We all do it sometimes. Whether it’s piling the ice cream into your bowl at the end of a long, hard day or “treating” yourself to a bar of dark chocolate to reward yourself for cleaning out the basement. Food is delicious, after all, so sometimes we use it as comfort and reward. That’s okay in moderation. But there’s a fine line between having a couple of cookies because you feel tired and ordering an entire meat lover’s pizza to yourself because your boss yelled at you.
Obesity is on the rise, and there is a whole new generation of kids who are learning to eat their feelings instead of dealing with them in a healthy way. And once they start, it’s hard to stop…
According to obesity researcher Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff, there are now scientists studying food addictive behavior. They have found that foods that are highly processed or high in carbohydrates do actually have an addictive element. So there you have it—when you feel like you can’t stop eating the Zesty Cheese Doritos after the first few chips, it’s not just the salty, cheesy tang. They are, in fact, kind of like a crunchy, triangle-shaped drug.
Unfortunately, if you have a tendency to be an emotional eater, chances are high that you will be passing this trait down to your own kids. Or, even if YOU aren’t an emotional eater, you might be setting your kid up for struggles without even knowing it.
Here are some common parenting mistakes that can contribute to emotional eating in children:
If your toddler throws a massive tantrum in the shampoo aisle of the drug store, do you tell him you will get him the superpack of gummy worms if he stops crying? If your child won’t eat his broccoli, do you tell him he can have three cookies for dessert if he just has five bites?
These bribes teach your child that when he’s feeling out of control or unhappy, he just needs to have a treat to make him self-regulate and feel better. This also isn’t going to do you ANY favors when it comes to discipline, but that’s a whole other issue.
If your child gets up in front of the class and does a presentation on garden snakes and gets an A on it, do you offer him an ice cream sundae after school as a reward? If your daughter brings home a beautiful painting of a green unicorn, do you offer her a brownie to let her know how well she did?
Rewarding a child with food will teach your child to reward HIMSELF with food when he gets older. If he accomplishes something great, the feeling of satisfaction won’t be enough; he will need to eat something decadent to feel like he accomplished something.
If your child comes home from school and says he had his hat stolen at recess and he seems anxious and sad, is your instinct to give him a big glass of chocolate milk and tell him you will make him whatever he wants for dinner? Or if your daughter skins her knee while she’s riding her tricycle, do you offer her a popsicle after you’ve applied the Band-Aid? Using food as comfort can feel instinctual…your child is hurt, sad etc. and you want to do something that will make her feel special and loved. But be very careful about using food to do this.
Many of us, as adults, still struggle with eating to comfort or reward ourselves. But we need to teach our children to deal with their emotions, and not smother them with food. Like any addiction, using a bucket of fried chicken to deal with a breakup is NOT going to help you feel better about the breakup. After the satisfaction of eating it wears off, you end up feeling everything you felt before, plus the shame and guilt of eating so much unhealthy food.
Learn other ways to help your child process her emotions, and if she accomplishes something wonderful, use your words to express how proud you are of her. Instead of offering her a donut, give her love and encouragement. This will go a long way to helping her learn that food is just not always the answer.
Are you struggling to get your toddler to eat healthy? Are mealtimes a battle-ground? Or does your child simply eat one kind of food and refuses to try other foods? If so, check out The Food Sense Program. It is a guide that is designed to get even the fussiest of eaters trying new healthy foods.