Binge Eating Disorder Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Almost everyone overeats sometimes. And it’s normal for kids and teens to have bigger appetites during growth spurts. Binge eating, however, is an eating disorder in which people frequently eat unusually large amounts of food quickly, and often feel like they can’t stop.

Binge eating, also called compulsive eating, can be triggered by feelings of stress, anger, boredom, sadness, or anxiety. Unlike bulimia, another eating disorder, most people who binge eat don’t force themselves to vomit (purge) and usually become overweight after several months of overeating.

Health risks associated with weight gain and obesity due to binge eating include:

Doctors and mental health professionals use certain criteria to identify binge eating disorder, including:

  • binge eating more food than most people could consume in short periods of time
  • not feeling in control of eating
  • feelings of distress about eating behaviors
  • binge eating that occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months

Students who have a binge eating disorder may:

  • feel socially isolated and ashamed of their weight and eating habits
  • often eat in secret or alone because of embarrassment
  • hoard snacks or extra foods, and hide wrappers or containers
  • skip school or avoid activities for fear of being teased or bullied
  • require medical attention and nutritional or psychological counseling
  • need additional time to make up homework or assignments due to doctor or counseling appointments

What Teachers Can Do

Most students who are binge eaters don’t want to eat a lot and especially don’t want to be overweight. It’s often a way to deal with or avoid emotional conflicts. But because many binge eaters are overweight or obese, they’re often teased and bullied, which causes even more emotional distress and overeating. Many kids and teens don’t get help for binge eating until they become adults who are trying to lose weight.

Part of overcoming binge eating is learning to have a healthier relationship with food. Teachers can be supportive by encouraging healthy attitudes about exercise and nutrition in the classroom. It can help to encourage your entire class to participate in physically active classroom projects, as well as extracurricular, self-confidence building activities and stress management techniques.

If you suspect your student has a binge eating disorder, be there to listen in case he or she needs someone to talk to. You may want to contact the school counselor as well.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014