6 Causes Of Unexplained Sudden Weight Gain In Kids — And What Parents Should Do

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6 Causes Of Unexplained Sudden Weight Gain In Children (And What To Do)
Health And Wellness

Nothing can rattle a parent's peace of mind like notice your child is suddenly gaining weigh.

If you have been there, you know what I am talking about. It has happened to a lot of us, and those of us who lived through the experience know it feels as though we, their parents, are to blame.

Most of us don't understand how it could have happened, as we put a lot of time and pride in feeding our kids. Not knowing what is going on or what will happen is enough to make any parent feel understandably nervous and stressed out.

As a psychotherapist, the first thing I must tell everyone is to consult your child's doctor so they can rule out any potential medical issues, such as problems with medication, metabolic conditions or other genetic or hormonal disorders.

Provided that metabolic problems are not an issue, what other factors cause otherwise unexplained and sudden weight gain in children?

In my experience as a clinician working with parents, children and food, many of the situations that bring pain, anxiety or depression to children are similar to those that afflict adults.

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Of course, children are affected by other situations as well, but what they do not have are as many coping mechanisms as adults do.

Coping mechanisms are the ways we each have of dealing with (and making ourselves feel better during) tough situations.

Adults can do a little retail therapy, go to actual therapy, or talk in length about their situation with a lawyer, doctor or otherwise appropriate professional in order to get a grip on whatever problem they're having that they need to master.

Children do not have the means or control to simply decide to do such things, which means they don't have as many ways to help themselves feel better about whatever it is that's happening to them.

And unfortunately, many of the things they do choose to do in order to feel better aren't all that healthy, like staying glued to a screen, or, quite often, binging on unhealthy food.

On top of it all, children have to deal with the way the adults in their lives react to both their problems and their ways of dealing with those issues. So if they gain weight because they are using food as a way to cope with something overwhelming, they must then deal with their parents’ feelings about that weight gain. And that's a tall order!

So, why is your child gaining weight all of a sudden?

Before, I list some of the possible causes, I want to assure you that, whatever the cause may be, there is likely a solution at hand.

Be sure to keep in mind that all children go through growth spurts.

This means that at and certain times in their development, they need more food than at other times. You may see them gain weight one week and lose it soon after. The process may happen at least a few times, and it is a normal part of being a growing child, so don't worry or obsess over it.

That being said, there are other times when the causes for gain weight may require your careful attention — though even at such times, as I said before, solutions are at hand.

Six of the most common causes of sudden weight gain in children include the following:

1. Binge eating disorder

Your child may have developed a condition called binge eating disorder (BED). The sooner you help your child recover from it, the better off they will be.

Children with binge eating disorder eat in response to emotional issues.

You will notice a large amount of food is gone from your pantry. You may find that food is hidden in his room or under her bed. And when I talk about food missing, I am talking about a whole lot of food missing; so much that you might not believe such a small person could eat that much.

If your child has developed binge eating disorder, be aware that they already feel deeply ashamed about it, which is why the food is hidden and they may be uncomfortable eating around you and others.

The issue may begin as a way to deal with the stresses at home or at school, but then progress into irregular eating patterns, causing them to eat unhealthy food and skip regular meals in order to eat at odd times when they can do so alone and in secret.

Kids who binge may also feel depressed, anxious, ashamed and guilty.

Aside from the risks to their mental health, if left untreated, BED may lead to clinical obesity, weight stigma, and weight cycling (aka, yo-yo dieting).

RELATED: 10 Critical Lessons I Learned From Having A Binge Eating Disorder

2. Bullying

The biggest part of your child’s life happens at school and among their friends. Remember that everything that happens at school is as important for your kids as what happens at work is for you.

If you notice your child is suddenly gaining weight, you may want to make sure they aren't being bullied, either in person or online.

Children who are genderfluid or gay are particularly at risk for being bullied, as are kids with disabilities or differences that make stand out in some way, whether for positive or negative reasons.

When children suffer from bullying, they may feel too embarrassed t talk with you about it, but you will notice changes in their behavior. Check for patterns of negative behavior that may indicate your child is depressed, such as Irritability or anger, social withdrawal, changes in sleep, vocal outbursts or crying, difficulty concentrating, fatigue or low energy, and physical complaints such as stomachaches or headaches that don't respond to treatment.

3. Excessive downtime

In the old days, when summer came, we all went outside to play, to run, to bike to encounter nature, Now, more and more children stay in front of the TV, their computer, video games and/or phones while sitting inside the house.

The age of information makes children love to play games that happen in their phones and obligate them to a sedentary life.

If your child is in the house alone while you work, sedentary life and easy access to processed food may be a combo that's causing their weight gain.

4. A big move

Moving from one home to another one or from one city to another one is a stressful process for adults. The children who live with them, pick up on the moods and emotions.

Also, for kids, moving to a new house means leaving their friends behind, their school and that sense of security may drive your child to food.

We all seek security in food every now and then. Imagine being a child leaving behind what you know, but without the benefit of past experience to help you feel assured that the best is yet to come.

RELATED: Why So Many Parents Fail To Recognize Childhood Obesity In Their Own Kids

5. Divorce

There are a variety of schools of opinion within the world of psychology regarding the effects of divorce on children.

Some professionals believe that divorce is the best that can happen to children being raised by unhappily married parents, bringing them a positive change and increasing their resiliency.

On the other hand, some research has found an association between divorce and an increased risk for childhood and adolescent adjustment issues, including academic difficulties, disruptive behaviors, and depressed mood.

No matter where you fall in your belief on this topic, you can assume if you are going through a stressful divorce and your child is suddenly gaining, it may be that they are turning to food for comfort.

6. Hormonal shifts

Good news! There is this one moment in the life of almost every child where weight gain is not related to anxiety, depression, looking for comfort in food or otherwise attempting to cope with a tough situation.

As your child approaches puberty, it is normal and even healthy for them to gain weight as their hormones kick in and their bodies grow. In particular, girls need a certain amount of fat in their bodies in order for menstruation to begin.

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If you have noticed your child appears to be suddenly and rapidly gaining weight, here are 8 things you can do as a parent.

  • Contact your child's physician: If you are reading this article is because the weight gain worried you enough to look for answers. You may want to give your doctor a call before the consultation to make sure that your child will not be scolded or humiliated during the consult and that tests will be made as part of a check-up without telling your child that they got fat and embarrass them. Such situations of embarrassment may last a lifetime in people’s memories and you do not want that.
  • Ask your child how they are feeling, both emotionally and physically.
  • Talk about them about any issues that may be affecting them in your household, such as moving, divorce, and bullying.
  • Make it your priority to ensure that your child is not being fat-shamed.
  • Investigate how your child is doing and feeling at school. Ask your child about their day using questions that avoiding one-word answers like “OK,” “Good,” or ” Nothing.” For example, you could ask what kind of math exercises they worked on, and who helped with their latest project.
  • Get out of your child’s plate! Do not bring up food or eating when they are in the middle of either a meal or snack.
  • Find out if your child is worried about their weight and if they are being teased.
  • If your child is concerned and asks you for your assurance, make sure they know their body will likely be different when they are grown and remind them that all bodies change many times as we age and go through different life stages.

Finally, I want to remind you that most of us have issues and skeletons hidden in our closets about our bodies and our weight.

For this reason, if you feel anxious about your child’s weight gain, it may be that your own weight issues have been activated.

Naturally, you don't want your child to suffer as you have, but it's important to remember that your child is not you. And luckily for them, your child has you there to help them.

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Irene Celcer, LCSW, is a psychotherapist based in the United States and Buenos Aires, Argentina​. Vsit her website to contact her for a free phone consultation if you have concerns around the topic of parenting and food.

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