Food and emotions are often interrelated as different kinds of dishes can evoke feelings of happiness, peace, and even dullness in the brain. Emotional eating occurs when food becomes someone’s response to an emotional cue. For example, when someone is excited and happy, they tend to indulge in sweet dishes and snacks. On the other hand, depression, anxiety, and loneliness can lead to eating disorders like binge eating or anorexia nervosa in teenagers.
In most cases, emotional eating has an adverse effect on health, in both children and adults, which can further cause multiple metabolic problems. So, here is what you should be aware of.
Effects of emotional eating on a child
Childhood is a phase when your little one explores, learns, and experiences multiple changes that sometimes lead to feelings of anxiety, nervousness, loneliness, sadness, or boredom. It often results in emotional eating, where they crave salty, crunchy food items like chips, pizza, cookies etc. These high-fat and processed foods activate a chemical in the body, which gives a sense of contentment and fulfilment, and is addictive. This can result in unhealthy weight gain and cause obesity in children. This is how emotional eating affects their health, and more so, if these habits persist till adulthood. Further complications include diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and associated issues.
Pros and cons of emotional eating
The pros and cons associated with emotional eating are-
|Your child will feel less stress and have no feeling of guilt
|Emotional eating can lead to weight gain, hormonal imbalance and metabolic diseases
|He will be able to enjoy the food and relax
|Your child might find it difficult to shift his mindset
|It will increase his self-esteem and confidence
|Food choices might become confusing, leading to improper nutrition
Tips to overcome emotional eating
- Reduce screen time- Various studies have reported a direct relationship between watching TV and overeating. Most children prefer snacking while watching TV, regardless of hunger. Most of them are also affected by TV commercials that promote sugary and fast foods. Hence, not more than 2 hours of television or mobile viewing is advisable, in a day.
- Defined food area- Food should be kept either in the kitchen or dining area, so that kids know about defined eating areas. This way, they will face less visual stimulation due to television. You should provide healthy snacking options of fruits and vegetables too.
- Be mindful of positive emotional eating- Often, parents might enjoy a hot fudge sundae or fast foods in case a child gets the highest grade in class. Though occasional treats are alright, you should be mindful about rewarding children in this way. You can instead go out as a family and visit some historical or educational place.
- Prevent dieting - Some parents might be too strict about the diet of children, which can lead to eating disorders. Remember that kids require a fair amount of calories for proper growth, and their meals should hence be balanced. Parents should be a role model to promote the right eating habits and should discourage dieting in children.
- Keep a daily record of eating- As your child gets older, start keeping a food journal to track what he/she eats. Pre-teens should be motivated to do this by themselves, in order to avoid emotional eating.
- Be careful about environmental contributors- Always prepare a nutritious lunch for kids, which is also as per their individual tastes. Sometimes, boring food can lead to binging on unhealthy snacks, and peer pressure can be a factor too.
- Plan and go out- Toddlers are curious by nature and want to channelize their energies in different ways. So, it is always a good idea if parents plan and go out together for a hike, to the local park, or for a casual soccer game or for a walk with the dog. This will keep your children active and less lonely, further reducing emotional eating.
- Watch your words- It is important to understand your kid’s needs, instead of criticising them or speaking harshly about their diet. Often, parents end up embarrassing their child for being overweight, and discourage them unknowingly from leading a healthy life. So, use words wisely, listen to their problems, and motivate them to eat healthy and be physically active.
Emotional eating depends on various factors, as mentioned above. Your toddler’s hunger depends on both physical and emotional needs. While physical hunger can be satisfied with a number of nutritious foods that give a feeling of fullness, emotional hunger provokes specific cravings which are often unhealthy. Children usually tend to eat more or snack on fried and fatty foods when they are feeling alone, anxious, depressed, or guilty. So, it is crucial to watch what they eat and always provide emotional support.