Do your children start munching on food when they feel worried about something or because of something that is bothering them? Don’t worry, they are not alone. Stress is a common trigger for many children and adults that leads to ‘emotional eating.’ Children and adults turn to ‘comfort foods’ whenever they are burdened because of circumstances. Stress eating can lead to unhealthy dietary habits, apart from taking a toll on your mental health. It is easy to say we need to “avoid stress” so we don’t stress eat, but we know that’s not always possible. But there are ways to reduce the chances of you or your child reaching for that bar of chocolate.
Identify the stressors
It’s important to identify and understand the stressors that lead to stress eating. These are the emotional triggers that make you want to eat without actually feeling hungry. Once parents recognize these stressors, they can take the necessary steps to reduce the stressors in the first place. Try to provide healthier alternatives when children stress eat. For example, doing yoga or exercise when children are stressed. Interact with your children and make sure they know they can come to you when they are going through a difficult time.
Avoid rewarding children with food
Rewarding your child with candies or chocolates from an early age will make them habituated to using food as a stress-buster in the future. Instead, try rewarding them with a book, an activity or something that would keep them happily engaged like a musical instrument/craft item. This also breaks the correlation of feeling rewarded every time you have an unhealthy snack.
Pick up a sport!
Studies have shown that children who lead an active lifestyle are able to handle stress better. The best way to ensure this is by picking up a sport they like, and taking the time out to pursue it together. Being involved in sports is a great way to keep stress at bay. You are also role-modeling an active lifestyle for them to follow, while having a whole lot of fun! Even if you can’t actively pursue it with them, weekend games are a great way to bond. Besides, when they see their parents make an effort at an activity that they might not be great at, it encourages them to try out new activities without the fear of failure! That’s a further reduction of stress levels, right there.
Keep a track of what children eat
Keeping a track of your child’s eating habits will help them realize when and why they eat. This could help to limit food cravings arising due to emotional factors. The more your children are aware of their eating habits, the better it will be for them to avoid stress-eating. Making them follow an ‘eating schedule’ could help in ensuring they stick to a weekly routine for eating. You might initially need to follow this schedule with them – but gradually they will be able to self-regulate, when they settle into the new schedule.
Find ways to overcome boredom
Sometimes it’s not the stress, but the sheer lack of activity or something to do that leads to bingeing. Isn’t that what we ourselves are guilty of doing sometimes – Reaching for that bag of chips or popcorn while binge-watching the latest series on the television? . Pick up a hobby together or an activity they like. Children tend to eat more when they are bored and eventually this becomes a habit. The best way to avoid this is by keeping a check on these habits from an early age in their lives!
Like we said at the outset – we cannot completely eliminate stress from our lives, but we can regulate how we and our children react to it. Habits are hard to break – but with a bit of encouragement and a whole lot of love, we can guide our children to be able to deal with life’s stresses without reaching for that last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge – unless it’s your birthday! Then you absolutely must have the last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge!