Is my child binge eating?

Does my child have binge eating disorder?

Healthy children, especially those in teenage years, will naturally have a healthy appetite. As the body grows and their level of activity increases, so the body requires more calories and nutrients to fuel their activity – it can feel as if your kids are eating you out of house and home!

But what if snacking between meals or consuming large quantities of food gets out of hand? What if your child is becoming secretive about food or displaying guilt about what they eat? If you’ve started to notice these signs, perhaps your child has binge eating disorder.

Children’s binge eating disorder

Many people find comfort in eating food and often associate food with happy occasions – birthdays, Christmas, meals out with friends etc. We typically overeat during these times as they’re seen as special or a treat. Someone with an eating disorder has a very different relationship with food.

With binge eating disorder, an individual can’t control their food consumption – quantity or frequency. At the start, food may offer comfort or a feeling of calm, but this soon turns to guilt and stress. Eating disorder behaviour patterns often alternate with rapid dieting.

It is a common misconception that an eating disorder only affects obese people. This isn’t the case. Those considered to be at a healthy weight can suffer with the disorder too.

Binge eating is typically carried out in secret and as such parents may not be aware their child is gaining weight due to binging – they may well think that the meals they’re providing for their child are the cause.

What to look for if your child has binge eating disorder

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that your child can have a big appetite without suffering binge eating disorder. During their adolescence, a child will go through frequent spurts in growth and require more nutrients to fuel those changes.

A child that is developing binge eating disorder will display several signs that will distinguish them from just having a “healthy appetite”.

Signs your child has binge eating problem:

– You may begin to notice large quantities of food going missing.
– Your child eats large amounts of food very quickly.
– Your child turns to food directly after an emotional event such as a family argument or poor exam results.
– Your child displays shame or guilt about the amount of food they’ve eaten.
– Discovering food hidden in their room.
– Changes to eating patterns (skipped meals, snacking late at night, buying junk food).

People with common eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia go through feelings of anxiety, depression and guilt. The same can be said of people with binge eating disorder. Avoidance of social situations is common due to feelings of shame about their problem and the physical effects it’s having on their body (shape change, weight increase, poor skin condition).

What’s causing my child’s eating disorder?

Unfortunately the actual causes are vague or unknown. 50% of people with an eating disorder have been found to suffer with depression but whether the disorder leads to depression or the other way round isn’t certain.

Common triggers of binge eating include anger, anxiety, boredom, melancholy and stress. These feelings are usually alleviated by eating but in someone with a binge eating disorder they typically feel distressed by it and afterwards feel guilty or ashamed of their actions. These feelings are often due to a loss of control.

Differences between common eating disorders and binge eating disorder

Despite being an eating disorder, binge eating has slight differences to other common eating problems. Someone with bulimia will binge and then vomit (or use laxatives) to avoid weight gain. Bulimia sufferers will also fast and exercise compulsively to avoid gaining weight. The difference between bulimia and binge eating is that binge eaters do not purge their food or excessively exercise and therefore are often overweight. Both conditions do have associations of guilt and shame about food.

People suffering with anorexia (anorexia nervosa) will starve their bodies which can lead to potentially life-threatening damage. Those who also compulsively exercise to lower their weight are suffering with anorexia athletica. While binge eaters do not starve themselves, they do share the same feelings of guilt over food as anorexia sufferers.

Diagnosing your child’s binge eating disorder

If you are concerned about your child’s possible binge eating problem, you should first consult your GP. They will make a diagnosis using some of the following criteria:

– Consuming more food than most people over shorter periods
– Loss of control with eating
– Distress with eating patterns and behaviour
– Binge eating on average twice a week over a six month period
– No association to vomiting, laxatives or compulsive exercise to purge the body
– Rapid eating
– Continuing to eat even when full
– Eating food when not feeling hungry
– Secretive eating
– Signs of depression, guilt, shame

Binge eating disorder treatment

If your child has been diagnosed with binge eating disorder, what happens next? Once your doctor has completed a full medical history, physical examination and possibly conducted tests to rule out nutritional problems or physical complications due to obesity, it is vital that your child receives psychological therapy to adjust negative behaviours.

Recommended therapies for binge eating disorder include Psychotherapy and Counselling. Sessions can take place on a one-to-one basis to help identify relationships with others and with food. Sessions can also take place as family therapy so the whole family can help the individual.

Occasionally a doctor may recommend the use of drugs alongside these therapies.

Once the underlying problem has been identified and your child has begun to overcome the problem, an effective weight control program can be introduced. Working with a trained nutritionist and employing an exercise regime, your child can begin to lose the excess weight gained from binge eating. This stage often boosts the child’s confidence and self-esteem as they start to see positive physical changes in their appearance.

Act now to help your child’s binge eating disorder

Avoid treating your child’s binge eating and it can result in them becoming mentally unwell (depression, anxiety) as well as increasing the risks of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and gallbladder disease.

On first suspecting your child of binge eating, first reassure them that you understand and that you’re there for them. It may take a while before your child admits to a problem but they will come round eventually if you keep communicating with them.

For binge eating prevention, try displaying positive relationships with food yourself. Showing your child that food and exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle rather being a reward can sometimes prevent eating disorders.

Find a local Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Nutritionist here

Date published
06/02/09


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