You brought home a dozen donuts one evening and left them on the kitchen table. Strangely, when you woke up in the morning, not a single donut remained. Perplexed, you asked your teenager about it, but they flushed and said they didn’t know anything about the donuts. What happened?
If a situation like this has happened in your home, it is possible that your teen is suffering from binge eating disorder (BED). Though it’s imprudent to jump to conclusions, a circumstance such as the one described above merits a closer look into your teen’s relationship with food.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive eating that cause great emotional distress in the binger. (“Excessive eating” means that your teen has consumed far more than they would have under normal circumstances.) This is the most common eating disorder among U.S. teens, with approximately 1.6% of adolescents impacted. It is an “equal opportunity” disorder, with prevalence split almost equally between genders. That said — contrary to common understanding of eating disorders — your teen’s gender is immaterial when it comes to BED.
Binge eating disorder is neither a choice nor a weakness, but rather, a very real mental illness that can have devastating consequences when left untreated. Some teens who suffer from BED report that bingeing temporarily helps to assuage feelings of stress, sadness, loneliness, and other unpleasant emotions. However, those negative feelings always come creeping back, often with greater severity than before.
Binge eating disorder’s origins are complicated, and not fully understood. Though biology is thought be a factor, our thin-centric cultural ideals have certainly not helped. However, one thing is for sure: your teen needs your unconditional love now more than ever.
The impact of BED does not end with the bingeing behavior itself. Nearly 50% of teens with BED also abuse substances, and almost half of people who suffer from an eating disorder also suffer from depression. Teens who have BED almost always feel tremendous shame about their bingeing, and consequently, self-esteem plummets. They may even retreat from friends and family, which is a move that fosters feelings of loneliness and even more emotional turmoil.
If you suspect your teen may be suffering from BED, keep an eye out for the following signs:
- You have noticed large amounts of food go missing in short periods of time
- Your teen refuses to eat in front of other people
- Your teen expresses disgust for their body
- Your teen is overweight or obese (Note that not all overweight or obese teens suffer from BED, but weight can be an indicator.)
- Your teen’s attitude about food is one of disdain
If these signs resonate with you, it may be time to seek the opinion of a medical professional, who can help you sort out your situation and pursue the best course of action. Regardless of your teen’s BED status, the most important thing you can do is offer your unconditional love. Remember that BED is not a choice, but a disorder with complex causes. Recovery is possible, with the right treatment. There is always hope for your teen.
TeenRehabCenter.org is a free resource dedicated to helping parents of teens who are struggling with addiction. It has information about a variety of substance addictions, and also mental illnesses. Get in touch with us any time at 855-625-8581 or visit our website at teenrehabcenter.org. They are always glad to talk to you about rehab options.