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Overeating in Teens

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

A teen boy's appetite is legendary. A study reported in July 2010 in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” confirms that teen boys can eat close to 2,000 calories during a single meal. That sort of food intake is related to high energy requirements, as teen boys are growing fast, but "Scholastic" magazine says a teen boy only needs 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day and girls need about 2,200. When teens overeat on a regular basis and take in more calories than their bodies need, they are at risk for obesity. Overeating can signal medical and psychological problems, and are commonly associated with eating disorders in both girls and boys.

Binge Eating

Overeating is a problem for 17 percent of girls and almost 8 percent of boys, according to a January 2003 article in “Pediatrics.” Researchers studied 4,746 adolescent boys and girls in Minnesota public schools. The study found adolescents who overate were more likely to be overweight or obese, to have dieted or tried to lose weight and to report that weight and shape were important to their feelings about themselves. The study also found that binge eating was associated with depression and that approximately 28 percent of both boys and girls who binged on food reported they had attempted suicide.

Compulsive Behaviors

Binge eating is a compulsive behavior, according to Kids Health; the binge eater feels out of control and powerless. Binge eaters may eat for emotional reasons, such as stress and anger or when they feel hurt or upset. Binge eaters often eat much more rapidly than normal eaters, eat until they feel overfull, eat large amounts of food even when not hungry and gain excessive weight. Teens may feel disgusted, embarrassed, ashamed or guilty after a binge eating episode.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that combines overeating with purging the food afterward. Bulimic teens are often of normal weight or slightly overweight and it can be difficult to recognize this disorder unless someone happens to see them purging food after a meal. A teen with bulimia will try to make herself vomit after eating or make take laxatives to get rid of the food as quickly as possible. Eating disorders such as bulimia probably occur as the result of multiple factors such as genetics, emotions, behaviors such as eating patterns and biological reasons related to body chemistry, according to Kids Health.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be serious and can cause damage to your child’s health, according to the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation. Although most teens go through periods when they seem to eat a lot and may gain weight before a growth spurt, there are some behaviors that can indicate a more serious problem. If your teen sneaks food, seems embarrassed about eating, eats in response to emotional upsets or seems to have specific food cravings, these may be signs of an eating disorder. Consult your family doctor or pediatrician for any concerns related to your teen's eating habits.

What Parents Can Do

As a parent, you can help to influence your child's weight and eating habits. The American Academy of Family Physicians says you shouldn't put your child on a diet as she is still growing, but you can try other strategies. Stock the shelves and refrigerator with healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables; buy chips, crackers or cookies in moderation. Make sure family meals include protein, whole grains and vegetables and limit fast-food or restaurant dining. Be a good role model by managing your own weight, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. Limit screen time -- TV, DVD, computers or video games. Spend time with your child in activities you both enjoy and let her know you love her. If you have serious concerns about her weight or eating habits, consult your pediatrician or family doctor.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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