Children who learn to soothe their negative feelings through food develop a pattern of emotional eating and they have their parents to blame. A study reveals its parents who introduce and encourage this bad habit when they are emotional feeders themselves.
Emotional eating triggers an unhealthy diet. As the habit accelerates, it may lead to eating disorders like binge eating, bulimia and anorexia. Experts in a new study published in Child Development underscore a parent's emotional feeding greatly influences children's emotional eating.
The researchers from Norway looked into how parents fed 801 4-year-old children. They followed up their study when the kids turned six, eight and 10.
The experts determined behavioral markers when a parent, usually the mother, offered the kids food when they were upset, angry or frustrated. The experts also asked parents to complete questionnaires during the study.
The researchers learned children in the ages of four and six, whose moms offered more food to soothe a bad day, became emotional eaters at age eight or 10. The experts determined 65 percent of the kids developed emotional eating as a coping skill.
The study also highlighted the cycle of emotional feeding and emotional eating. Moms who saw how food comforted their kids persisted with the practice. The children also became emotional feeders as they likely offered food to someone upset or frustrated.
"We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down," study co-author Lars Wichstrøm said, as per EurekAlert. "Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters."
The experts suggested parents hold off giving food to calm or soothe upset children. They said food could temporarily work on the child but parents should consider the long-term effect of this habit. Instead, parents could offer a hug or teach kids to other coping skills instead of turning to food.