How to help a child who is binge eating

How to help a child who is binge eating

Watching your child when they’re binge eating is stressful, but you can help. Your confident support before, during, and after binge eating episodes will help them recover. Here are my top five tips to help your child during a binge eating episode:

1. Remember that the binge is a symptom of a problem

Seeing your child binge eat is hard to watch. Most parents feel their kids’ distress acutely. It’s painful to see them eating when you know they are feeling out of control and seeking comfort and control in food. It’s natural if you feel tempted to cut off the binge as quickly as possible. You may want to take the food away from your child to prevent them from feeling bad about themselves later. 

This makes sense, but remember that binge eating is a symptom of distress. Taking away the food or telling your child to stop doesn’t usually help because it doesn’t address the cause of the symptom. And it could actually make things worse by adding shame to an already shame-filled situation.

⭐ Get ready for recovery and find out how you can prepare yourself for maximum success.

⭐ Find out the essential steps and family rules you need to have in place for recovery.

⭐ Make your home recovery-ready with six simple steps that anyone can do.

2. Find the real problem

Take a few minutes to think through what has happened in the last 24 hours. It’s tempting to think of the last 24 minutes, but your child has likely been distressed for longer than that. A binge eating episode almost always looks like an instant reaction, but it’s usually a slow build. 

The most common cause of binge eating is food restriction. Has your child eaten enough food in the last 24 hours? They should be eating healthful, tasty, and delicious food every 2-4 hours. Just thinking about restricting food and wanting to lose weight can create a physiological urge to binge eat, so eating on a schedule is essential to reducing binge eating episodes.

Now consider sleep. If your child does not get enough sleep, they are more likely to binge eat. Finally, think about relationships and human connection. Have you emotionally connected with your child in the past 24 hours? Do you get the sense that they are feeling safe and secure in their relationship with you? What other meaningful relationships do they have, and how have those been going? 

Addressing the symptom without considering the cause is a common but misguided approach to binge eating.  

3. Calm yourself

When you see your child binge eating you want to intervene, and that makes perfect sense. But your intervention could end up becoming a blow up if you aren’t emotionally calm. Sense your body and mind right now. Are you feeling hot, agitated, itchy, sweaty? Those are signs of emotional dysregulation. Are your thoughts racing around, full of worry and worst-case scenarios about your child’s future based on what they’re doing right now? That, too, is a sign of emotional dysregulation. 

You can’t help your child with binge eating until you are emotionally regulated. Find ways to soothe yourself. This takes practice, and usually it works best if you have a coach or therapist to help you develop the tools you need. It also helps to have a mindful practice like meditation, breathwork, or yoga, which strengthens your emotional regulation system and will make calming your nervous system much faster. 

⭐ Get ready for recovery and find out how you can prepare yourself for maximum success.

⭐ Find out the essential steps and family rules you need to have in place for recovery.

⭐ Make your home recovery-ready with six simple steps that anyone can do.

4. Emotionally co-regulate your child

Now that you understand what’s going on and are emotionally regulated, it’s finally time to support your child with binge eating. Begin by tuning into their emotional state. Are they eating in a panic or from a depressed state? Are they dissociated right now? It’s best to have an idea of what’s going on in their nervous system before you approach them. 

Now get physically close to them. Make sure you approach with a relaxed but confident body posture. Don’t slink in or frighten them with a sudden approach. Try to make gentle eye contact. This means looking at them with soft eyes that communicate the message “I love you, you’re OK, you’re not doing anything wrong, I’m here for you.” Thinking these thoughts will help you communicate safety and love with your eyes. 

Finally, say something gentle and soothing. In fact, you can say the words you’re thinking. “I love you, you’re OK, you’re not doing anything wrong, I’m here for you.” Use a gentle vocal tone that communicates kindness and strength. Watch out for a vocal tone or words that communicate anger, frustration, pity, or fear. 

Unless your child’s treatment team has specifically instructed you to do so, you don’t have to stop the binge or take away the food. Focus instead on connecting with your child and helping them become emotionally regulated. When you do this, you’ll support them in ending the binge when they’re ready without accidentally increasing shame.

For more about emotional regulation, check out my free eBook: Emotional Regulation Skills for Parents Who Have Kids With Eating Disorders

5. Have a post-binge discussion

Whether you are able to emotionally co-regulate your child or not, you should have a post-binge discussion. Don’t make the mistake of turning binge eating episodes into eggshells that everyone is walking around. Not talking about binge eating increases shame and avoidance, which unfortunately increases the chances of future binge eating episodes.

Sit down and have a matter-of-fact, calm and kind conversation about the binge eating episode. Don’t make this a lecture. Ask open-ended questions and stay curious. You want to understand what was going on for your child and find out how you can support them in the future. 

You need to stay emotionally regulated during this conversation for it to be helpful. If you sense your body and mind freaking out, press pause and regulate yourself before you continue. Your child needs you to have a calm, regulated nervous system and kind, loving words to recover from binge eating. 

Help your child recover from binge eating

Watching your child binge eat is hard. Building your own emotional regulation skills is the single most important step you can take to help them feel better and recover from binge eating.

Want some help?

Send me a message to find out how parent coaching can help you support your child with binge eating.

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Published by Ginny Jones

My mission is to help reduce body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

2 thoughts on “How to help a child who is binge eating

  1. Hi – I just wanted to share some personal experience with binge eating.

    Finding weight neutral care is so hard, and depending on where you live, your insurance plan, and available finances, sometimes downright impossible.

    1) an iron deficiency – so low ferritin, but not outright anemia – was creating a tremendous appetite. Once starting on iron, it was like something finally clicked in their body and brain, that enabled them to get full.

    2) test for sleep apnea. Poor quality sleep or lack of sleep can drive hunger to enormous levels and doctors are seeing this condition in children at a younger and younger age. The treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is sometimes tonsil and adenoid removal, or other times cpap or a ventilator, and it can be very difficult to adjust to its use. But treating this disease – and decreasing the episodes of low oxygen during the night – also made a major improvement in bringing hunger levels down.

    Hope that helps someone else.

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