Emotional wellbeing

Obesity management for children and young people is multi-factoral and there are three main reasons reported as to why they become obese :

  • because of the lack of knowledge of nutrition and healthy lifestyles – over eating and little physical activity
  • due to poor nutritional habits associated with emotional problems
  • because of major family traumas which causes psychological and emotionally disturbances

It is now recognised that there are wider contributing factors related to obesity for children and young people other than just unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity.   Emotional well being such as self confidence and self esteem, social isolation, bullying anxiety and depression can also lead to significant weight gain.  There is also increased self harming behaviours in obese children, such as cutting, and some reports of suicidal ideation (Chambers & Wakley, 2002).  In our 14 years of working with severely obese individuals it is wrong to assume weight gain is purely because they eat too much or exercise too little, without considering the bigger picture. It is far more complex.

This does not mean that overweight children have more emotional problems than normal weight children, but there are strong tendencies for them  to turn to food for comfort when they are lonely, sad, frustrated, angry or have no other outlet for expressing their emotion.

The key to successful obesity management for children and young people is to identify the underlying cause before treating the disorder.  SHINE considers it essential to address these issues if weight loss is to be sustainable and we provide sessions on increasing self confidence, assertion training, managing stress, emotional eating, bullying, and positive body image.  We deliver these sessions with sensitivity and explore feelings through art work and drama and pamper sessions.  We encourage young people to be respectful of themselves regardless of their size and shape.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods, in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. We soon learn that food can bring comfort. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional problems to help make us feel better short term but that does not resolve our emotional distress.

STRESS – One of the most common reasons we tend to start over eating is stress. The physical effects of emotional stress often mirror the effects of physical labour in our brains, so our body tells us that we need to eat in order to replace the calories we are burning. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips when you start to feel stress, try to force yourself to relax. Try distractions such as yoga, going for a long walk, or soak in the bath.

LONELINESS – By nature humans are social creatures. We do not like to be alone. When we are lonely we tend to feel like something is missing. We use food to help fill the void. The best way to cancel out the loneliness is to go out and do something and meet new people.

BOREDOM – For some reason when we are bored, we tend to reach for something to eat. This is probably one of the easiest forms of emotional eating to fix. Instead of grabbing a sandwich, get outside and do something. If you engage your mind, you forget your appetite.

PMT – The fluctuation of the hormones during this period of time makes women moody and bloated. The only way to deal with this type of emotional eating is to try to keep the snacks healthy, drink lots of raspberry tea (it will help with the cramps), and stay active.

COMFORT – A lot of emotional eaters use food as a source of comfort when they are feeling sad or depressed. When feeling a little blue, try watching something funny or call up a friend who always manages to make you feel better. If the sadness continues, you will want to see the doctor because you could be developing mild depression.

ANGER – If you have a lot of pent up anger, it is easy to reach for food to stuff down these emotions. Eating is something you can control, whereas whatever made you angry is out of your control. Don’t fall into this trap and pound out your frustrations on the pavement by going for a brisk walk instead.

BAD COMPANY – Sometimes the cause of your emotional eating is not due to your emotions but someone else’s. If you are hanging around someone who is stressed or depressed, they can transfer their emotions and cravings on to you.

The first step is to try to recognise when you are entering a period of emotional eating. Try to stop and figure out what is going on inside. Are you upset? Bored? Stressed? Worried? Take time out and address the reason you are turning to food to help you feel better (emotional eating). How do you handle emotional eating in your life? What can you do to start changing these unhealthy patterns of eating?  How can you get control over your eating back?

Answering these basic questions could be the start of you facing up to your eating patterns and positively planning how to move forward.  At SHINE we help young people and their families explore these issues and develop their own plans.