How Do I Know if My Young Child is Binging?

Child struggling with ARFID

Children tend to go through phases as they grow and develop. Often, an increase in eating typically means that they are growing in some way.

For some children, eating becomes a coping mechanism to manage heightened emotions, struggles at school or home, and other issues that they are unsure how to manage. For some children, binge eating is a coping skill to control these concerns.

Often for those who do binge eat, food can be comforting or a way to stop uncomfortable feelings. Binge eating can end in feelings of anxiety, guilt, and distress.

Binge eating can be defined as eating large amounts of food that is consumed in a short period of time [1]. Often binge eating is done in secret, to gain a sense of control, to cope with uncomfortable or distressing emotions.

With children, binge eating can cause weight gain but may go unnoticed in children at first due to weight gain being a normal part of growth and development.

Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating

There are signs and symptoms that can indicate if your child is binging versus having a healthy appetite. One sign is if there are significant amounts of foods missing from the pantry or refrigerator.

Other signs include if your child eats quickly in a short amount of time, they may have a pattern of eating when emotional, feeling stressed, or after a family conflict. Your child may feel ashamed or guilty after a binge eating episode.

Some children may hide or binge eating in their bedroom, and you may find evidence of food containers, wrappers and other food items in their room.

Other signs include an increasing level of irregular eating patterns such as skipping meals, an increase in eating junk food or eating late at night or unusual times [1].

Psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and feelings of guilt and shame may also be evident in children who binge eating, and it can affect various areas in their life such as academic, social, home, and extracurricular activities.

Often children who engage in binge eating experience many of these issues and start to isolate due to unhealthy eating patterns and concerns with their body weight, shape, and size.

Binge Eating Defined

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a new disorder added to the DSM-V [2]. It includes recurrent episodes of binge eating, at least 2-3 times per week. Eating episodes include eating past the point of fullness, and the individual may feel uncomfortable full or ill.

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Children may eat more rapidly than their peers and may not notice the taste, texture, or even what they are eating and may eat when they are not physically hungry.

Often binge episodes occur in secret and when they are alone to avoid feelings of guilt and shame. With binge eating weight gain can occur, often in a short period of time.
Approximately 1.6% of teens binge eat and it affects both males and females [3].

It is a mental disorder that is not a choice or a weakness but an eating disorder. It can cause severe physical and psychological consequences when untreated.

It can increase feelings of stress, sadness, loneliness, and other distressing emotions.

Nearly 50% of teens with binge eating disorder also abuse substances, and at least half that struggle with BED also suffer from depression [3].

When to See a Doctor

If you feel that your child or teen has an eating disorder, it is important first to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Checking with your local children’s hospital and asking for medical doctors that specialize in pediatric eating disorders is the first step.

They will assess your child for all developmental, growth, psychological, and medical concerns around the eating disorder and be able to recommend a treatment center or therapist for further treatment.

How to Help Your Child

Being able to help your child is essential. Be honest with your child and discuss with them your concerns about their potential eating disorder. Provide support and encouragement and unconditional love.

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Getting them an appointment to see a physician that specializes in eating disorders, as well as a therapist, is essential.

Getting the family, or at very least parents, to attend is also crucial for the professionals to get a full picture. It also provides support for your child as well.

Most children feel a sense of relief when getting comprehensive treatment to control their eating disorder, even at first if they seem resistant.

Typically treatment includes a team approach that consists of a medical professional, therapist, nutritionist and psychiatrist for medication management and assessment [5].

Eating disorders are complicated and often undiagnosed until more severe eating disturbances or health consequences occur.

Do not feel guilty or worry if you are discovering your child’s eating disorder until months or years after it is happening as this is common for many families.

The most important thing to remember is that when you know that there is an issue that you seek treatment immediately. Through a multi-team approach, support, and love, your child can recover from their eating disorder.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Gupta, R. C. (Ed.). (2015, March). Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from
[2] Young, J. (2014, November 06). Understanding Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from
[3] A. (2016, August 03). Does My Teenager Have Binge Eating Disorder? Retrieved November 13, 2017, from
[4] Binge-eating disorder. (2017, August 23). Retrieved November 13, 2017, from
[5] A. (n.d.). Teenagers with Eating Disorders . Retrieved November 13, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 10, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 10, 2017.
Published on