Emotional Eating: Children can kick the habit if we show them how

Emotional eating is not something that just affects adults – it is common in children, too. And as someone who experienced this challenge as a child, I’m well versed in the triggers.

Emotional eating is a response to being unable to manage emotions. In simple terms, it is a way to ‘stuff down’ feelings and emotions that the child is unable to manage.

Understanding emotional eating in this way can be confronting for a parent, so how do we handle it?

The first step is adopting a new habit; that is, asking our child how they are feeling. In doing so, we can learn to be there for our children and help them identify how they are feeling, and not simply reach to food for soothing.

As we slow down and learn healthier ways to deal with our own emotions, we can teach our children how to do the same.

How do you get your child to connect with their feelings when they’re more used to connecting to food?

I recommend starting small and building up. Go for a walk together, get into nature, play games together, dance together, listen to music, and have fun.

Introducing healthy whole foods and learning how to prepare them can also be a great way to start conversations around feelings.

When coaching clients, I share with them my own parenting experience. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had been more in touch with my own feelings and those of my children. One of my daughters lived with bulimia for 20 years, and I know there is a direct correlation between ignoring these feelings and the condition.

Some parents worry that we talk about feelings too much, or that boys especially shouldn’t talk about their feelings, but this just isn’t true. Actually, feelings are neither good nor bad. It’s only our interpretation of them that gives them a label. Feelings are a natural and normal part of living on the planet and becoming aware of, and learning to manage them, is essential for a healthy, happy life.

It’s also good to keep in mind that talking about feelings in a non-threatening environment makes is easier to have difficult conversations in the midst of a more serious emotional situation.

It’s up to parents to take the lead with their children. Demonstrating how to express and manage emotions in healthy ways creates ‘emotional muscle’ in the child and diminishes the need for emotional eating, now and in the future.