Here’s all that you need to know to save your child from falling prey to the trap that is emotional eating.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when kids use food as a weapon to deal with their feelings and emotions instead of using it to satisfy their hunger. When they are sad, angry, frustrated, happy or simply bored they may seek help from the ‘comfort food’ to make themselves feel better. Haven’t we all seen our kids treating themselves with cookies after cookies just because they are feeling too tense about their final exams? Or binging on a big packet of chips when they’re bored? OH, we certainly have! Honestly, as adults, we’ve been in these situations too and have regretted it later (guilty)! We won’t deny that comfort foods are what kids go to when they are seeking comfort. So, try providing that comfort to your child in alternate healthy ways. Because let’s face it, these foods are doing more damage than good to your child’s emotional and mental health. So, we must stop our little one from binging on that bag of chips!
Why should you stop emotional eating at an early age?
Kids in their early years are like soft, impressionable clay. Their minds are pretty much moldable and everything that is registered in their brains at this time stays concrete with them for longer periods. Every habit that they adapt more or less becomes permanent or is difficult to change in the future. If we don’t stop kids from emotional eating at an early age, they will develop a connection between emotions and eating patterns for life, which will later turn into permanent habits.
If a kid is rewarded with desserts when they are sad, then they are likely to use the same food to distract themselves from those emotions when they’ve grown up.
Did you know not only negative but also positive emotions affect the eating patterns equally?
For instance, if the kid is treated with their favourite savouries for scoring exceptional marks or for bagging the first prize in a dance competition, then that might become his ‘comfort food’ whenever he achieves something big in life!
Kids are generally drawn towards colourful food items and foods with higher fructose levels such as junk food, soft drinks or desserts and use these items as their comfort food. These food items are not only addictive but can also have serious effects on their brain development. It is observed that kids with higher fructose diets show symptoms of anxiety, depression and long-term changes in metabolism and behaviour (especially dealing with stress). These eating habits are very difficult to unlearn and hence, should be stopped at an early age.
Dealing with your child’s emotional binging
To deal with emotional hunger requires the kids to learn new ways to trade with their feelings and emotions that lead to emotional eating.
The first and foremost step to stop emotional hunger is to IDENTIFY it. Your kids need to know the difference between ‘Natural Hunger’ and ‘Emotional Hunger’. Natural hunger is when the body gradually develops the need for food and when it can be easily satisfied with regular food in appropriate portions. On the other hand, emotional hunger is a result of a sudden craving or an unusual need to eat. This type of hunger generally calls for specific food items like burgers, pizzas, desserts, etc. Also, one tends to eat more when it comes to emotional hunger as compared to normal hunger.
You need to keep your eyes open to notice if your child is eating because of hunger, or because they are overwhelmed with certain emotions at the moment. If it is the latter, then you need to understand which emotion is causing that type of hunger. If your kid has just completed reading a book after lunch and has now started feeling hungry because he has got nothing to do then this hunger could be a result of boredom. Now instead of immediately handing them a packet of chips you must sit back and ask them, are they really hungry, is their stomach growling, are they finding it difficult to concentrate or start a new activity or are they simply bored? If their answers give a sign of normal hunger, treat them with a healthy snack. Whereas, If you sense emotional hunger, then show them how they can deal with the cause that triggered it (which in this case was boredom) ask them to get involved in another activity or simply think about the book that they just read.
Studies show that 75% of over-eating is a result of emotional hunger. Emotional eating habits give a comforting feeling to the body which can turn out to be very addictive, can lead to serious health issues and can harm the mental health of kids. Hence, it is important for you to now become a super mom and find out all that triggers emotional hunger in your kids.
How about quickly sharing an experience that helped you save your child from emotional eating? Even if it was just that one time, little steps towards a change make up for rock-solid habits.