Emotional Eating in Children: Are You Missing the Signs?

April 13, 2022

Eating habits are different for everyone, especially children. At such a young age, adolescents are incredibly susceptible to picking up different habits from their parents, as well as their environments. One of these habits can be emotional eating in children. There are several signs that a child may be developing or already have emotional eating habits, as well as ways to ensure a child is less likely to acquire these.  

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when an individual will eat in order to suppress or soothe negative emotions. Food often serves as a distraction for those who eat emotionally. These emotions can be from major life events or simple daily struggles. Anything from relationship conflicts, work, fatigue, financial stress, and health problems can trigger an individual to develop emotional eating habits. As an individual’s emotional eating progresses, food can become so tied to their emotions that even the slightest negative emotion can trigger them to reach for certain comfort foods. 

If left untreated, emotional eating can become an exhausting cycle for an individual. Their emotions trigger them to overeat, they beat themselves up for eating a certain food or overeating, they then feel bad about themselves, and emotionally eat again. The emotional effect it can give someone is temporary, causing someone to continually participate in the behavior. In the end, an individual will only become more upset and discouraged after emotionally eating than the original trigger made them feel. 

Emotional Eating in Children

Emotional eating in children can stem from their parents, as well as their habits and environment. The habits that children learn and develop at a young age are very likely to carry into adulthood if they go untreated. In many cases, emotional eating in children can stem from parenting style. Parental influence can happen in several different ways. Children are very likely to copy behaviors of their parents or individuals that they look up to. 

A child may see their parent emotionally eat and pick up the behavior themselves. Another way is when food becomes a source of entertainment for children. If a parent is not keeping their child stimulated through activities, they may resort to eating to cure their boredom. Additionally, many parents may put their children on diets for various reasons, restricting certain foods. Dieting teaches a child that certain foods must be avoided and that they are bad. This can cause them to crave the food even more and resort to overeating when they are in distress or have been deprived.

Emotional eating in children can also come along with positive emotions. If a child achieves a goal or does something good, parents will sometimes reward them with a certain food, teaching the child that good behavior is rewarded with food. This can teach a child to associate food with a certain positive emotion. Rewarding in other ways is much more productive and can teach a child good habits. 

Signs of Emotional Eating in Children

There are many signs of emotional eating in children that are different from those of adults. One is that when stress and negative emotions are more prevalent, a child’s weight may change. Weight fluctuations can be a sign of emotional eating and should cause concern for a parent. In addition, if a child is eating at abnormal times, this may be a sign that they are emotionally eating. Most children eat intuitively, meaning they eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. If a child is not eating intuitively it could be because of an outside cause. Additionally, if a child is using negative self-talk after eating, this can be a common sign of the cycle of emotional eating which happens after an individual overeats. 

Why Emotional Eating Can Be Detrimental

At its root, emotional eating is used to suppress certain emotions. If a child is struggling, they may resort to emotional eating to make themselves feel better. Anger, depression, anxiety, loneliness, a change in environment, as well as loss can all be emotions that a child may suppress through emotional eating. It is incredibly important that a parent uses positive talk surrounding mental health, and makes sure their child knows that if they are struggling it is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Creating a positive stigma around mental health can help a child not be afraid to speak up if they are struggling. Additionally, learning about positive coping strategies with a child can encourage them to use them instead of resorting to emotional eating. 

How to Stop Emotional Eating in Children

Stopping emotional eating in children can happen in a variety of ways. Depending on the age of a child, it is often a parent's job to ensure that their child is able to have a healthy relationship with food. Promoting intuitive eating in a household is a great way to encourage a child to listen to their hunger queues, not their emotions. Eating when they are truly hungry and stopping when they are full can be a difficult thing to learn to do, but it is necessary to set a child up for success later in life. 

Additionally, ensuring that a child is able to manage their emotions in a healthy way is important. If necessary, a child may need to see a mental health professional if their emotions are seriously affecting their daily life. Another way to stop a child from developing emotional eating is to not deprive a child of certain foods or create a negative stigma around them. Treating food as fuel and teaching children how to make food choices in a healthy way is the best way to keep them from learning to eat emotionally. Lastly, rewarding them with things other than food is very important. If a child receives a good grade, take them to do one of their favorite activities, instead of rewarding them with certain foods. 

Eat Intuitively with Clean Creations

Being a parent comes with many responsibilities, and ensuring that a child has nutritious, balanced meals every day can be stressful. With Clean Creations, this is made easy. Clean Creations creates healthy, pre-prepared meals to be delivered straight to your door. We offer a variety of meal plans with regularly changing menus so that you will never have to eat the same thing twice. Sign up for Clean Creations today and begin living a healthy lifestyle with your family.