Emotional Eating

Overcoming bulimia, binge eating, and body blues

When Teenage Dieting Does and Does Not Lead to Adult Overeating

The latest research on binge eating and bulimia.

Binge eating in adulthood is often associated with dieting as a teen. Of course most people who diet do not go on to develop binge eating or other eating disorders. However, for those who do—what sets them apart from the rest? What's different about people who diet and later develop binge eating compared to others who do not? A new study released online last month identified 2 key factors in the relationship between dieting and binge eating.

In the study, researchers from several universities including the University of Chicago and Columbia University analyzed data from about 2,000 people describing their eating habits and other characteristics. The participants completed surveys first in middle/high school and then again 5 and 10 years later.

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The study showed that teens who dieted were 2-3 times more likely to report binge eating 5 years later compared to those who did not diet. Moreover, teens who dieted and also reported 1) symptoms of depression and 2) low self-esteem were most likely to develop binge eating problems.

Researchers also investigated the role of being teased in middle/high school. They found that increased teasing was related to adult binge eating—but only for females who dieted (not males). For girls who dieted in their late teens, the more they were teased, the more likely they were to binge eat as adults. The study authors suggest that persistent teasing or new teasing for an older teenage female is particularly harmful.

If you're an adult who binge eats, can you relate to teenage experiences of dieting and feeling depressed? If you know teenagers who are dieting, you may want to pay particularly close attention to the warning signs of developing adult binge eating including depression symptoms, low self-esteem, and teasing (at least for older girls).

This article was originally posted on Binge Eating and Bulimia: The latest psychological research

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Sumati Gupta, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Columbia University's Barnard College and privately sees patients at Tribeca Psychology in New York City.

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