I have had several parents approach me about whether or not I work with children in my health coaching. This is such a difficult question because the answer really is “No, I work with parents.”

This instantly turns away most. Perhaps they think I am blaming them for the issue of their child’s overeating. Or maybe they realize that they are going to have to do some real work themselves instead of me “fixing” their child and returning him or her in skinny condition. I am not sure what happens here except that there is definitely a defense wall of some kind that comes up. I imagine some walk away from me thinking, “But I am a good parent.”

No one said you are not a good parent.

You have an issue you do not know how to approach, and it can be a painful one. I get it. The first step to fixing this issue is to listen and be open to hearing hard things. Hard things may involve you being part of the answer.

Your child turns to food for one reason and one reason only; it makes them feel good.

You will never be able to combat that part of the eating issue once they discover that sugar and processed foods send all sorts of feel-good chemicals to their brains! This is a fact of that kind of food. It is true for adults. It is true for children.

So why doesn’t every child overeat these kinds of foods if they feel good to every child? The answer is multi-faceted. First of all, most children now days do have an attachment to this kind of food because we are providing it for them in alarming amounts. I got an email from my daughter’s school that they would be switching the lunch to chicken nuggets and breadsticks from chicken sandwiches. They do want kids to pay attention in school, don’t they? Fried chicken and breadsticks? Since when is that healthy? Carbs on carbs on fat on more carbs.

Physiological factors are in play here. These foods are processed and inflammatory. By giving them to your child every day, you are inviting them to have a weight problem, an attention problem, behavioral problems, anxiety, fatigue, bad moods, learning difficulties, frustration, and did you want me to go on?

These foods are in our schools, our hospitals, our restaurants, our vending machines, our gas stations, and our homes. Is it any question how someone in our society can become attached to these foods? Make your child some homecooked actual recipes using whole foods that are tasty. Put some effort into spending time on the food that is supposed to fuel your family.

Learn about nutrition yourself. Be the example. Learn about the effects of gluten, sugar, and processed foods. Find out what they are doing to your child’s brain and gut, the second brain.

Be about the solution yourself if you are a regular indulger. My dad once talked to me about my weight while eating a cheeseburger and fries. You better have a good handle on your own eating if you want to have credibility with your child on the subject.

Here are some emotional factors to your child’s overeating that are hard to hear…

Your child found something that feels good – eating. Every child learns that food feels good, but the child trying to make up for feeling bad goes back to the food time and time again to keep feeling good. Yes, I am saying your child feels bad about something, and he or she has found food to feel better. This is the simple solution for your child’s protective reptilian brain.

Emotional eating is learned at a very young age for most. Children especially do not know how to regulate emotions and learn quickly that food distracts from those emotions. It can become the drug for that child as it takes them away momentarily to a better place.

That drug becomes comfort for them in an uncomfortable situation, or worse – safety. It is an escape. Do not give them a reality they will always want to escape! Create a safe and comfortable environment for your child.

The very fact that a child seeks to overdo it with food is evidence that something else is being underdone. Our bodies are designed to achieve homeostasis, and our brains send messages to our bodies when we are out of balance. It’s the body’s self-healing mechanism. Therefore, when we seek to overdo an area such as eating to feel good, we are trying to achieve something to balance the feeling bad. Use your child’s cravings and overeating as information for what may be out of balance.

The next question every helpful parent with this struggle should be asking at this point is, “Why does my child feel bad?”

I don’t know. Why does your child feel bad? This may be a hard question, but it is one that warrants your time, energy, curiosity, compassion, love, and then even more of your time.

Children are going to hurt. That is a natural part, unfortunately, of growing up. There is not a need for you to protect your child from every single hurt in the world nor is it in the realm of possibility for parents. However, it is our job to be aware of our children’s emotions, work with them on those that are difficult to process, listen to your children, spend time with them, and give them tools with which to face the life concepts they do not understand. If you cannot do that as a parent, then I highly advise you to find them the help they need from someone else – a counselor of some kind.

Again, you are not a bad parent. I can feel you thinking that right now. I am merely telling you that your kid is searching for something, and he or she has found it in food. Spend time to find out the origins of their desperation. You will likely see that desperation in their eating behaviors.

Emotional eating is not about food. It is about emotions.

What emotions is your child having that you can try to discuss? What emotions is your child having that he or she is alone with or feels alone with? What emotions are you holding onto that you have not yet dealt with? It is likely that your child is carrying them with you.

What you try to sweep under the rug, your child will know because children have a knowing for which we give them little credit. They will shove crumbs, wrappers, leftovers, excess food they want no one to see, right under that rug with your pile. Do not create a pile for them to add to.

If you put your child on a diet to fix their emotional eating issues, you fail to address the emotion in the eating. Your child may lose weight on that diet, but the emotions will carry on, likely taking on some other form later on in life like drugs, alcohol, or toxic relationships. Again, your child is seeking to feel good, so the root cause is emotional, not physical. Diets do not address emotion. (This does not negate the need for healthy whole foods. It simply means do not put your kid on the Keto diet. It’s traumatizing. That’s for another blog.)

Inner Fitness NC Health Coaching

Your child needs to know that you value and love them no matter what their weight is. You cannot hope to have any access to their emotions if you do not have a strong base of unconditional love established.

Disclaimer: this story is hard to tell, but it must be told. Every parent should think about this before believing that your child has a problem. I am sorry to my dad in Heaven in advance.

My dad spent roughly forty thousand dollars to put me through college. The week or so after I graduated, I went to his house for a visit. I talked to him about possible career paths for my degree in English. I talked about teaching, banking, going on for a Master’s degree to teach at the college level, maybe working for a big corporation, as I have always been business-minded.

My dad turned the conversation to my weight. “You know, we live in a very physical world, and the first thing employers are going to notice about you in interviews is your weight,” he said. At first, I wanted to cut him off with “And I am a material girl.” But then it hit me what he was saying. I was going to have a hard time making it in the real world as a fat woman. I was about 225 lbs. at the time.

I had this degree. I had the years that I had been working on it. I had the forty thousand dollars given to me to make it happen. And I had my fat.

I was working in a restaurant at the time. I never applied for any of those jobs I went to him to talk about. Instead, I stayed working at that restaurant for seventeen years. They already knew me there.

At forty years old and finally with enough confidence to follow my dreams, I look back and ask myself, was my dad even right? Did I have trouble making money? NO!! Did I find my fat keeping me from climbing to the top of every ladder I was given in my industry? NO! Would I have had trouble, in all my fierceness in my work, getting any other job I would have gone for had I pushed past the limiting belief that I was too fat to work outside of the restaurant business? I am venturing to say NO!

Did I have issues for the rest of my dad’s life having confidence in front of him or being proud of myself for my accomplishments? YES. My dad killed my confidence that day. And he was not even right. He spent forty thousand dollars only to believe I would have a hard time making it in this world.

I know my dad believed in me and thought I was smart and capable and all the things a dad is supposed to think about his daughter. But he saw me through a harsh society’s eyes. His talk did not prepare me any more for society either, which I am sure may have been part of his intention. Instead, it made my dad feel harsh to me, too.

I believe the single best thing you can do as a parent is to teach your children self-love as best as you can, though it is hard to model in our crazy lives today. It is their best tool for sitting with the desperation that comes with the human experience.

Do not be worried about what the world will think of your child if he or she is overweight. Your child cares about what YOU think, so that they can go out into the world with YOUR vote of confidence. What YOU see in your kids, they will also see in themselves.   

Feel free to contact me for further dialogue if you are worried about your child overeating. Every child’s eating story is not the same nor is there a “one size fits all” solution. Your child deserves the time and effort you are putting in to help them with their feelings and how to process them in a healthy way.