Binge Eating and Children: What Every Parent Needs to Know

by JoAnn Stevelos
Originally Published: 

Before you open the snack cupboard, ask your child, “What kind of hungry are you? Is your heart hungry? Is your mind hungry?” You may learn that your children are, in fact, not experiencing hunger for food, but hunger for love and attention. Emotional eating is one of the biggest culprits in the childhood obesity epidemic. Help your child learn the difference between a growling stomach and a hungry heart.

Ask, “Is your heart hungry?”

Draw your child in close and hug them. Sit with them for a few moments and ask them about their day. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Give them your full attention. After a few minutes, redirect them to a new activity.

Ask, “Is your mind hungry?”

Your child may be bored. Help them decide what to do next. Suggest a few things your child likes to do, and encourage them to do it for a while. Let them know if they are still hungry after one hour they can have a small, healthy snack.

How will I know if my child is a binge eater?

1. Your child is eating large amounts of food in a short time several times a week. This may be why the cupboard is bare. You may also discover that your child is hiding food or eating secretively.

2. Your child is eating when they don’t feel hungry. This is a sign your child may be self-soothing with food. A child who is prone to binge eating will ask for food when they are anxious or depressed.

3. Your child is preoccupied with food, their weight or the shape of their body. This may at first seem outlandish, but recent studies show children as young as five years old care about how they look, and not surprisingly, body image issues are observed more in girls than boys.

4. Your child throws temper tantrums and demands food. Sometimes parents will notice this behavior in their children at the grocery store. A child may become fixated on purchasing a junk food and is not easily convinced when a compromise is offered.

5. Your child is experiencing significant changes in their weight over a short time. Consistent rapid growth is an early warning sign for obesity. A pediatrician can help you determine if you should be concerned if your child is growing too fast. A child’s body mass index (BMI) will be calculated and assessed according to their gender. But remember, BMI is just one indicator of childhood obesity.

What should you do if you suspect your child is binge eating?

Keep healthy foods available and easily accessible to your child.

Limit the amount of processed or junk food you allow in your home.

Keep regular mealtimes.

Support your child in finding healthy ways to manage stress.

Help them choose a sport or physical activity they enjoy doing.

Help your child learn the difference between real hunger, stomach growling, and emotional hunger.

Schedule a visit with your pediatrician. Treatment for binge-eating disorder is still developing because it’s such a new condition.

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