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Stop Emotional Eating Before It Starts

Stop Emotional Eating Before It Starts

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine who died in Greece in 370 BC, is often quoted as saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” That certainly fits in with his philosophy that disease is a result of environmental factors, diet and living habits. And we’re sure he didn’t mean that you should eat sweet, fatty foods to ease distress or discomfort. Unfortunately, that’s what tends to happen these days—and not just when you are feeling bad. Many parents’ go-to solution to calm a fussy, crying, grumpy child is to offer sugary, fatty snacks.

That’s how kids get programmed to associate eating bad-for-you foods with feeling better. In short, according to a joint Norwegian-British study published in the journal Child Development, parents who are emotional feeders create kids who are emotional eaters.

Another study found up to 63 percent of kids exhibit emotional overeating—usually choosing snacks that are calorie dense. That leads to weight gain—and the cascade of problems associated with youthful overweight, including earlier onset of “adult” diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, other cardiovascular problems and joint pain.

The solution? Well, unfortunately offering a carrot to a crying child rarely works. It’s actually dealing with the emotional upset—letting the child know you are interested in finding out what’s wrong and helping him or her solve the problem—that’s most beneficial. That teaches self-regulation and self-soothing, two qualities that build a healthy weight and a solid foundation for an emotionally happy lifetime.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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