There are many reasons that people engage in Binge Eating. The adolescents that we treat for Binge Eating always agree that this behavior is multifaceted and surprisingly quite complex.
Typically it is difficult for an adolescent who binge eats to identify what specifically causes them to over eat and why they continue to binge despite desperately wanting to stop. Additionally, it is not always easy to identify who has a problem with binge eating. This behavior has recently been shown to be much more common than was originally thought. Many people who are overweight do not binge eat and many people who are not overweight do have a problem with binging. Binge eating is almost always done in secret and therefore it is very difficult to identify whether or not your loved one has a problem.
Common Causes of Binge Eating in Teens
Emotional Turmoil: Adolescents sometimes binge eat in response to emotional stress. Often the teen is under a great deal of pressure at home, at school or in social circles and they are unable to cope with this stress in a healthy manner. Many teens in this situation turn to food as a way to cope. Most people experience pleasure when they eat so most people can understand why food is used as a way to artificially reduce stress.
Periods of Long Dieting: Adolescents that binge eat often do so as a result of following a restrictive eating plan or extreme diet. Teens with weight problems or concerns sometimes engage in food restriction, which ultimately leads to extreme hunger. Long periods of extreme hunger often result in massive food binges when the teen can no longer stand being hungry. Once the teen “opens the floodgates” and allows themselves to eat, they often find themselves unable to stop.
Environmental Cues: Children’s eating habits are often learned. Food is an intrinsic part of celebration in our society and we are all taught from a young age that special events (either negative or positive) necessitate the preparation and consumption of food. We learn from a very young age that food and feeling good are intimately connected. Furthermore, many children are taught to eat until their food is finished, rather than until they actually feel full. It is common, then for children to eat more at the dinner table than they actually need due to the culturally ingrained value that dictates that we should not waste food. The child may not learn to recognize their bodily cues that tell them that they feel full, because they are taught that satiation is a state that is dictated by our thoughts and not the way we feel physically.
Co-Morbidity: It is common for children who binge eat to have another associated mental disorder. Common comorbid conditions include major depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD and/or some impulse control disorders (Such as compulsive shopping, gambling, etc.)
Cultural Causes: Many cultures place a great deal of emphasis on food and commonly associate food with pleasant events and celebration. In many cultures it is seen as disrespectful to refuse an offering of food that has been prepared for you. Different cultures also have different attitudes about what constitutes physical beauty. Some cultures value excess weight as a staple of physical attractiveness.
Internal Dialogue: Oftentimes our internal dialogue can influence the decision to binge on food. Distorted beliefs known as cognitive biases can cause or exacerbate binges, such as the belief that “I have already eaten too much, so I might as well keep going”, or “I’ll never be able to lose weight so I might as well eat whatever I want”. This distorted thinking can make a minor problem with eating become much, much worse.
Binge Eating Disorder is a very difficult disorder to live with. Contrary to our culture’s high value of food, there is also a common stigma surrounding over eating and being overweight.
Adolescent Growth can help. If you or someone you love if struggling with Binge Eating, we invite you to call our admissions department for information on how we can help. Call today 888-948-9998.