How Can I Help My Daughter Stop Binge-Eating?

How Can I Help My Daughter Stop Binge-Eating?

Editor’s note: This article discusses disordered eating.

Our expert: Dr. Judith Brisman

Dr. Judith Brisman is an innovator in the field of eating disorders and body image. With over 30 years of experience, she has worked with preteens, teenagers and adults who are troubled by weight, disordered eating or body hatred.

In 1981, Dr. Brisman founded the first center dedicated to the treatment of bulimia (now the Eating Disorder Resource Center). She’s the author of the classicSurviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends (1988) , now in its third edition, and she is a frequent presenter to the media, the public and to academic audiences alike. Dr. Brisman is known internationally for developing a treatment program that integrates behavioral intervention with psychological understanding.

My 6th grade daughter’s body has changed a lot over the past year. She grew 2.5 inches and has gained 20+ pounds since her last check up (still in normal range). She experienced her first period about two weeks ago.

What concerns me most about the last 3 months, is she doesn’t seem to have an “off” button when it comes to eating. She had an incident in December, where she was at the school bake sale and ate 5 or 6 cookies/cupcakes/brownies in about 2 hours. She came home so sick, we had to cancel attending a holiday party, so she could stay home (and throw up).

Last week¸ I made a batch of banana bread.  She ate two loaves plus a mini loaf, in a couple of hours. In both cases, her father and I were not around to supervise this behavior. I was so upset, about the banana bread, I had her go to her room. I told her I was very disappointed and concerned, that she knows better, and that the access sugar and butter that she consumed at one time was horrible for her body. I wanted so badly to punish her, but I am mainly concerned there is an underlying issue that needs uncovering…so I haven’t done anything yet.

I am so worried about this behavior. She tends to eat fast and I simply try to slow her down at meals, and remind both girls our body doesn’t register full for 15 minutes after we stop eating. I am wondering if she feels pressure to succeed because she’s reached a new level in competitive soccer. I remind her how important it is to feed her active body HEALTH food, lots of water, and healthy snacks.

How should I handle the recent incident and the compulsive behavior?


You are asking really important questions.

It sounds like your daughter is struggling with how to manage both food and feelings.  And you sound like you are really being thoughtful, appreciating that something else must be going on for her.

To start, it’s important to know that she is likely worried about this too, even though it doesn’t seem this way. Even at that young age, girls are worried in this culture about eating too much and gaining weight.

So in that spirit, it’s important to know that reprimanding her or sending her to her room won’t really help. It may actually make her start to associate hunger and eating with feelings of shame.

Know a couple of things. First, her body is going to change so much in the coming year. She is filled with hormones and likely physiologically experiencing alot of hunger cravings as a result. Also, this is a time when she will be flooded with emotions resulting from the hormonal changes and also from the start of being a teenager and all the social pressures she is starting to face.

The goal is to be able to talk openly about the food– and her feelings. Let her know what you see, the impulsive eating that actually has made her sick. Tell her why you are concerned, that this is not healthy and has made her sick  but also that she needs to slow down at those moments and see what it is she is feeling and what she needs. It is likely not food that she needs.

And then talk to her about what you think may need to be done.

In terms of what may need to be done (I’m fine with giving kids a structure that is healthy, like they can have a couple snacks a day). They have to pay attention to portions too. So that may mean your daughter can have a piece of banana bread or a cupcake a couple of times a day; she can decide when (maybe even for breakfast!). I wouldn’t care when as long as she is starting to be thoughtful about what is healthy and why she is grabbing food. If she doesn’t keep to this though, don’t punish her. It may mean you need to talk more. Or, if she is really ongoing binging, it might be important to get a second opinion of what is needed from a professional (a therapist) who is experienced with eating disorders.

Most importantly, I’d want to start a conversation in general with your daughter about how easy it is to run for food when she may be needing or wanting something else.  This is a hard concept for any kid to understand but it’s a good idea to start that conversation now. Ask her how she sees the eating. How would she want you to be of help?

Maybe begin to talk to her about what she can do instead when she is going for the second or third portion. Can she step away, catch her breath and think about what she wants to do? Can she talk to someone just to get distracted? If she weren’t thinking about food, what would be on her mind? That might inform what she needs at that moment. There are alot of alternatives to going to the food. This would be something to start to bring up.

Just beginning to have this discussion is a critical step in the process of helping a son or daughter start to manage his or her own eating and self care. It’s as important to underline feelings as it is food.

Know this won’t be a straight line path, and most likely what you will get is kickback from your daughter, anger, or rolled eyes. Stay steady! Some limits about self care along with open communication are likely your best bet in terms of setting the stage for your daughter to think thoughtfully about how she wants to take care of herself.


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