Emotional eating affects you and your child

How to encourage your child’s healthy eating habits and avoid the pitfalls of emotional eating.

Family having breakfast

Do you reach for a pint of ice cream after a stressful day at work? Order a pizza when you’re feeling lonely or bored? Your mood may impact your food choices. Role modeling healthy choices will influence your child’s eating habits. It will also help your child to develop coping skills to manage their emotions.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is when you quench feelings with comfort food and your stomach isn’t growling. It is eating due to feelings, not due to hunger. Emotional eating has an impact on eating habits. It is eating to feed a feeling. It often comes on quickly and feels urgent. Emotional eating is often triggered by a specific event or mood and can include feelings such as happiness, boredom, celebration, stress, and sadness.

When does emotional eating start?

Emotional eating can develop early in life by well-meaning parents as early as infancy. You may often respond to your baby’s emotional needs by feeding them. Your baby may confuse hunger with fulfilling emotional needs and have learned to eat when sad, lonely, frustrated or angry.

Your child has a tendency to make unhealthy food choices when they are upset, sad, or angry. Emotional eating can lead to overeating because it isn’t usually about fulfilling a need for nutrients or calories. Your child will experience many different types of feelings, so it is important to help them manage those feelings in healthier ways to avoid unhealthy emotional eating habits.

Tips to manage emotional eating

  1. Role model – Your child looks to you for everything! Being a positive role model for your child is the number one thing you can do to teach appropriate choices and behaviors.
  2. Make your house healthy – Try keeping unprocessed, low-calorie, low-fat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, and unbuttered popcorn around for snacks.
  3. Avoid rewarding your child with food – Remember that verbal praise goes a long way and helps build self-esteem. Try some healthier alternatives to offer praise such as giving stickers or spending quality time together at a park.
  4. Times of celebration – When hosting a celebration provide a mixture of healthy food options and sweet treats. This teaches your children that sweet treats are okay as long as they are eaten in small amounts.

Turning away from the cycle of emotional eating and making a lifestyle change can prevent many health problems and lead to a healthier, happier family.

If you have questions or concerns, consult with your child’s health care provider.

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Posted In Children's, Healthy Living, Parenting

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