Sue Scheff: Binge Eating by Connect with Kids

teenbingeat.jpg“Sandwiches, cookies, candy bars — I have no idea how many candy bars. Just everything I could get my hands on, and I’d just continuously eat until I went to bed.”

– Matt Wymer, 18

Anorexia and bulimia are the names that come to mind when we think of eating disorders. But there is another eating disorder more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, and some experts say it’s becoming a major health problem in America.

“As soon as I came home I’d throw down my backpack and just automatically start going through the refrigerator and cabinets and start eating. Sandwiches, cookies, candy bars — I have no idea how many candy bars. Just everything I could get my hands on, and I’d just continuously eat until I went to bed,” says Matt Wymer, 18.

Matt was a binge eater. According to a new study from Harvard Medical School, 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men suffer from this eating disorder. While these are small percentages, they translate into millions of people. Experts say that binging is a condition that often starts in childhood.

“You know we start at a very young age… you fall and scrape your knee [and someone says], ‘Oh, here, we’ll go get some ice cream, that’ll make it feel better.’ Or you go to the doctor, you get a lollypop; something bad happens, ‘Oh, here’s something that’s comforting,’” says Marilyn Tanner, R.D., pediatric dietician.

Matt looked for comfort because he was constantly teased about his weight.

“There’d be days when I’d come and pick him up from school and he’d get in the car and he’d start crying before I asked him anything,” says Cathy Wymer, Matt’s mother.

“I probably gave him whatever he wanted to try to make him happy, but it was the wrong way of doing it,” says Vernon Wymer, Matt’s father.

“I just felt better after I ate a lot,” says Matt.

Experts say the first line of treatment for binge eaters is to help them find other ways, besides food, to feel better.

“There are about five basic ways … that it just kind of boils down to. You write, you talk, you cry, you exercise, you laugh. Laughing also reduces the stress that lots of times people are feeling,” says Genie Burnett, Psy.D., clinical psychologist.

With the help of his doctor, Matt started a diet and a daily workout. He’s lost more than 150 pounds, he’s healthier and he says he’s more confident.

“I guess you’d say I’m happier than I used to be,” says Matt.

Tips for Parents

  • Most people don’t even recognize they are engaging in emotional eating until they’ve gained a lot of weight. Parents should learn to recognize the warning signs – being overweight, having a history of weight fluctuations, eating alone, hoarding food, eating rapidly, eating until uncomfortably full, and having feelings of guilt or depression after eating. (The American Dietetic Association)
  • Experts say encouraging kids to express their feelings can lower a child’s need to binge. Have younger kids draw pictures of how they are feeling. Afterward, discuss the drawings. (The American Dietetic Association)
  • When older children feel the need to binge, distractions may help. Find other things to do such as walking, riding a bike or playing with the dog.  (The American Dietetic Association)
  • Keep the kitchen stocked with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If children feel like binging, encourage them to have a small, healthy snack instead. (The American Dietetic Association)

References

  • The American Dietetic Association

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