Teen Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

Many teens turn to food as a method for coping with stress or emotional pain. Binge eating is a clinical syndrome characterized by eating excessively large quantities of food in a short time. Sufferers who binge eat have little control over what or how much they are eating and rarely feel “full” or satiated, leading to intense feelings of shame and guilt. This worsens low self-esteem. Binge eaters may also experience co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

What Does a Binge Eating Disorder Look Like?

  • Teens who struggle with binge eating feel as if they are not in control of their eating habits. They may be embarrassed about their eating habits, causing them to feel even worse about themselves.
  • Despite being aware of the fact that overeating causes weight gain and other health-related side effects, teens struggling with a binge eating disorder cannot control the way they eat. While it is an eating disorder, many experts think of it as a “food addiction.”
  • Teens work hard to hide their binge eating patterns from other people because of embarrassment. To ensure secrecy, they will often demand to eat in private, hide food, or even get up late at night to eat while others are sleeping.

Signs of a Binge Eating Disorder

Eating quickly or secretly

Eating quickly or secretly

Feeling intense shame about eating

Feeling intense shame about eating

Onset of Diabetes or other health issues

Onset of Diabetes or other health issues

High or low blood pressure

High or low blood pressure

Sleep apnea and breathing difficulties

Sleep apnea and breathing difficulties

Insomnia or hypersomnia

Insomnia or hypersomnia

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

Many teens begin binge eating as a response to a trauma or stress. Many have trouble coping with extreme pressure while others are dealing with bullying. Often, weight gain fuels the cycle by making the teen a target for even more bullying. This, in turn, leads to even more disordered eating as the teen struggles to regain control over some part of their lives.

Adults may gain weight because they binge eat to reduce stress. Mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, may also trigger the development of a binge eating disorder. This type of illness is classified as biopsychosocial in nature and can have many potential causes.

Genetics – Research demonstrates that teens who are directly related to someone who has experienced disordered eating habits may have a higher risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with food themselves. We don’t yet know whether this is conclusively true, but but statistics do suggest some genetic undercurrent is involved, at least at a baseline level. However, nurture also plays a role in whether or not teens develop disordered eating. If they see their immediate family members coping with food, they are far more likely to attempt to cope with food, too.

Mental health – Depression and anxiety are triggers that lead teens to use food to feel better or relieve stress. Many people (teens included) feel stressed out by work or school project deadlines; food (especially comfort foods) take away these feelings during ingestion. The problem is that the relief from food is very temporary.

Medication - Some mental health medications cause an increase in appetite. This may ultimately snowball into a binge eating disorder if a person feels stressed from their underlying condition. The medication triggers an increase in appetite, which leads to learned behavioral issues that drive the sufferer to turn to food.

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Teen Binge Eating Disorder Treatment | Paradigm San Francisco

of people who binge eat are obese.


of adolescents struggle with a binge eating disorder.


of people who seek weight loss assistance show symptoms of binge eating disorders.

How Can I Help My Teen with Binge Eating Disorder?

Establish Healthy Household Eating Habits – In other words, encourage your teen, but don’t force them to eat certain items. Instead, offer healthier food options. Helping your teen maintain a more positive relationship with food is critical both during and after teen binge eating disorder treatment. After graduation, teens must continuously work to reaffirm their new habits; you play a critical role in supporting them in that quest. Plan meals and go on grocery shopping trips with them; both help to reaffirm the right message.

Get Active – Being active isn’t just about exercise. Look for ways to have fun that do not include food. Walk the dogs, see a movie, or initiate a game night for the entire family to enjoy. It’s all about getting up, getting moving, and just enjoying life outside of food.

Talk to Your Teen’s Care Team – As a parent, you aren’t expected to know everything (contrary to popular belief online). Don’t be afraid to reach out to your teen’s doctor after treatment. There will be times when you aren’t sure how to respond to the challenges your teen is facing; your teen’s care team is always available to answer your questions and help you keep your teen on the path to better physical and mental health.

What Types of Binge Eating Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Binge eating isn’t something you can just “treat” with a single method. Your teen’s healthcare team will adopt an overall holistic approach for best results.

What exactly does that mean? “Holistic” approaches take all of your teen’s struggles into consideration rather than treating them as separate parts. Your teen will need guidance as they work to rebuild relationships, become physically healthy, and sort through any related mental health conditions. Every aspect of their lives contribute to binge eating; as expected, every one of those contributing factors must be addressed.


There is no way to cure a binge eating disorder with medication. What you can do is manage the anxiety and depression contributing to the disorder. Certain drugs alleviate symptoms like anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsions so your teen’s therapist can better address the underlying issues and coping mechanisms.

There is one medication, called Lisdexamfetamine, or Vyvanse, that may reduce the desire to binge eat for some patients. This drug is a stimulant commonly used in patients with ADHD. Researchers are not yet sure why this particular drug seems to lower a person’s desire to binge eat, but it is an effective choice in many severe cases.


Talking with therapists is the most effective and important aspect of a teen binge eating disorder treatment plan. Through therapy, your teen will learn how to identify the triggers leading them to binge eat. They will then actively work to replace those negative behaviors with healthier responses. Two of the most popular approaches include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Alternative Treatments

In many cases, alternative treatment strategies prove helpful to teens who struggle with binge eating. Strategies like relaxation techniques, yoga, and meditation let them re-center and reduce stress holistically. These techniques also enhance the effects of talk therapy.

Teen Binge Eating Disorder Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

At Paradigm San Francisco, our residential treatment programs help teens make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to go on to live healthy and productive lives. They learn to better understand their current eating behaviors and patterns while implementing newer and healthier eating and exercise routines. Paradigm San Francisco’s staff provide 24/7 support and care for your teen as they navigate these critical steps.

Therapy Programs

At Paradigm, each teen works one-on-one with a therapist to better understand the sources of stressors and life-oriented issues. This step in the process is critical to helping teens gain a clear understanding of the way they are “using” food. Once they have a clearer view of what is really happening, they can learn to make better choices.

Our team is careful to address the thoughts and beliefs each teen has about their binge eating. We work with each team carefully and patiently, empowering them to get past feelings of shame or embarassment. We believe our role is to be a helping hand and a light in the darkness.

Group Therapy

Typically, Paradigm San Francisco’s treatment plans include occasional group therapy sessions within our facilities. These sessions may occur with peers or with family – whatever is most needed to get teens on track. As they interact within the confines of the therapeutic environment, each begins to feel more hopeful and confident about their futures. Teens also grow to realize they are neither alone nor “weird” in their experiences.

Group therapy is especially important for teens and their families before treatment ends. Families must come together to make objective plans for furthering treatment once the teen returns home.

“ Paradigm saved me. By far the best experience I've ever had. “

– Olivia H.

Frequently Asked Questions about Teen Binge Eating Disorder

Is the goal of teen binge eating disorder treatment to lose weight?

Not exactly. The goal of treatment is to help teens get past their disordered eating habits. We work to address the underlying reasons for their binging so that they can move forward and build a healthier relationship with food while learning about more effective methods for coping with underlying stressors and triggers.

While about two thirds of individuals who seek treatment for binge eating disorders are considered obese, others may be simply overweight or even underweight. The reality is that the nature of the disorder will lead to unhealthy weight gain, usually at a rather rapid rate. Weight loss is a desired side effect of treatment, but it is never the main goal.

That isn’t to say doctors and therapists don’t ever work with teens at Paradigm to help them address weight gain concerns. A high BMI is associated with several physical and mental conditions ranging from depression to heart disease. Weight loss may eventually become part of the overall holistic approach to treatment, and it may ultimately help teens deal with some of their binge eating triggers. It’s just important to address the mind, first.

What’s the difference between overeating and binge eating?

Overeating is when a person eats a lot, yet simply doesn’t feel full (or persists even though they are full). It occurs as a result of psychological factors and physical factors like gastrointestinal illnesses. The body doesn’t send the right signals between the stomach and the brain to trigger satiety or fullness.

Overeating can be a sign of a developing eating disorder – but it can also just be occasional indulgence, too. Having seconds at Thanksgiving or an extra chocolate bar the movies is not the same thing as having a binge eating disorder.

Binge eating, on the other hand, is much more intense. It is almost always the result of a person using food to attempt to deal with some sort of stress, pain, or emotional triggers. While it isn’t unusual in our culture to indulge in “comfort food,” it becomes a problem when it becomes destructive. You can’t attempt to remedy every stress or problem in life with unhealthy quantities of food. This is a more serious condition that needs treatment.

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