I am sad to report that I am seeing more and more children with binge eating disorder. Hilary, only 11 years old when I first saw her, is a good example. Both her parents (recently divorced) were concerned about Hilary’s weight gain. Her mother, who suffered herself from an eating disorder as a teen, was concerned about Hilary’s food choices. Hilary’s new step-mom was a devotee of Weight Watchers weighing herself and her food. Dad had always pushed the clean plate club. To top it off, Hilary’s new step-grandparents ate according to the “Blood Type Diet.” Though Hilary was less concerned about her size than her parents, she embarrassed that she ate food in secret and wanted help with that. She also wanted my help in sorting out all the different messages she was getting about how to eat.
I told Hilary’s parents that “Hilary’s weight will take care of itself over time if she followed a version of my food plan that is comfortable for her.” I cautioned Hilary’s family against encouraging her to diet because “dieting will put Hilary at an increased risk for serious eating disorder.” Most of Hilary’s eating problems were solved by her family adopting my food plan. In the year, I worked with Hilary and her family, she didn’t lose any weight but she grew two inches in height and stopped binge eating.
I am pleased to report that professionals now have a preliminary set of guidelines for diagnosing binge eating disorders among children. I am hopeful that these guidelines will help more young patients like my Hilary get the help they need. Much of the work on the new guidelines has been done by Marsha D. Marcus, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and psychology at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. A child who does one or more of the following may have binge eating disorder:
1. Feels a loss of control over eating.
2. Eats in absence of hunger.
3. Eats when they are sad, bored, or restless.
4. Eats as a reward.
5. Sneaks or hides food.
Dr. Marcus notes that unlike the majority of binge-eating adults, binge-eating children are not likely to be dieters or to have large sized binges. Though dieting in children creates increased risk for binge-eating and the other eating disorders.
Our book, The Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders, gives parents clear directions about what to do at home to help a binge-eating child. If despite your best efforts your child continues to struggle, ask your doctor for a referral to a skilled nutritionist.
Best wishes, Marcia and Nancy