writer & housewife blogging about life



Thursday, 4 October 2018

Are we Teaching Our Children to Comfort Eat?

Comfort Eating, Parenting, Childhood obesity, Mental health awareness, diet, healthy eating in children, treat foods, Nicki Kinickie

It isn't breaking news that todays children are overweight. But it is a scary fact that almost 60% of children in their last year of primary school are considered 'severely obese' according to Public Health Figures for England and Wales released earlier this year.

I am always fretting about how much sugar and crap Savannah has eaten and, like most parents, play the part of the villain when it comes to eating and constantly refusing regular treats and general bad food.

Like most kids, if Savannah had her way she would eat processed food all day every day, that being said however she is also a very good eater and because of what I tell her she already shows an understanding of why it is important to eat well and exercise.

I avoid using words like 'fat' when chatting with her about food. In this worryingly image conscious world we live in I don't want her obsessing about her weight and appearance any more than she inevitably will, I just want her to understand that treats are not an every day occurrence and are to be enjoyed occasionally as part of a good diet. My aim is to help her understand that if she eats bad food it will make her feel bad inside and that in order to grow, learn properly and feel happy and healthy she needs to eat well.

One thing I hadn't thought about yet though was comfort eating.

Having read an interesting article that advised not to give children food (namely treats) when they are upset, hurt, worried or frustrated I realised that I in the past have sometimes done this. The article stated that this act of feeding a child junk food in order to cheer them up teaches them comfort eating.

And I totally agree with this.

As someone who 100% comfort eats and has not always had the best relationship with food over my 33 years I felt this article totally made sense. I don't want Savannah to learn to comfort eat, I don't want her to think the only way to feel happy after a bad day or bashing her knee is to eat chocolate or ice cream.

Ever since I read that piece I have made a conscious effort to ensure that if Savannah needed comforting I would give it to her in the form of cuddles and kisses and nothing else.

Sure enough, a few months after reading this article Savannah hurt herself indoors and was upset. She was crying and we were having a cuddle and I was reassuring her as I always do when she lifted her head up and said through sniffles and snot 'I think a treat will make me feel much better mummy.'

I have to admit I was actually a bit shocked. Even though I know that four year olds are very clever in how they play you and when they play you I didn't think that Savannah had had enough treats when being upset to make that connection. I certainly hadn't used food to cheer her up every time she was crying and here we were with her trying her luck, hoping she would pull on my heart strings enough to get what she wanted.

Clever little thing.

Maybe in the past I would have given in, I am only human after all and don't like my little girl being upset or hurt but after reading that article about teaching kids comfort eating there was no way it was happening.

I softly refused and reminded her that she knew she wasn't having any treats that day and that she shouldn't eat bad food just because she was upset. I said cuddles were much better for making her feel happy again and that we could snuggle and watch a film together which she loved. Because I had offered her my attention instead she forgot about her snack request straight away.

Every day is a battle against her wanting sweet treats. We don't have very many in the house (because I also find myself eating them too sometimes *cough* ALL the time) but I do find that if people want to spoil her it will be with confectionary. Rather than buying her food I would rather her be given a cheap colouring book or magazine which she will enjoy just as much and for a lot longer too.

Because she has so many relatives who don't see her often, when we do she ends up overloaded with treats when in reality she is just happy to see her loved ones and enjoys their company, not what treats they give her.

Now Savannah is at school it is even easier to be strict and have a routine with treats. Treat days are only at the weekend (as they are with us now too) and if she wants dessert after dinner it is either fruit or a yoghurt. She has school dinners at the moment which I know also includes pudding so I feel less guilty about witholding naughty foods from her now.

I am not a complete food bore though don't get me wrong, I love food and I love feeding people and making my home welcoming. Anyone who comes here regularly will tell you I am always trying to pour coffee down their throats or feed them. Treats at the weekend are pretty epic too with either homemade pancakes or waffles with maple syrup for breakfast or pizza for dinner followed by ice cream. If I had my way every day would be like that but they're not and that's that. That is what makes weekends even more epic.

What do you think of the theory we can teach our kids to comfort eat by giving them treats when they are upset or hurt or angry? How to you curb your child's sweet tooth?

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