Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), it impacts about 3.5% of women and 2% of men.
Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder that “hides in plain sight” in today’s weight loss culture. BEDA reports that 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder. Some suggest that the weight loss industry is built upon, and thrives on binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is also called compulsive eating, emotional eating or overeating, but it is not a simple “loss of control” or “lack of accountability.” It is a mental disorder in which the person become out of control while binge eating on large quantities of food, followed by deep feelings of shame and guilt afterwards.
Like other types of eating disorders, BED often begins in females around puberty, but it also arises in boys, men and women of all ages. As a parent, you should know that BED come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot tell who is struggling on the basis of their weight.
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Here are some comments from Jennifer Rollin, psychotherapist and Eating Disorder Specialist.
1. What are some of the behavioral signs parents should watch for if they suspect their child may have BED?
Some of the behavioral signs that parents should watch for if they suspect that their child may have BED include hoarding food, hiding empty cartons of food, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, feeling out of control when it comes to eating, feeling guilt and shame in relation to eating, eating alone, and eating more rapidly than normal.
Parents might also notice that their child is becoming increasingly isolated, less interested in social interactions, or eating in secret.
2. What are some of the most common “stories” children/adolescents with BED say about their eating disorder?
Children and adolescents with binge eating disorder may describe the sensation of binging as “numbing,” “soothing,” or “comforting,” in the moment. However, often they will exhibit feelings of guilt and shame following a binge-eating episode.
I emphasize with my clients that the bingeing comes from a good place, as they are often trying to regulate emotions, self-soothe, or feel better. However, typically this behavior only causes temporarily relief and makes people feel even worse in the long-term.
Ultimately, it is important for clients to work to make peace with their bingeing behavior and to begin to get curious about their triggers and the function of the bingeing. Additionally, I help clients to practice self-compassion throughout the recovery process. Once they are able to begin to uncover the purpose that this behavior is serving, then we can start to look at some more life-affirming strategies.
3. Are there any parental behaviors that may increase BED in children/adolescents?
Physical and emotional deprivation can trigger binge eating. Physical deprivation would be if a parent for instance refused to let their child eat dessert. Emotional deprivation would be making a shaming comment about a food that the child is eating with the implication is that the child should try not to eat this food again.
If parents are encouraging dieting or a focus on weight-loss, this can serve to increase bingeing behaviors. Dieting, physical and emotional deprivation, and a focus on weight-loss serve to fuel the binge-restrict cycle and exacerbate binge eating disorder.
4. Are there any parental behaviors that may decrease BED in children/adolescents?
Helping your child to non-judgmentally pay attention to their triggers, thoughts, and feelings prior to (and following) an episode of binge eating can help them to learn the underlying function of the behavior.
Additionally, this can help them to recognize when they might need to use a healthy coping strategy. Further, helping your child to practice self-compassion and demonstrating that you are not judging them for their bingeing can be incredibly helpful.
Often, children and adolescents with BED feel a strong sense of guilt and shame surrounding their behaviors. Thus, it can be helpful to emphasize that they are not choosing to act this way and that they are using the binging behavior as a way to get their needs met. Then, you can help your child to explore what some other more life-affirming coping strategies could be.
Ultimately, it’s so important to show your child compassion and unconditional acceptance.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a Psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her psychotherapy practice, she also offers recovery coaching via phone or Skype. She has published numerous articles regarding children, adolescents and eating disorders. Website
Founded in 2008, the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) is a national organization focused on providing leadership, recognition, prevention, and treatment of binge eating disorder (BED) and associated weight stigma. Through outreach, education and advocacy, BEDA facilitates increased awareness, proper diagnosis, and treatment of BED. Website