Delicate subject, I know. But I still feel we need to talk about the connection between mood and food in children and adolescents. I’ll try to be gentle…
Child diabesity (or obesity if you prefer) is a topic that has been recently hotly debated and has become high on the agenda with doctors, the World Health Organisation and celebrities (most notably Jamie Oliver) alike. More often than not the discussion gyrates around the types of nutrition (or lack of) which contribute to the condition and health control programs to rectify it, mostly by dietary adjustments. However these, often neglect to examine a very important factor, which is the cause for overeating and diabesity, namely emotional eating, which is the unchecked habit of using food to cope with our feelings and generate comfort and distraction from what’s bothering them.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, apart from having adverse effects on their physiological health, diabesity and overweight in children and teens is also likely to carry an emotional and psychological burden. These children and adolescents frequently endure years of social isolation, teasing, bullying and ridicule among their peers, as well as poor self-image, depression and other emotional and psychological problems that can affect their entire lives.
“Experts now agree that about 75% of overeating is caused by emotional eating, which means that a lot of us are using food to cope with our feelings,” observes the HeartMath book, Stopping Emotional Eating. “In today’s high-stress society, many of us, adults and children, eat high fat or high sugar foods to soothe our emotions or temporarily relieve our stress and anxiety.”
Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating. These triggers might include: Relationship conflicts, academic pressure, fatigue, peer pressure and health problems.
Although some children eat less in the face of strong emotions, if they are in emotional distress they might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever available and convenient without enjoyment.
In fact, emotions can become so tied to eating habits that some kids automatically reach for a treat whenever they feel angry or stressed without being aware of what they are doing or the likely consequences.
Food also serves as a distraction. Kids who might be worried about an upcoming event or are simmering over a conflict, for example, may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the sore situation.
Whatever emotions drive kids to overeat, the end result is often a vicious cycle. The emotions return, and they are likely to then bear the additional burden of guilt about being overweight which in turn triggers over eating. This is a lose-lose situation.
There is a wealth of information available on how to battle this condition and how to help our kids control these kind of cravings. Some of these are by way of parents’ support and self-help, others require seeking professional help.
I would like to focus today on HeartMath’s heart-focused techniques and emWave® technology, because they were specifically developed to help monitor and manage stress and emotions and happen to be uniquely suited to helping with weight control problems. HeartMath Institute officials say that these techniques and technology are geared toward teaching people to reconfigure their emotional diets and shift away from emotional eating to intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating means listening to the heart’s intuitive discernment on what, when and how much to eat, Stopping Emotional Eating co-writers Doc Childre, founder of HeartMath, and psychologist Deborah Rozman explain in the book.
“The basic understanding of emotions in the book is as true for children as it is for adults, but children need help identifying their stress triggers that result in comfort eating. Then they need help finding other ways to handle their emotions and stress.” (Rozman suggested parents closely guide children under age 14 through the Stop Emotional Eating book, especially concepts like intuitive eating, and in learning and using HeartMath tools.)
This program is drug-free and perfectly suited to supplement any diet/weight-loss program individuals might be using.
HeartMath Institute (HMI) officials say that with the guidance of parents or adult caretakers children can be just as capable as adults in learning to monitor and self-regulate stress and emotions and improving their health, academic performance, social lives and overall well-being.
Investigating the physiology of emotions has been at the forefront of HMI’s research for nearly three decades. During that time, a wealth of studies incorporating the HeartMath System of tools and technology have demonstrated that recognising the ways negative emotions are affecting behaviours and health and learning to replace them with positive emotions is achievable in a relatively short amount of time.
If you would like some help with stopping emotional eating in children (and adults) I would be delighted to assist you with it.