eat. This can help identify the feelings that cause binge eating.

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What is binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is an eating problem that causes you to often eat large amounts of food within a short time. It is one of the most common eating disorders. When you binge, you feel like you cannot control your eating. It is not just a matter lack of willpower or poor eating habits. Binge eaters do not usually throw up (purge) or exercise too much after they eat.

Most, but not all, binge eaters are overweight. Binge eating disorder can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, tiredness, joint pain, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and heart disease. It can also lead to obesity and diabetes, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. It may be related to problems with the chemicals in the brain that control mood and appetite.

You may be at risk of developing binge eating disorder if you:

  • Feel a lot of pressure to be thin, and are dissatisfied with your body
  • Have a history of frequent or severe dieting
  • Have a family history of eating disorders
  • Have a family or personal history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder

Many things such as stress, depression, loneliness, or anger can start a binge.

Binge eating often starts in the late teenage years or early adult years. It affects both males and females but is a little more common in females.

What are the symptoms?

During a binge, you eat a much larger amount of food in a short period of time than you normally would. Binges often include foods like cookies, candy, chips, ice cream, and other high calorie foods. Most people with this problem do not binge on healthy foods such as vegetables.

Binge eating usually involves at least 3 of the following:

  • Eating much faster than normal
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you are not physically hungry
  • Eating in secret because you are embarrassed by how much you eat
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty after overeating

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Your provider will ask about your eating patterns.

How is it treated?

Treatment involves learning healthy eating habits. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you meet with a dietitian to create a healthy eating plan. You may need therapy to help you change how you think about yourself and food. Several kinds of therapy may help:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a good way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new thought and behavior patterns even after you stop going to therapy. It can help you learn to manage stress and improve self-esteem.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) may also be useful. IPT is time-limited, usually 8 to 16 sessions. It focuses on your relationships, what you expect from other people, and how to resolve conflicts.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helps you be aware of your thoughts and behavior, learn how to express your needs, deal with stressful situations, and manage your emotions.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help reduce constant thoughts about food. Medicines that help reduce depression and anxiety may help binge eating.

You may think constantly about weight and food for many years. Even after you reach a healthy weight, you may need to continue treatment for many months. Being under a lot of stress can cause the symptoms to get worse. The earlier you seek treatment, the more successful it is likely to be.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Join a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home, school, and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax. For example, take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Stay physically active as advised by your provider.
  • Work with your provider or dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan. You goal is to learn to eat healthy foods at regular times, not to lose weight. This is NOT the same as a diet. For many, going on diets can trigger binges. Key parts of a healthy eating plan include:
    • Making smart choices from every food group to include fruits, vegetables, grains, milk products, meat or other protein-rich foods, nuts, seeds, and healthy plant oils
    • Finding a balance between how much food you eat and how much physical activity you do
    • Getting the most nutrition out of your calories. It’s okay to have some of your favorite foods, but limit those with very little nutritional value.

    You may find it helpful to have 5 or 6 small meals per day to keep from getting hungry.

    Keeping a food diary can help identify the feelings that cause binge eating. Track when you eat, how you are feeling, how hungry you are, what you eat, and how much you eat.

  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all of the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take. Take all medicines as directed by your provider or therapist. It is very important to take your medicine even when you are feeling and thinking well. Without the medicine, your symptoms may not improve or may get worse. Talk to your provider if you have problems taking your medicine or if the medicines don't seem to be working. Take mineral and vitamin supplements as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse. See your healthcare provider regularly to have your weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature checked.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-08-13
Last reviewed: 2019-05-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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