Binge eating disorder is more common in people who are obese, but it affects people with healthy weights as well. However, there’s little information on how many children and teens are affected by the disorder because the condition has only recently been recognized, and many people may be too embarrassed to seek help for it.
Adults in treatment often say their problems started in childhood or adolescence and it’s believed that around 4-5+ million people have binge eating disorder. And although the majority of people with other eating disorders are female, it’s estimated that more than a third of individuals with binge eating disorder are male.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Children and teens who sometimes eat a lot don’t necessarily have binge eating disorder. Kids can have huge appetites, especially during growth spurts, when they need more nutrients to fuel their growing bodies. So it can be difficult to determine whether a child has binge eating disorder. But several signs distinguish someone who binge eats from someone with a “healthy appetite.”
Parents may first suspect a problem when they discover large amounts of food are missing from the pantry or the refrigerator, though it’s hard to imagine one child could have eaten so much.
Other signs of a problem include:
a child eating a lot of food quickly
a pattern of eating in response to emotional stress, such as family conflict, peer rejection, or poor academic performance
a child feeling ashamed or disgusted by the amount he or she eats
finding food containers hidden in a child’s room
an increasingly irregular eating pattern, such as skipping meals, eating lots of junk food, and eating at unusual times (like late at night)
Children who binge eat may also experience feelings that are common to many eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, or shame. They may avoid school, work, or socializing with friends because they’re ashamed of their binge eating problem.