Teen Binge Eating: A Problem of Powerlessness

Teen Binge Eating Disorder | Parent Treatment Advocates


A recent survey of 496 adolescent girls indicated that more than 12 percent experienced some form of eating disorder by the time they were 20. Although not all teen eating disorders include the symptom of repeated binge eating, it is an indication, like the other symptoms of eating disorders, that there is a disturbed relationship to food. Learn more about the symptoms and treatments of teen eating disorders at this site.

And often, it’s not only a disturbance to your relationship to food, but it’s also an unhealthy relationship to your body and to your health. Sadly, for many teens and young adults, the shape of your body and the amount of body fat you carry can heavily influence your sense of self worth and self-acceptance. With enough social and peer pressure, looking good can have a higher priority than your physical and psychological health. It sounds odd that you would hurt yourself for the social acceptance of others, but it happens frequently. And, the truth is, it’s practically expected of women in Western culture.

For some adolescent girls (and boys, but the majority of eating disorder cases occur among females), binge eating is a compulsive behavior that stems from powerlessness, and more accurately, powerlessness stems from a belief. So, let’s take a look at these more closely.

First, compulsive behavior is one in which you feel as though you can’t stop, with an irresistible urge that goes against your conscious wishes. Binge eating, specifically, an experience of eating a large amount of food within a specific period of time, accompanied by a feeling of not being able to stop, or a lack of control.  Binge eating is also characterized by eating more rapidly than normal, eating alone, eating a large amount of food despite not feeling hungry, eating until the body is uncomfortable, and feeling disgusted or guilty later.

Second, powerlessness is the belief that power is outside of your control. For example, if you feel that your low grade on a recent biology exam is because the teacher does not like you or because the concepts are too hard or because you had an argument the morning of the exam, you are handing over a sense of power to external sources. Owning your power regarding your exam is admitting that you didn’t study all the concepts, that you went out the night before, or that your dislike of the subject kept you from paying attention in class. Taking responsibility versus blaming others is the difference here. Addiction is rooted in powerlessness. Just as an individual might dismiss his power when he says that he failed the exam because of the teacher’s dislike of him, the addict is ignorant of his or her power.

This is not to say that the person with the addiction is to blame because an experience of powerlessness is often rooted in unconscious beliefs about oneself, such as being bad, ugly, or unlovable.  Everyone has the power to do achieve success, to overcome obstacles, and create a life they want; however, underlying beliefs keep us stuck in addictions, patterns of powerlessness, and dysfunctional relationships with ourselves and others. It is often unresolved trauma or the dynamics in the early home environment that contribute to beliefs in being shameful or unlovable and that, in turn, lead to feeling of powerless.

The treatment of binge eating focuses on the compulsive tendencies towards eating, the inability to control intake of food, and the use of eating as a way to cope with underlying intense psychological issues and their related emotions. The psychological treatment of binge eating includes the examination of these underlying beliefs to restore a healthy relationship with food, the body, and with life.

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