Secret Eating

When Kids Binge - Tips For Parents!

posted on: December 31, 2018. posted in: Nutrition, Mindfulness

We've had a question sent to us on our fan page...

"Hiya 😊 Slightly random, but I'm really in need of some advice, please. I enjoy reading your posts and I was wondering if other members also have this problem. Basically, my son keeps sneaking food. Sugary snacks to be exact. Admittedly, he is a hungry lad, always has been, and he is very physically active and fit for his age at just 7 years old. He's always running around, plays for the local football club, swims, does gymnastics, a fitness club, etc. I do fully understand that this will involve him needing more food than the average child (although I've heard many other mothers of boys say their appetite is constantly insatiable). He eats 3 meals a day, including a healthy home cooked meal of an evening (I've also tried increasing his portion size), has unlimited access to fruit and veg, and we let him have one sweet treat a day (2 over the Xmas period), but he's still sneaking extra sweet treats, hiding the wrappers and lying about it to try and cover up what he's done. We try very hard to be sensible and realistic as parents, we want him to learn self-control without being deprived, but enough never seems to be enough. We are at a loss as to what to do. We want to be able to keep ALL foods in the house and we don't want him developing a complex or negative relationship with food. I'm an ex-Slimming World member (20 years on and off the wagon), so this issue is really important to me. We have tried everything and are on the verge of putting a lock on the cupboard. It's about the 10th time this has happened, he has no self-control whatsoever and would eat all of these sugary foods at once if we let him. Other groups have said don't keep these foods in the house at all, which is unfair and unrealistic, and will probably result in him labelling foods. Any ideas on what to do, please? We can't just let him have free access, it wouldn't be responsible parenting. We would also have no Christmas food left! Please help! Thank you."

Hello and welcome to Rebelfit 😊

What you're asking is really simple.

"How do I make my son full?"

You've tried feeding him more. You've tried allowing him some sugary snacks. But still he keeps finding them, sneaking them and secretly eating them.

There is a gap he's trying to fill with food.

That gap can be physiological, in that he is genuinely short of the calories he needs (to fuel his growth and all that sport) and therefore his brain has increased his appetite, cravings and eating addiction to fill that gap.

That gap can be psychological, in that something is missing in his life, and food, particularly the reward of sugary food, is filling up that emotional void.

So whenever I'm working with a client who is reporting overeating, binge eating or secret eating (in themselves or their children) the first thing I ask is...

"What's their gap?"

Is it physiological? Psychological? Or both?

When it is physiological it's an easy fix.

You simply keep raising calorie intake from all foods (a balance of fresh foods and processed foods, from apples to chocolate) until appetite, cravings and binge eating behaviour is suppressed.

When you try that, and significantly raise your calorie intake, but still find that you're regularly overeating and never satisfied, that's when it becomes clear that the eating is actually an attempt at filling a psychological / emotional gap, rather than a physiological / calorific one.

For some people no amount of calories can fill the gap being created by their mental state.

Anxiety. Stress. Loneliness. Bullying. Abuse.

These are all gaps. Voids. Something lacking.

Anxiety = A lack of calmness

Stress = A lack of relaxation

Loneliness = A lack of connection

Bullying = A lack of resilience

Abuse = A lack of care

So these can all create a gap that we then try to fill up with food through emotional eating that almost always starts in childhood.

Food becomes an anaesthetic that we learn to self-medicate with, whereby each binge creates a soothing, calming feeling that fills the gap...

...for a little while.

But it's our attempts at restricting our calories to counteract this emotional eating that then creates a physiological gap, creating a double whammy:

The psychological gap of something missing emotionally, plus the physiological gap of being deprived on a diet and short of calories.

The result is uncontrollable binge eating, which is the body and brain forcing you into eating behaviour that is trying to fill both those gaps.

It is our attempts at trying to control and restrict our eating, rather than trying to fill the gaps, that often lead to disordered eating and eating disorders.


So what can you do?

How can you fill your son up?

Physiologically and psychologically?

The chances are this is purely physiological and you are massively underestimating the calorie needs of a growing, very active young man.

The first thing I'd do is talk to him and reassure him that how he is eating is perfectly normal and ok.

Any attempt to discipline him, worry him about his weight or make him feel like he's lacking self control is only going to open up a much bigger emotional gap, making his desire to overeat even greater.

In fact, most of my morbidly obese clients trace their binge eating back to a time when they were naturally eating more (either due to a growth spurt or due to a bit of childhood stress), but it was their parents' attempts at restricting their eating that really opened up the emotional gap that sent their eating out of control.

If it is the case that your son has an emotional gap that is driving him towards sugary snacks, then you need to talk to him, find the gap and fill it.

• Is he being bullied?

Then his gap can be filled by building his confidence and resilience.

• Is he anxious about his changing body?

Then his gap can be filled by reassuring him that these changes are all normal and natural, and it's perfectly ok to eat more at this time.

• Is he feeling stressed?

Then his gap can be filled by reducing some of those sports and activities, and replacing them with a bit more downtime and relaxation.

So often people zoom in on food, blame food (and put locks on cupboards), when really the issue isn't food at all - it's an emotional / psychological / mental health issue.

There's a lesson here for all our followers.

We know that anxiety, stress, loneliness, bullying and abuse all create emotional gaps, driving emotional eating in both adults and children.

So learning how to "fill up on" calmness, relaxation, connection, resilience and care can help to fill those gap, reducing that emotional hunger and our dependency on food.


p.s. If you'd like to learn more about this, and how to find and fill your own gaps, then this is exactly what we'll be learning about on our Jump Start™ mission launching this January. Find out more here!

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