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Guest Posting: Is Your Teen Addicted To Food? 5 Warning Signs To Watch

Anorexia and bulimia are not the only issues to keep an eye out for.

This is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an important week that aims to prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. To help spread awareness, Rene asked me to provide some tips to parents on how to spot eating disorders in their teenagers.

Over the years, most of the talk about eating disorders in teens has focused on anorexia and bulimia, typically blamed on unrealistic body images portrayed in the media. Increasingly however, the discussion has turned to the opposite end of the spectrum – compulsive overeating and food addiction. As the obesity rates in American children continue to skyrocket, teen overeating and addiction to food are becoming serious concerns to many parents.

First let me say, it’s typical for teens to eat a lot, particularly during growth spurts when they simply need more nutrients. That’s no secret; unfortunately it’s what can make identifying compulsive overeating and food addictions in teens difficult.

Here are a few warning signs that can help you, as a parent, tell the difference between your teen’s “healthy appetite” and a problem with binge eating:

HIDES FOOD: When you’re cleaning your teen’s room, are you finding food and food wrappers stashed in strange places? I’m not talking about a Snicker’s wrapper on her dresser that she forgot to throw away. Finding food that’s been deliberately stuffed under covers, crammed on the top shelf of the closet or hidden behind her TV could indicate binge eating (and the embarrassment that follows).

AVOIDS EATING WITH OTHERS: If your daughter never seems to accept invites from her friends to hang out at the food court or if she has a history of canceling plans where food may be part of the outing, she may be avoiding eating with others because she’s ashamed of the amount of food she eats.

EMOTIONAL EATING: Does your teen find comfort in food when she gets a bad grade, fights with her brother or feels rejected by someone at school? That may indicate a pattern of emotional eating in response to stress, which is a significant underlying factor for compulsive overeating and food addiction.

CREATES UNEXPECTED DRAMA: I’ve raised three daughters, so I know first-hand that drama is just part of having a teen in the house. But does it seem like your teen is creating drama simply to turn to food as a coping response? For many compulsive eaters and food addicts, any crisis can justify emotional eating and if there’s not a reason to eat, they’ll create one.

SEEMS DEPRESSED OR EMBARRASSED: Whether it’s compulsive overeating or anorexia, people with eating disorders commonly share the same feelings of depression, guilt, shame or anxiety, because they’re ashamed of the amount of food their eating or the changes (gains or losses) in their weight or body shape.

ONE LAST THING: I’ve largely used the feminine pronoun, but that does not mean that our teen sons aren’t at risk of the same behaviors. To be crystal clear, boys can and do have the same eating disorders that girls do. Boys can be compulsive overeating and food addicts, and they can suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

If you have a teen that you’re worried about or if you have any other questions about eating disorders for yourself or someone you know, I welcome your emails. You can either send Rene a note through GEM or my own website –

Eating disorders are a serious, life-threatening illnesses that affect 24 million Americans. It’s important for us to spread the word to help eliminate the stigma. I encourage each of you to share these tips and tell your personal stories. On Twitter, you can use the hashtag #NEDAwareness.

More From GEM:

Kids Questions: I Think My Friend Is Anorexic!

“Maggie Goes On A Diet”: Is This REALLY A Good Idea?

What Will Your Kids Say When The Red Light Comes On?

Tennie McCarty is one of the foremost experts in treating addiction to behaviors and substances, especially food. A certified addictions specialist and licensed counselor in chemical dependency, she has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Addicted to Food,” Nightline, The Dr. Oz Show, The Joy Behar Show, NBC’s Today Show, Ruby, Intervention and others. Nearly twenty-five years ago she co-founded Shades of Hope Treatment Center.

Tennie’s book, “Shades of Hope: A Program to Stop Dieting and Start Living,” is available now for pre-order and in bookstores March 6. She will also appear on Dr. Oz on the same day.

Visit Tennie’s site at and follow her on Twitter: @TennieMcCarty.


  1. Ella Rucker

    February 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    This weekend I had two girls, ages 6 and 7, in my house. Both were saying they wanted to get “fat”. I’d never heard that, but they were eating a bit more than their usual nothing, and then poking out their stomachs to show how big they were getting. It struck me as odd, and now I don’t know what to think. Never a moment of peace and there are so many influences on our children now.

    Thanks, Ms. McCarty, for the information.

  2. m.e. johnson

    February 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

    A while back I read that it is a disorder related to OCD. I know someone who is now middle aged, obese and suffering because of it. If he knows there is food in the house, he must eat it, will prowl all night until it is gone. After that, he’s fine. He doesn’t seem to lust for food that isn’t there. I say ‘seem’ because we don’t know, he doesn’t say. I wish I knew more about what, if anything, is being/can be done to help him.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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