Emotional Eating: Parents Pass It On to Their Kids
A tendency to eat for emotional reasons—such as when worried, annoyed or anxious—is an important contributor to excess weight gain. While emotional eating is a known cause of obesity, what turns people into emotional eaters is not as well understood.
Norwegian researchers set out to better comprehend this relationship by asking a cohort of parents to rate the frequency of certain parental feeding practices (like giving a child something to eat to make him feel better when he’s upset) and children’s eating practices (like eating more when angry). According to the study, published in the April 2017 edition of Child Development, the researchers found that parental emotional feeding of young children was highly related to emotional eating in the children as they got a bit older.
In other words, emotional eating often begins in childhood, at least partly in response to a parent’s tendency to be an emotional feeder. In the study, the kids at greatest risk for emotional feeding scored high in a measure of “negative affectivity”—that is, they experienced higher-than-average levels of sadness, fear, anger and frustration and lower degrees of “soothability.”
Parents learn early on that food can be a calming agent. As an act of love and empathy, they offer food (usually highly palatable, high-sugar/high-fat foods) to soothe a crying baby, a fussy toddler or an upset school-aged child. The child feels better and begins to associate that sensation with eating food. This can start a cascade of emotional feeding and emotional eating. There are many who carry emotional eating into their adulthood and forget how it all came about. To break the cycle I suggestion journaling, meditation, exercise or talking with someone you feel you can trust.