Teenager Wants to Eat All the Time

Updated on November 01, 2019
S.J. asks from Pacific Palisades, CA
15 answers

I have googled this issue but most articles are about eating disorders or overweight children so I thought I'd try a mothers' board. My 15 year old daughter is upset that she wants to eat all the time. She's not overweight but she thinks she could lose a few pounds. So she eats things like carrots and plain popcorn constantly when she watches TV but we are wondering how typical this is. She's upset because she hurt her back and while we are working on getting it better, it means she can't play a sport at school. This has been going on for a while. So she feels she's not active yet wants to eat all the time so it's a problem. Apparently she's not hungry at all. It's a compulsion. I think she's bored. We live in a very high stress area and her group of friends is obsessed with grades. She has a lot of school work and doesn't have a lot of fun. Her group of friends is steady but she really only likes a couple of them and those 2 are very busy with sports. She has taken up guitar and piano and is in school clubs but the main club isn't the social outlet we hoped. She said it's mainly older boys. She's a really good kid but I don't blame her for being bored and wanting something to "fill her up." We try - I talk to her a lot, she has a sister she's fairly close to, her dad is a good dad etc. But I can't make enough fun for her. Or is this normal behavior? Her sister says she wants to eat all the time too though the daughter in question argues the sister's playing a sport so it's ok. The sister also has a much more fun social life. I don't remember how I was. I have a very high metabolism so I know I ate a lot but I don't remember every time I sat down to watch TV being obsessed with eating. Even while I studied I'm not sure I was always snacking. And now I never eat after dinner - just no interest. She also likes to pick at her nails or her hair - something for her hands to do. She's always been a bit restless like that. So my question for parents of teen is whether or not yours seem to want to eat all the time too but not out of hunger. She swears she's not hungry at all. Any thoughts? And please don't say I'm driving her to have an eating disorder. I've told her 100 times her weight is just fine. She's the one most upset about this. And constant eating just to eat doesn't seem healthy even if the food is reasonably healthy. It seems like people should eat regular meals and have a snack and treat here and there but not constantly be thinking about food. This seems like a mental hunger. Or is it just her age? Thanks.

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So What Happened?

Elena - she doesn't watch all that much tv but does need some downtime. So weekend mornings she will some. Last night after finishing homework and dinner, she watched for an hour. Some weeknights she has time to watch for a half hour or so. She also has to watch for her language class. They have to watch a show in the language a certain number of hours a month and summarize it. So no choice about that. But I've never minded kids watching some tv here and there. IMO they need some time to just veg. It's certainly not hours a day or even every day. She watches in our family room. I could consider making it a no eating zone though it seems unfair to her sister. And not sure my husband would abide by it.

She does do walks and things like that but they don't take the place of a team sport socially or time wise.

She turns to me for help on this issue versus I nag her or anything. She said she thinks about it in school and while she's doing her homework etc.

Agree she needs to examine and challenge why she's doing this. Just wasn't sure if all teens want to eat like this so it's why I asked the question. A friend said her daughter eats all the time but has become overweight so a little different issue but maybe same underlying cause.

Suz - I'm sorry you're so troubled. If you read my post, I say she is in school clubs and she is playing guitar and piano so she is pursuing interests. I didn't mention she is also attends catechism class. We are hoping she can return to sports soon too. You may notice some people suggest I take walks with her, play games with her etc. So mixed messages on providing her with fun and I was mentioning our involvement with her to illustrate I try to keep a balance of being an attentive mother vs ignore her but do not try constantly provide her with entertainment. I never said it's my job to provide her with enough fun. And my assertion I've told her 100 times her weight is fine is somewhat a figure of speech. Not sure it's 100 but did you notice SHE thinks she can lose a few pounds? So it is in response to HER saying she needs to lose weight that I tell her she's fine. I'm curious what else I should do - agree with her? Ignore her when she says that? Please let me know how to better handle it. I actually would be concerned if she was overweight as your and your son appear to be in your picture. But she's not so I'm trying to counter all the messages she's probably getting about being really skinny.

I am concerned about her high stress level too but I'm not sure what we can do. I have told her many times there are 1000 good colleges and she will do just fine. But I can't control her school environment which is high stress bc it's very competitive. We've actually suggested she go to a different high school but she doesn't want to.

So my question was getting at what is driving her eating - it's normal for teens to want to eat all the time OR it's habit, stress, anxiety, eating disorder etc. Seems to be the latter so I will continue to address the issue.


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answers from Boston on

Sounds like she's just bored while killing time watching tv. At least she's making pretty good choices and not reaching for cookies and candy. How about finding something else to fill her time and her hands? Like a hobby that'll teach her a new skill while keeping her hands occupied so they can't be filled with snacks?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I don't think that you are "driving her to an eating disorder". I think you should talk to a doctor to express your concerns, it's possible that she already has one. She's using food as a substitute outlet for stress. I don't think it's normal teenage hunger - my teen eats constantly but it's because he's constantly starving because he's in the middle of a big growth spurt. This is not the case for your child. Get her help.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Welcome to mamapedia!

You live in a high-stress area and you wonder what's wrong with your daughter? She's a stress eater. While carrots and popcorn are healthy snacks, if she's not getting exercise? She CAN (not saying she will) become obese.

Please get her involved in life...that doesn't have to be her grades or a sport. Hell. You can go for a walk with her, right? TALK WITH HER!! Play games with her?

I have boys. They eat A LOT...My oldest, a sophomore in college, has become more of a health nut. Veggies and fruit and protein drinks and working out. He wants to be a personal trainer/physical therapist. So it makes sense.

Stress eating isn't always a good thing. Especially if she can't get the exercise in.

Maybe you need to let her know that you don't care if she goes to Harvard or Yale. That you'd love her no matter what she chose to do and get her mind off grades. Continue to encourage her to do her best. But change the focus. Maybe she can get into quilting or knitting? Something to keep her hands busy and MAKE something.

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answers from Norfolk on

If she just eats to keep her hands busy then she needs a hobby.
I learned to knit and crochet at that age.
If she eats when she watches tv - maybe she shouldn't watch that much tv - more reading might be better.
She can walk or ride a bike with a back problem - even swimming could be a good activity.
She could be having a growth spurt - our son was always starving right before he added another inch or two to his height.

You say you live in a high stress area (this can mean a lot of different things - maybe you should think about that a bit), you 'can't make enough fun' for her, you are pretty focused on her eating habits.
Perhaps she'll relax more if you do - maybe you should take a step back a bit and let her figure this out.
Maybe you can model some de-stressing (show her how) by taking up some yoga and meditation.

With what info you've added I think maybe she should talk to a counselor about it.
She should examine why shes doing this but with someone who is more objective than you could be - you are too close to it.

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answers from Boston on

I've read your original post and your added info, which was helpful.

If she's "thinking about it all the time," then she's got a problem beyond social clubs and sports. The idea that "it's okay" to eat all the time if one plays a sport like her sister does is not right. And she says she's not hungry at all - so pay attention to that. Writing it off as "she's bored" may mean you're missing something bigger - because right before that, you said "it's a compulsion." It's not both.

Needing her hands busy all the time could be something else - would she be just as happy crocheting or doing cross stitch? That's a good use of the hands when someone has nervous energy.

But I think you're on to something when you talk about her needing to fill an empty space within her. I'd have her pediatrician do a blood workup and then I'd see about a therapist.

Not much you tell a teen about her weight being "fine" is going to sink in. Doesn't matter how many times you tell her. She may need a professional for this. Please reach out via your physician.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

An eating disorder involves being obsessed about controlling some aspect of your life - i.e. what you put into your body and your weight. You don't mention she's obsessed about her weight.

She's just eating as a hobby - out of boredom, it sounds like. Can you just replace it with something like knitting, or something else to keep her hands busy like a puzzle?

Kids who have eating disorders, tend to have mental health issues and anxiety, OCD type behaviors (rituals, secrecy, etc.). It doesn't sound like she has this kind of thing going on.

"But I can't make enough fun for her. " Why would you want to? Not your job.

ETA - I'm with RK - if it's not out of boredom, and she's eating celery and popcorn, and snacking continuously, maybe eating more protein would fill her up. We have a kid who comes here a lot, snacks continuously but is never 'full'. My kids eat actual filling foods and don't think about food because their hunger is dealt with. Some foods don't really fill kids up. I am never full on celery or popcorn. Even if you put PB on celery or fill it with cheese, it is a more filling snack. Eat less of it, but make it more substantial. Small changes ..

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answers from Denver on

I'm wondering how much tv she watches? And where (her bedroom, the family room, or somewhere else)? I'm assuming she's in high school, and you say she has a lot of school work, so when is she watching tv?

You could consider making a rule about limiting tv time. And you could make a rule about not eating or drinking in the family room or living room or bedroom. Eating is for the dining room table or kitchen table only. Not only does that limit mindless snacking, it keeps surfaces and floors cleaner.

And even if you're not driving her to an eating disorder, it sounds as though the topic of food and hunger is a common one in the home. And it sounds as though she's curious about why she's snacking, and restless, and hunger, to the point where she's upset.

So possible, one answer could be: helping her to evaluate her cravings (food, picking at nails, watching too much tv, etc). You might have her see a counselor to help get some strategies to replace craving behavior with helpful behavior. That does NOT mean she's mentally ill or has a diagnosis, it can simply mean that she needs some assistance in learning to manage some habits. You say she can't play a sport, but is she immobile to the point where she can't take a walk or ride a bike or do some yoga? If she isn't, perhaps consider enrolling her in a simple yoga class, or taking a walk with her. Don't talk about food during the walk, talk about guitars, trees, teachers, movies, etc.

Because it sounds to me like this is not about weight. This seems to be about a girl who isn't really carefully thinking about what her body and mind need, but instead is simply throwing food and mindless tv at her body and mind in order to get them to be quiet. A therapist can help her learn to listen to herself, to pay attention to what she actually needs (a brisk walk instead of watching another rerun of Friends on tv, playing the guitar instead of eating popcorn to keep her hands busy, for example). If you can't get a therapist for a couple of visits, then try encouraging her to ask herself "do I need to sit and watch tv and eat popcorn, or could I do something more useful?".

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Sounds like a touch of anxiety, which is very common among adolescents. Given that she came to you for help, I'd suggest having her meet with a counselor. Not because there is anything acutely wrong, but the collection of uncomfortable feelings (bored, restless, obsessed with eating without hunger, needing to keep her hands busy) sound like something that might have a root cause that can be addressed. Food issues can be complicated - sometimes it's really just about food, but a lot of time, it can be a symptom of something else that should be addressed.

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answers from Kalamazoo on

Sounds like maybe anxiety-ish. Talk to her doc and get her into some therapy sessions. Def try to get this addressed before it gets any worse. Also, make sure she is hydrated. Too often, people eat because they are actually thirsty.

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answers from San Francisco on

I don't think she's going to become overweight eating carrots and popcorn. If that's what she's snacking on, let her.

I've picked at my nails my whole life, and I also like to nibble at things throughout the day, in addition to meals. I am not overweight, I'm pretty healthy and athletic overall. I think I often nibble to quell anxiety and occasionally to relieve boredom. It's kind of a way to procrastinate, as well. I think "mental hunger" is probably pretty common in our society. Sometimes I think I should start practicing mindfulness instead of using nail picking and food for mental avoidance, and maybe I will someday, but if I never do, I'm fairly functional in my dysfunction. It sounds like your daughter is too.

As long as she's healthy, I don't think you or she should worry about this or make it an issue. If she keeps worrying about this habit, suggest mindfulness training.

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answers from Miami on

I wonder if it’s more about “moving” than about eating. You mention sports and the frustration that she can’t do that - sitting still. Picking at her nails. Guitar and piano...

I agree with the comments about anxiety. And although she’s not eating junk, it’s important to learn not to eat just non-stop because you are bored, or anxious, or any other reason that doesn’t have to do with hunger.

She needs help with the root cause. But in the meantime, and alternative is in order. Crocheting or knitting might help.

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answers from Boston on

Just a couple of thoughts. As she is watching her figure, but still eating, could it be that she actually needs a bit more protein and fat to satisfy her hunger? Could she need more to drink? All my best.

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answers from Atlanta on

Sounds like your daughter already HAS an eating problem/disorder.

She needs to find a hobby that will keep her hands busy. Maybe playing an instrument? Or picking up crocheting, knitting or quilting??

Get her help. It sucks that kids are pressured to be "perfect" and have the best grades so they can go the "Right" college. Even more sad that parents push their kids for the straight A's...

Good luck, I'd see if your daughter is open to a counselor so she can get through this.,

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answers from Miami on

I have heard that teens can easily ravage a fridge within minutes, it's part of growing up, and growth spurts, etc. that make them crave food, though I don't think that is what is going on here. It seems she is eating relatively healthy snacks, not like reaching for chips or candy, so that's a good thing. If you think she is nervous or anxious and this may be causing her to eat so much (stress, nail-biting), why not consider seeing a therapist? I have been guilty of sitting on the couch, eating an entire chocolate tablet while watching TV, and dealing with the stress of family illness, and feelings of hopelessness, despair and depression. I put on a lot of weight in one year, from overeating junk, it was as if I didn't care anymore what happened to me or my body and I was just so frustrated, I felt like I was losing control of everything in my life, including my health and eating habits. I am now aware of that dangerous spiral and put the brakes before I start feeling that way again and force myself to hit the gym for a few hours a day. She may also be going through some depression, in addition to stress, and she is eating out of anxiety or sadness. Some people resort to drugs, others to cutting, and others to nervously eating. A therapist should get her to open up and see what is causing it and how to address it.

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answers from Washington DC on

my teenage boys ate pretty much non-stop, and not carrots and popcorn either.

i'm a little surprised that your question involves eating and not her high stress level. that seems to me a far more important issue, and one that's probably underlying the eating.

i'm also taken aback that you seem to think it's your job to 'make enough fun for her.'

i agree it's a worry that without a sport to play, her only go-tos are tv and eating. but that doesn't mean it's your job to throw activities and distractions at her.

what are her interests? her passions? her dreams? her goals? what is she doing to actualize them? how can you support her without taking over? does she read? journal? paint? can she go for a walk or a hike with her back issue? does she have a fidget spinner? can she learn to knit?

your assertion that you've told her 100 times that her weight is fine is also troubling me. that sounds right there as if you are as obsessed with her eating patterns as she is.

i see a lot in the post that worries me and i'm not even sure where to begin.

ETA----- oooo, nice little passive aggressive dig there, girlie! you're right- i'm on the heavy side. and i'm sure that fat-shaming like that doesn't factor one tiny bit into this post that's all about your fat-obsessed daughter.......


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