Binge Eating Disorder: How to Tell If Your Child Has One

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According to the World Health Organization, eating disorders are among the most common mental health issues in adolescents. Eating disorders are potentially fatal, and in no way curable without professional help. 

They’re often associated with obsessive weight loss practices such as eating very little to none, but eating disorders can also be characterized by binge eating; in fact, binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

If you suspect that your child’s appetite has gone beyond normal and is possibly developing BED, this article will help you understand what causes the disorder, how to address it, and how to help your child.

Binge-Eating and Obesity

It’s normal to first assume that obesity is the case if your child has added a lot of weight, and is frequently eating in large quantities. But obesity and BED has some similar characteristics, which can lead some people being confused between the two if they aren’t well-informed about eating disorders.

For one thing, both conditions are linked to body image issues, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, gastrointestinal issues, heart attack, diabetes, gallbladder issues, and high cholesterol levels. The distinction lies in the behavioral aspects. An obese person observes the same eating habits every day, whereas a person with BED binge eats in recurring episodes.

Signs of BED

You can tell that your child is having an episode when he or she does the following:

  • Eats in larger quantities than normal in a discrete-time period (e.g. within a 3-hour interval), at least once a week for 3 months.
  • Appears to have lost sense of control during these episodes (unable to stop eating or to control how much they’re eating)
  • Eats too fast.
  • Doesn’t stop eating even if they’re already uncomfortably full.
  • Eats alone because they’re ashamed.
  • Feels guilty afterwards, or exhibits self-loathing.
  • Distressed about their binge-eating episodes.

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Since people with BED would normally keep their episodes unseen, parents may have a hard time detecting those obvious signs in their child. You can instead look for the following:

  • Large amounts of food that seems to disappear often.
  • Bins flooded with food wrappers.
  • Food stowed in drawers, bags, or in any unusual place.
  • Late-night binges
  • Fluctuating weight
  • Randomly practices new fad diets such as cutting down sugar, veganism, no carbs, etc.
  • Fear of eating in public
  • Emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, trouble in school, and other behavioral problems.

Risk Factors of BED

BED can be hereditary. People with first-degree relatives who have had an eating disorder are more likely to develop one, too.

Age is a top risk factor as well. Adolescents aged 10-19 are most susceptible since it’s in those ages where most psychological issues surface, such consciousness about their bodies. Their insecurities may lead them to try various diets, lose their self-esteem, develop depression and anxiety, and impulsive behaviors.

Life transitions, such as moving or a break-up, may also trigger eating disorders. If they’ve had a traumatic experience in the past, it could also be the cause.

The risk is particularly high if your child is involved in any group that values physical appearance the most, such as a sports team or a performing arts club.

How to Address the Problem and Help Your Kid

Now that you’ve been enlightened about BED, you can now address your concern with your child. Talk to them in private, and emphasize your concern without mentioning food and their eating habits. Avoid judgement and blame, and use “I” in your sentences, such as “I noticed that you feel distressed…” instead of “You have to stop acting like that.”

Listen to them. It won’t be easy for them to admit their problem, but as long as you show them unconditional love and support, they will become comfortable confiding in you. Accompany them to a treatment center that offers the most effective eating disorder recovery program.

Strengthen your bond with your child to help increase their self-esteem and love themselves more. Your reassurance is critical, so give them all of it.

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