Cause, effect, or both?

Here's something interesting to chew on: Disordered eating in adulthood is associated with reported weight loss attempts in childhood

Researchers found that early childhood weight loss attempts (in children 12 and under) was significantly correlated to both binge eating disorder and unhealthy weight loss behaviors in adulthood.

This got me thinking about the whole chicken and egg dilemma. Did the children who attempted to lose weight at a young age already have dysregulated eating behaviors? Or did the dieting behaviors ultimately result in adult disordered eating? Perhaps it's both, and the dieting further whacked out a slightly dysregulated system.

Regardless, the data have me worried. Considering the increasing number of children who are dieting or otherwise intentionally restricting their food intake, this could mean that the one in 35 American adults with binge eating disorder is only the tip of the iceberg.

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FuguSushi said...

I wonder how many of these kids were put on diets by their parents.

My mother told us a "reverse diet" child abuse that happened to a girl in her elementary school. The girl was given a whole loaf of bread every day and forced to finish it. If she didn't finish the loaf of bread she didn't sleep. That girl was really obese but by no fault of her own.

I'll bet she went on to have some kind of eating disorder.

I was put on a restrictive diet from age 10 to 18. I know I at least learned how to restrict from being on a forced diet.

Kim said...

Hm, this is interesting. I never even thought about food or dieting when I was a kid. I was always aware I was a skinny kid and should gain weight if anything. Anorexia seemed to come out of nowhere for me (and I'm sure my parents would say the same thing). It is disturbing to see how many young girls are "on a diet." It can't set up a good relationship with food, that's for sure.

Cathy (UK) said...

These types of study are always complex, and it's often difficult to attribute cause and effect. If we sought to investigate a possible relationship between (e.g.) banana consumption in childhood with some adult ailment we might find a statistially significant correlation...

Even so, there is a theoretical explanation for the relationship you highlight Carrie. In most people (except restricting anorexics - of which I am one in recovery) diet restriction leads to neurological changes that increase carbohydrate craving and the impulse to binge eat. Thus, attempts to lose weight in overweight people often result in 'yoyo' dieting.

Why this doesn't happen in people with restricting anorexia nervosa is interesting. Throughout a very long history of restricting anorexia nervosa I never had the urge to binge. At one time I was terrified of an apple or a bread roll. Perhaps it's all down to individual brain 'wiring'?

Laurel said...

Emotional eating begins at a very young age. How many times have you seen a mother feeding her infant or toddler to "keep them quiet". Are they actually hungry? Or are they being taught to use food to meet the needs of someone esle?

Eating With Others said...

I was on a diet from the time I was 13 years old. At least when I was with my father. When I went to my mothers it was food overload. Talk about mixed signals.

I Hate to Weight said...

i worry so much about today's girls/young women. my fourteen year old niece is obsessed with her thighs -- it terrifies me. one of her dear friends and other girls she knows are throwing up and/or starving.

i was always put on diets as a kid, from as far back as i can remember. i vaguely remember a time when food and weight didn't matter, and i was engaged in other things in life. i think i was six.

i do believe that we come to our disorders from such a variety of ways. nature or nurture or both. and probably more.

Unknown said...

Hi, Carrie. Jeff Bell here. I very much appreciate your kind words about my "Greater Good" motivation approach (in an earlier post), and I'd love to chat with you. Can you drop me a note at Thanks!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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