Parents ask me all the time how to handle the binge eating of their overweight child or teen. Gently, and with kid gloves, is what I tell them.
Today, about one in three American children/teens is overweight or obese according to the American Heart Association. As a private practitioner specializing in the treatment of obesity and specific eating disorders, I see a connection between the two.
Children at a very young age know that being overweight is not a good thing. This fear may be driving the spread of Anorexia that we are seeing today among younger children, including boys. There is solid research that the desire to be thin begins with little girls as young as 3 years of age. The children in the study refused to play with the “fat” game pieces calling them “stupid and ugly”.
Children suffering from Anorexia who were formerly obese, often take longer to recover and are more likely to relapse than those who were a normal weight. Many relate that a parent’s efforts to help them with their weight issues triggered the decision to stop eating.
The general wisdom is that we should be able to eat anything in moderation. The problem is that processed foods are rarely eaten in moderation. Moms and dads may come home to find a child parked in front of the TV with a bag of potato chips that were fried in Canola Oil and a soft drink loaded with 12 teaspoons of sugar, or worse a sugar substitute. These foods are addicting and damaging to the systems that regulate healthy eating and fat storage.
If a food is addicting, and if it is there, it will find its way into the hands of the addicted. When the parent comes home and finds the bag of cookies or container of ice cream empty, the unfortunate culprit hears about it. Of course, this reaction provokes guilt and/or defiance. What it doesn’t do is lesson the likelihood of bingeing. It often leads to a decision to be less obvious (or “sneaky”, as many parents see it) in the future.
Now when mom or dad come home, the evidence is not as obvious. It isn’t until they look under the child’s bed, where candy wrappers, soda cans, and/or empty chip bags are found, that they discover the behavior hasn’t changed. This is the beginning of sneaking food and eating it on the sly. The guilt, which can also be a guilty pleasure, sets in motion a pattern of closet eating/bingeing that can last a lifetime.
So what’ s a parent to do? Get help from someone that knows about the healing impact that “clean” food has on the systems that regulate eating behaviors and weight. Clean foods are organic, grass-fed, wild caught, unprocessed, and have few if any additives.
Get rid of the soft drinks. Eat at home more. Make your popcorn with coconut oil and/or grass-fed salted butter. Make homemade fudge or homemade ice cream. Go Paleo-ish!
Help your child to focus on her gifts, not her girth.
About Dr. Renae Norton
A family practice psychologist for more than 20 years, Dr. Norton specializes in the treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Obesity, and the consequences of disordered eating. She’s been featured by NPR, CNN and was five-time guest on Oprah. She coaches individuals and organizations via Skype worldwide. Visit: http://www.