Emotional overeating/under-eating in children

Did you know that using food to soothe your child can set them up for emotional eating, a term that applies to both overeating and undereating.

A study found that was triggered by annoyance, worry, anxiety, and boredom, while emotional undereating was related to feeling upset, tired, angry, or unhappy. Both are unhealthy coping strategies that could lead to problems maintaining a healthy weight down the line.

Parents fill out a questionnaire that asked them to respond to statements like “My child eats more when annoyed” or “My child eats less when upset” to determine whether the children had emotional eating issues. It is believed that emotional eating isn’t due to genetic factors, but is a learned behavior resulting from parental factors.

To help your child feel better, have them use healthier coping mechanisms, like playing with the family dog, drawing some fridge-worthy art, or listening to music that makes your little one feel soothed or happy. You can also see if there’s anything you can do to help solve the problem or make sure it doesn’t happen again. For instance, if your child is struggling with a certain subject in school, consider hiring a tutor or helping her make sure she carves out more time to study. If he’s sad about missing soccer, plan to play a family game in the park over the weekend.

And listening, encouraging your kid to vent, validating her feelings, and saying something reassuring like this always makes a difference: “It’s frustrating and disappointing when things don’t go the way you’d hoped. This situation stinks and I’m sorry you’re upset. I’ll always be here to support you.”

Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a school counselor or a private mental health professional for issues that feel more serious. The most important thing is for your child to feel supported and happy.


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