Children and overeating: 5 ways to help them stop

The latest data by the UK Parliament Post (from 2019-20) reported that, at the end of primary school, 35% of children aged 10-11 years were living with overweight or obesity, and 21% were living with obesity.


The Post goes on to explain: “The Government’s obesity strategy seeks to halve the prevalence of childhood obesity by 2030, with a focus on encouraging individual behaviour change, product reformulation and restricting unhealthy food marketing.”

These changes could surely help. But, how can we help our children to release the emotional side of comfort eating? Here I will explain five ways to approach children, with care.

1. Understand what's behind the eating

It might be something physical or physiological causing a child to eat more, but it is also likely to be emotional. So, as an ongoing question, keep being curious about what's going on for your child that they might mean they need to comfort eat.

2. Portion control is likely to backfire

Portion control is likely to be perceived as shaming. Shame makes us feel worse and, therefore, we are more likely to want to comfort eat.

Have you ever been told that you could, or should, eat less? By the doctor, your personal trainer, well-meaning parents or friends? How did it make you feel?

It’s important to be empathetic and supportive. If you tell your child to eat less, or that they are eating too much, they might feel ashamed. It's highly likely that they will carry on eating but, after feeling shame, it's more likely to be in secret. 

3. Don't make food a bad thing, just slow eating down

Food is a good thing. We need food to survive, and it can be pleasurable to eat. But, binge-eating or comfort eating often happens at breakneck speed. The binge-eater doesn't take pleasure in the eating anymore.

So, start demonstrating eating slower to your child. Perhaps as a family, start eating more mindfully around the dinner table. Slow down and enjoy your food, by way of showing your child that pleasure is important.

4. Talk about responding to hunger

Start talking with your child about responding to hunger - versus responding to stress, difficulty or emotion - with food.

You can explain to your child the fact that, in this culture, we rely on external substances, rather than our inner resources, for reassurance and comfort. You can start to teach your child as an ongoing project that there are other ways to manage how you feel. 

This might be something you want to learn together. The best thing you can do here is to learn this for yourself and to pass it on. Start by explaining that this is what we all do, to some extent. We instinctively squash uncomfortable feelings with something else that makes them feel more tolerable.

If you are a comfort eater too, the most effective thing you can do to influence your child is to address your eating and underlying self-confidence. The psychology you might pass on to your children is often one of the things that the parents who come to see me are most concerned about.

5. Get to know what your children enjoy

You can pre-empt your child's need to overeat with other activities they might enjoy. For instance, if it is a pattern for your child to want seconds after dinner, bring something else in that they might love doing, instead. This could be something you both enjoy. 

Whichever way you choose to approach your child’s overeating, know that you can’t go wrong by getting to know your child. Often, quality time spent with you is what a child craves the most. This will go a long way to addressing any underlying confidence issues. It will teach them directly that they are worth spending time with. That’s the thing we all need the most. So, perhaps this is a win-win for both of you.

If you’re an adult who also wants support with self-confidence and managing comfort eating, you can find more of my articles on my profile.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS
Written by Shelley Treacher, Therapy for anxiety, depression & relationship difficulties.
Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS

Shelley Treacher BACP Accred "Having experienced and overcome chronic worry, loneliness and comfort eating myself, I now empower you through the process. I support people from around the World through feeling anxious, unhappy, ashamed or unloved, with compassion, experience, knowledge, and a touch of humour."

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