In Syndromes & Disorders

What Is Binge Eating And What Does It Do To Your Child?

It’s quite a common story. A child gets a little heavy in his preteens, and other children start to tease him lightly, maybe even bully him sometimes. The child’s psyche starts getting affected and he looks down on himself. So, what does the child do? He starts looking for ways to make himself feel better. He finds that staying at home instead of going out to play means he won’t be teased or bullied, and then he turns to food. He finds solace in that Twinkie, he finds peace in that bag of chips, and he knows that that soda can will make him feel better, so he indulges.

|SEE ALSO: Eating Disorders|

Before you know it, the child is binge eating, and it becomes a really hard pattern to break. As a parent, it is easily to overlook the initial warning signs, even to logically reconcile them. Parents can even find excuses to support the phenomena. Thoughts like ‘He’s growing; he needs that food’ and ‘It’s OK for him to want thirds; he’s so active’ jump to mind.

Now, it’s important to understand that binge eating is different from bulimia, which also includes the habit of purging afterwards. To know more about bulimia, read our article Understanding Bulimia and the Different Treatment Options . It is also important to admit that everyone overeats from time to time. We all have an extra piece of pie on occasion, and holidays like Thanksgiving celebrate excess. But when does occasional overeating qualify as binge eating? Who can it affect? And, most importantly, what do you do about it?

What is Binge Eating?

Just recently recognized as a valid disorder, overeating can, and does, affect anyone. This article on MayoClinic.org explains it fully, but it is generally recognized by overreacting with food, and a few other symptoms as well that include:

  1. An out-of-control sensation when eating.
  2. The inability to stop eating.
  3. Eating even when not hungry.
  4. A deep feeling of shame when the act is done.
  5. Eating quickly and for long periods of time.
  6. Ignoring feelings of satiation just to continue eating.
  7. Eating alone due to feelings of shame and embarrassment.

You can see how easily a problem like this can turn into a vicious cycle. Once a child’s stress and emotional problems start causing them to binge eat, the feelings of guilt and shame caused by the act tend to trigger more stress, which in turn causes more binge eating, and so on. The problem is definitely self-perpetuating and almost always requires outside intervention.

What Causes Binge Eating Disorders?

Binge eating is associated with the inability to deal with or control stress in one’s life. This feeling of no control can be amplified, especially in children, by situations of bullying. But what really causes binge eating disorders? Well, no one knows for sure, but there are some common factors to look at.

Biology plays a part, but scientists are unsure of how big that part is. Genetics is also involved, as we are more likely to be predisposed to binge eating if it runs in our families. Another important factor is the body’s internal chemistry. You are 50 percent more likely to binge eat if you are suffering from depression due to its effects on the body’s internal chemistry balances. And of course, if you are overweight you are more likely to develop this disorder. To read more about the possible causes of binge eating disorders, read our article The Bottom Line on Binge Eating Disorder.

What Can Overeating do to You?

The consequences of overeating are many. Some are physical while others have deeper emotional and psychological impacts that can make the problem even harder to resolve. Many people overeat to relieve stress, only to find that it doesn’t. This, in turn, causes shame, regret and guilt that may actually result in even more overeating.

Prolonged overeating can cause deep depression, and it results in weight gain, illness, elevated levels of cholesterol and obesity. Whether you are overweight or not, elevated levels of cholesterol can cause heart diseases and diabetes, and can also lead to all kinds of health threats, or even death.

Obesity, on the other hand, comes with many risk factors of its own, but that’s a topic worthy of a whole other article.

How to Stop Binge Eating

This is a complicated and in-depth question, but it is also a question with more than one answer. Many reputable doctors and psychologists say that a variety of actions and treatment options employed together is the best approach.

The first thing to do is to apply cognitive behavioral therapy, which is usually teamed up with insight-oriented therapy. This approach essentially allows a person to retrain themselves to see their own thought patterns in order to alter their behaviors, thoughts and most of the triggers that cause binge eating. This page on PsychologyOfEating.com explains the matter further.

This, in conjunction with group therapy, proves to be very effective. With group therapy, you are about 75 percent more likely to succeed in breaking these patterns due to the presence of an emotional support system. This percentage of success dramatically increases in teens, and adversely drops when that support system is absent. Moreover, group therapy helps a person dismiss the feelings of shame that can cause this vicious cycle.

Some therapists choose to team up these methods with self-help programs. These can include keeping a journal and meditating, which can also help subjects identify bad, dangerous and triggering behaviors.

Many doctors will also employ educational assistance here, where looking at what the person is trained to eat is key to the whole process. Speaking to a nutritionist about what to eat and when helps a person make better food choices and makes them understand the different types of hunger that can cause overeating, namely physical and emotional hunger.

In some cases, antidepressants may help break the cycle of shame and guilt that are the most common underlying causes of the problem. They may also have a positive effect on regulating one’s appetite.

Some Alarming Numbers

65 percent of Americans – that is more than 97 million people – are overweight. A good 50 percent of those qualify as obese. Obesity can be defined as being 20 to 30 percent over your ideal weight.

4 million people in the US are said to have binge eating disorders. Most of these either are or will eventually become overweight. Alarmingly, half of those will become obese and will take on all the health problems associated with that. To know more about childhood obesity, read our article Childhood Obesity: Epidemic of the Future?

When Should Someone Get Help?

When is enough enough? When does a person say to themselves ‘This is unhealthy and needs to stop’? What you don’t want to do is wait until your child is pre-diabetic or runs out of breath merely from going up a flight of stairs.

We’ve established that overeating is a shame-based problem, and the very definition of shame is that the person does not want to admit it. So, if your child has an eating problem, chances are they know it, but are powerless to stop it or ask for help.

That’s why it is so important for parents to see the problem and to do something about it. Most times, the cycle can only be broken from the outside; a strong support structure to tell the child that it’s OK and that there is no need for shame. The words ‘we love you anyway’ are among the most potent and powerfully healing in the world and actually cause people to want to get help. For more in depth insights on how to help your teen with their eating disorder, read our article Fostering Healthy Body Image and Self-Esteem in Teenagers.

Parents, the world today is an orbiting ball of stress and, in the future, many new stress disorders will rear their ugly heads toward you, your family and your children. Binge eating is among the most dangerous disorders of our time and can shred a life and a person’s self-worth more permanently than many other disorders.

Be patient, and be observant. These problems can be treated, and normal eating habits can definitely be achieved. But above all, realize that binge eating is a mental illness and that your child is a victim, not a willing participant.

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