As parents/adults many people experience that gallon of ice cream when a stressful situation is looming in your life. When feelings of sadness or hopelessness overcomes them, some people simple turn to food. It is no different for children, however we as parents need to recognize the signs and talk to our kids about it. Read this recent article from Connect with Kids about Emotional Overeating and your children.
Connect with Kids
“They’d make fun of me because I was getting overweight, and I’d come home and I’d feel bad so I’d eat. The next day they’d make fun of me again, and I’d come home and I’d eat.”
– Cheyanne Fowler, 13
Thirteen-year-old Cheyanne began hiding food three years ago.
“I’d stick it under my bed,” she says. “Or, I’d get a pack of gummies and I’d save the wrapper and, you know, stick it in a drawer or something, hoping my mom wouldn’t find it.”
Hiding the food didn’t work, though.
“I would find wrappers in her room,” says her mom, Debbie. “I would find plates with food, like the crust off of toast; things like that hidden under the bed.”
And then Cheyanne started having trouble at school.
“They’d make fun of me because I was getting overweight,” she says. “And I’d come home and I’d feel bad, so I’d eat. The next day they’d make fun of me again, and I’d come home and I’d eat.”
She says she was using food to ease the pain. Only at the time, she didn’t know it.
“I didn’t notice how I was feeling,” says Cheyanne. “I guess I thought I was hungry. But now, I know that I wasn’t, that I was either upset or I was angry.”
Cheyanne started seeing Dr. Genie Burnett, a psychologist.
“We do one of two things with our feelings,” says Burnett. Either we talk them out or we act them out. Sometimes acting them out involves taking in food.”
Burnett asked Cheyanne to keep a food journal. Every time Cheyanne ate something, she would write down how she felt.
“Basically, what I’m trying to do is help them link what is going on in their mind with what is going on in their belly,” says Burnett.
“I guess we started talking about my feelings,” says Cheyanne, “and then I’d say, ‘Well, I’m hungry’ or I’d have, like, a candy bar. … And if we were talking about something that I didn’t feel all that great about talking about, … I’d start eating the candy bar.”
Cheyanne had to interrupt her pattern of feeling bad and then eating to compensate, says Burnett.
“Before you go to dinner, before you go to breakfast, before you do whatever,” she adds, “if you feel like bingeing, sit down and write down what you are thinking and what you are feeling.”
“I would either talk to my mom or something because we are really close and I tell her just about everything,” says Cheyanne. “Or, I’d talk to a friend, or I would just go up in my room and just sit a while and wait till I’m not feeling so bad and try to stay away from the kitchen.”
Tips for Parents
•According to the American Dietetic Association, most people don’t even recognize they are engaging in emotional eating until they’ve gained a lot of weight. Parents should learn to recognize the warning signs – being overweight, having a history of weight fluctuations, eating alone, hoarding food, eating rapidly, eating until uncomfortably full, and having feelings of guilt or depression after eating.
•Experts say encouraging kids to express their feelings can lower a child’s need to binge. Have younger kids draw pictures of how they are feeling. Afterwards, discuss the drawings.
•When older children feel the need to binge, distractions may help. The American Dietetic Association suggests finding other things to do, for example, walking, riding a bike or playing with the dog.
•Keep the kitchen stocked with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If children feel like bingeing, encourage them to have a small, healthy snack instead.