5 ways to stop your child from comfort eating

How to reshape your child’s eating habits, so that they won’t turn to food to relieve stress and sadness.

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Picture this: Your preschooler has just returned from school and you notice that he looks frustrated. Concerned, you ask him what’s wrong but instead of answering, he asks for his favourite gummy bears.

If this scenario happens regularly, your mini-me could be giving in to emotional eating. This happens when a person uses food to deal with their feelings and not to satisfy their hunger.

Incidentally, this pattern of behaviour can begin much earlier than you think. Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, explains that emotional eating has been demonstrated in studies of children as young as 18 months.

In fact, your tyke has probably learnt to associate eating with feelings of comfort from birth as that is when they will get to be in the comforts of your embrace during their feeds.

The act of giving your tot food to soothe them when they’re emotional or stressed can cause them to associate eating with emotional comfort.

Dr Lim shares that emotional eating also tend to result from environmental factors rather than genetics. This means that when you give your tot food to soothe them when they’re emotional or stressed might cause them to associate eating with emotional comfort.

Consequently, your child’s unhealthy eating habits will lead to an over-reliance on food to relieve feelings of sadness and anxiety, which may trigger obesity. Dr Lim says, “More importantly, as emotional eating simply helps one avoid the emotional distress [instead of] learning to process or endure these difficult feelings, [your child may] end up losing opportunities to learn to have better coping mechanisms.”

If they are unable to control their emotions, it can also possibly lead to depression and anxiety disorders.