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Guest Columnist: Dr. Missy, Feelings Helper

Children often observe and repeat the same behaviors of their parents and caregivers. Adults who experience an unhealthy relationship with food need to address emotional eating before their children go down the same path.

 

Answer the following questions. Do you eat a lot of food in a brief period of time? Do you frequently feel out of control when you eat? Do you eat when you are not hungry? Do you eat to soothe your feelings? Do you eat to distract yourself from uncomfortable or painful thoughts? Do you eat in secret? Do you experience feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust when you overeat? Do you feel sad or depressed after eating a large amount of food? Do you have a love-hate relationship with food?

 

Emotional eating can be a symptom of an eating disorder. A mental health assessment will help determine a diagnosis for a binge eating disorder (BED). An eating disorder is not about food. It’s about using food to self-medicate instead of processing, expressing, and managing emotions. Individuals with a binge eating problem eat unusually large amounts of food on a regular basis and they do not purge. Depression and anxiety often accompany an eating disorder.

 

Reasons for compulsive (emotional) overeating may include: escaping from emotional pain, trying to cope with daily stress and distress, filling an inner emptiness, substituting food for affection, feeling anxious or depressed, a need for control, or being isolated or lonely.

 

Some individuals may overeat due to biological and physiological reasons. The hypothalamus controls appetite and this part of the brain may have a problem with sending messages of hunger and fullness. Thyroid testing may be needed. Please consult a physician.

 

Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood and may also play a role in binge eating. You may need an assessment by a psychiatrist for consideration of medication.

 

According to a Dove Internal Study, over 50% of women say their body disgusts them. The Dove Girls are showing up on billboards and in magazines in their underwear to promote self-image and self-esteem. Visit website: www.dove.us/real_beauty/ for information on Dove’s self-Esteem program for adolescent girls.

 

Does your child or adolescent hide or hoard food? Does she turn to food when distressed or stressed? Does he think and talk about food a lot? Does she crave sugary snacks and became upset when these foods are not available? Does he experience symptoms of depression or anxiety and use food to self-soothe?

 

Overeating may lead to weight gain and unhealthy dieting. Children with a binge eating disorder do not purge (vomit) after gorging on food. Dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. The body requires food on a regular basis to operate effectively. It needs protein for cell formation and growth and mental alertness, carbohydrates for energy, and fat for hormone production and neurological development in children and adolescents. Visit www. kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/problems/binge_eating.html for more information.

 

Adults can help children accept themselves and others regardless of body shape, size, weight, height or appearance; understand normative weight gain during puberty; recognize cultural messages about unrealistic thinness and beauty; know the dangers of dieting for growing bodies; learn critical thinking skills to analyze media messages; learn about healthy lifestyle choices; and prevent weightism, size prejudice, and bullying by other children.

 

Please schedule an appointment for a mental health assessment with a child therapist if you are concerned about your child’s emotional eating behaviors. Treatment recommendations will be discussed. Along with a pediatrician, a child psychiatrist and a dietitian, a child therapist is an important member of a collaborative team.

 

Dr. Missy, Ph.D., is a feelings helper, child therapist, consultant, educator, and self-syndicated columnist. She provides therapeutic services at Affirmations, Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at [email protected].

 

 

 

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