Emotional Eating is fast becoming the ‘topic’ in the health and wellness sphere. And with good reason. There are a number of women turning to food to soothe, soften and suppress feelings of bordeom, shame, vulnerability, grief and stress (to name a few). And with this cycle of turning to food, comes the ever-so-likely added weight and then the emotional baggage that we un-doubtly experience when we gain weight. Insert the diet which then leads to even more emotional disaster.
One thing is for sure: Emotional eating is a nightmare.
Being passionate about children’s health and wellness I want to highlight that emotional eating is not just an ‘adult thing’.
Not at all.
In fact in this post I openly shared my own experiences with emotional eating and how I learned to turn to food and to use food as a ‘security blanket’. Food became a big warm hug, a friend, a companion.
Today I see children using and being taught to use food in the ways I previously described.
Children are learning to associate food with emotional comfort when food is used to:
+ Cheer them up when they are crying
+ Occupy them
+ Re-direct their behaviour
+ Praise children
+ Bribe/ coerce children
We are- whether we see it this way or not- using food to condition certain behaviour in children. And in doing this, we are teaching them that food makes us feel happy, loved, cared for, entertained, comforted.
And yes food is delicious and it should make you happy, as there (in my opinion) is nothing better than enjoying a meal with good company. Yet, eating food or being given food when it is not food that you truly need or want, is not eating. It’s emotional eating. And it sets up the link betwene emotions and food very successfully.
With adults it is encouraged that you start to tune into what it is that you truly want (and need). You ask yourself ‘what is it that my hungry heart really wants?’. In my examples above the children aren’t directly asking for food (in my case no, yours they might be!). They are asking for something and while food might solve it, it’s not going to solve the issue of what they are really wanting in the long run.
3 tips to help avoid your child ’emotionally eating’:
1. Unpick what it is your child is communicating to you.
Screaming could be asking for your attention
Acting out could be asking for a hug
Boredom could be a sign of loneliness
◊ Tell you’re child that you ‘hear’ them. That you ‘understand’ that they are _____(e.g. angry, upset, worried). That you are here for them.
2. Respond without using food
Responding to your child who is screaming might look a little like this: “You’re really angry and upset. Can I give you a hug to make you feel better?”
A child who is crying (who might be after your attention) could benefit from hearing: “____(child’s name) you look sad/ upset. Let’s go and sit together on the couch for a bit, until you feel better”
◊ Offer them a hug. Some 1:1 time together. Play a special game. Just sit- and be there- with your child.
3. Talk about it
If your child is upset and angry or even lonely talk about what they can do to make themselves feel better.
Note: Getting out of the ‘problem pitt’ is a fantastic way to reframe a situation for the better…and a skill which children are completely capable of learning from a very early age (preschool age- 4 year olds). This step is about putting one foot in front of the other to make positive changes to their current state of being.
You as the adult will need to help your child to learn the steps out of the ‘problem pitt’. By following the above steps you are modelling to your child a way to approach tuning into themselves (which is never ever, ever a bad thing!).
Example action steps:
Go outside and find a quiet spot to sit and take the edge off the gunk they are feeling.
Lay down briefly in bed/ on a bean bag/ under a tree/ on the trampoline/ hide until you feel better (a client of mine loves to hide behind the curtains in her mother’s bedroom, to re-organise her body when she’s feeling ‘overloaded’).
Read a favourite book
Find and adult and let them know how you feel
Play with a favourite toy
Have a drink of water
If you enjoyed this post, please help to spread this message of love to other parents. Together we can help parents to be more responsive to what their children are truly communicating to us, rather than assuming food is the answer, or food is what they want (and need).
Images thanks to @childrenofthetribe