Why is My Child Binge Eating?
There can be many causes why binge eating in children may occur. It could be because of biological reasons, emotional responses, or a traumatic event that has occurred.
Each child reacts to stimuli in their lives differently. Some children stress over change easily while some take it in stride. Some make friends easily and some don’t. Some children are more demanding of attention and feel at a loss when they don’t receive it.
Traumatic events may contribute largely to an eating disorder developing in a child. Life changing events may stress children and make them feel unable to cope or feel out of control. Needing to feel that they are in control of part of their life may contribute to the development of binge eating.
There are a few instances in which biological reasons may be the cause of binge eating.
There is a part of the brain that is called the hypothalamus. It controls the appetite. If the hythalamus doesn’t send the right messages regarding being hungry or feeling full, this could contribute to binge eating. There is also a brain chemical called serotonin that may have a role in binge or compulsive overeating. Researchers have found that low levels of serotonin may cause a person to have a food addiction.
Traumatic events may play a very large part in causing binge eating disorder in children. Events such as moving to another home, changing schools, a death occurring in the family, parental divorce, or sexual abuse can definitely cause a child to feel out of control of his or her own life. Any of this type of event causes turmoil in a child’s home life and can create a stressful and unhappy environment where the child may not know where to turn to for help.
The turmoil going on within the family may not only cause an eating disorder to develop, but will often enable the eating disorder to continue. Supervision is not as predictable or strict when parents are busy adapting themselves to a new home environment or separating from a spouse. It may be easy for a child to start separating themselves from the family for moments at a time to indulge in eating disorder behaviors.
Moving brings with it another event that children have no control over. That is losing their best friends, school chums, and close neighborhood friendships. This can be very traumatic for a child and be cause for a child to develop an eating disorder.
A death in the family, be it a close family member, a family friend, or a beloved pet, is another life changing event that causes stress, unhappiness, and uncertainty in a child and in their life. Any of these events can cause a child to look around in their lives and attempt to find something that helps them cope with all of the strong feelings that are contained inside of them.
Sexual abuse may also be a contributor to binge eating in a child.
Peer Pressure and Social Attitudes
Social pressure and attitudes toward a specific body shape may be contributing toward binge eating in children and other eating disorders. Society sets a tone that people have to be thin to be perfect or socially acceptable.
Children may become fearful that they will not be accepted if they are not of a specific body type. The stress and constant feeling of not looking good enough, or thin enough, places pressure on children and may cause them to act out with emotional eating. They do not eat because of hunger, but because of a need within them that food tries to fill. This leads to eating disorders.
There may be family pressure to be a certain shape or size. Many parents do not realize that the fat jokes that are bandied about in a home or the constant criticism made about other family members or neighbors because they are overweight are all taken in by children. A child will unconsciously decide that they do not want to be made fun of in the same manner and may develop an eating disorder to avoid being made fun of.
Low self esteem, body dissatisfaction, loneliness, and fear are all feelings that can lead a child to start eating disorder behaviors.
Whatever the cause, the most important step is to seek help. Binge eating in children is a serious, but with the proper treatment, binge eating disorder symptoms can be addressed.
University of Michigan Health System – Eating Disorders, What Families Need to Know: https://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/eatdis.htm
Help Guide.org – Binge Eating Disorder: https://www.helpguide.org/mental/binge_eating_disorder.htm