Five Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Your Teen

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Eating disorders & food addiction expert Tennie McCarty offers tips for telling the difference between a “healthy appetite” and an eating disorder

Tennie McCarty - One of the foremost experts on eating disorders 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.

To help attract attention to National Eating Disorders Week (February 26-March 3, 2012), eating disorders and food addictions expert Tennie McCarty offers tips to parents on how to spot eating disorders in their teen children.

“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,” said McCarty.

“First let me say, it’s no secret that teens to eat a lot, particularly during growth spurts. Unfortunately it’s what can make identifying compulsive overeating and food addictions in teens difficult,” said McCarty.

Here are a few warning signs that can help parents tell the difference between their 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 cancelling 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 firsthand 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.

“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 overeaters and food addicts, and they can suffer from anorexia and bulimia,” added McCarty.

About Tennie McCarty:
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, ABC’s Nightline 20/20, The Dr. Oz Show, The Joy Behar Show, NBC’s Today Show, Style Network’s Ruby, A&E’s Intervention and others. Nearly 25 years ago, she co-founded Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas.

Tennie’s book, "Shades of Hope: A Program to Stop Dieting and Start Living" (featuring a foreword from Ashley Judd), is available now for pre-order and in bookstores March 6. She will also appear nationally on Dr. Oz on March 6.

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

About National Eating Disorders Awareness Week:
National Eating Disorders Week aims to prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. More info can be found at


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