Why Some Teens Just Can’t Stop Eating (It’s Not a Growth Spurt)

cupcakesOne of the hallmarks of binge eating is that it comes with a heavy amount of guilt and shame. It's different from the occasional Mexican food meal that makes you unbutton your pants. Binge eating is when you eat massive amounts of food in a pretty short time span as a compulsive behavior. A binge eater can’t just stop, no matter how much they may want to. But a new breakthrough from researchers at the University of Queensland might help kids before they start binge eating in the first place.


Binge eating is particularly insidious for teens who are already struggling through puberty and all sorts of confusing social pressures.

“Children or adolescents affected by the disorder overeat compulsively, often in secret and with great embarrassment or guilt,” according to the Child Mind Institute’s Mental Health Guide.

More from The Stir: The Creepy Way Your Diet Could Be Messing With Your Brain

Doctors already understand that eating disorders develop as a result of a complicated combo of environmental as well as genetic factors. But now, Professor David Evans and his team have identified a specific gene mutation in kids age 14 to 16 that predict both binge eating as well as obesity.

"In the future it may also help us create strategies for identifying at-risk teenagers before they get to the stage where they are overweight or obese and face the many health problems associated with these issues," Evans says.

A teen with a particular variation in what’s called the FTO gene were up to 30 percent more likely to binge eat. Girls were the most likely to binge eat as a result of the gene variation.

The promise is that families and health-care providers will be able to work with kids as early as 14 years old before a binge-eating disorder takes hold. The results could protect kids from not only shame and mental stress, but profound consequences for their health. Obesity, although not always a part of a binge eating disorder, is a common symptom.

Here’s how to identify a binge eating disorder:

Children who meet the clinical definition of “binge eaters” according to experts should meet at least two of the three following: rapid eating, shameful and secretive eating, depression after eating, eating past the point of just being full to making themselves uncomfortable, or eating for comfort even when they’re not hungry. Binge eaters engage in compulsive eating at least a couple of times a week for more than six months. And binge eating is different from bulimia, since there’s no desire to purge after compulsive eating. 

And as this research affirms, genes play a crucial role in determining if a teen is at risk for developing an eating disorder like binge eating. So if you’re a parent who has struggled with compulsive eating, it’s more likely your kids will have similar struggles.

Treatments include a combination of therapies, so if you suspect your child is suffering from a disorder like binge eating, your pediatrician is the best place to start looking for answers.


Becky Bracken is a news and views writer who serves it up with a sassy side of girl power. If you don't have anything nice to say, you should probably sit next to her. Get more at NerdieGaga.com.

Image via © Johner Images/Johnér Images/Corbis

Read More >