This test to help you understand what core emotion your child is replacing with food. This should give you some actions you can start straight away which will improve how they feel and give you a quick way to start helping. Remember to observe your child when they eat family meals too. Just because you are all eating a takeaway in front of the TV doesn’t mean they aren’t still using some of the food to change how they feel. Children who overeat can have a meal with a family and then still need more food afterwards because once food is gone, the feelings come back. Mood can quickly change once there is nothing else to eat. Make it a habit to be aware of their emotional behaviour at all times and you become able to step in to what they need.
Lacking in love
• My child often overeats alone
• My child focuses solely on the food when they eat
• My child is quiet and sometimes in a world of their own
If you found most of these statements to be true of your child then it is likely they are using food to replace the feeling of love. So that they can begin to see you as someone who can help them feel loved, you need to open the door to them, not as a fix to their eating, but as someone they can confide in. You are not there to provide any solutions, just let them know you think they are unhappy and you want to listen. The love they need is to feel understanding, to feel wanted, to feel needed and important, and all that just means being there and listening to them.
Lacking in security
• My child always seems to be eating
• My child is prone to outbursts of anger or frustration
• My child visibly becomes happier and calmer when they eat
If you identified with these statements then your child is using food to feel a sense of security, comfort, and safety. They are experiencing confusion and uncertainty about the world and you, and so the first thing for you to do is to ensure consistency in how you speak and react to them. Then create a routine together that they can rely on, so they know you will be there at a certain time and you will be ready to offer listening, comfort, and security.
Lacking in acceptance
• My child often eats very large amounts of food in one go
• My child eats very quickly
• My child does other things when they eat to help disconnect from the world e.g. Watch TV, internet or video games
If these statements are familiar to you then your child is using food to feel more accepted. They are removing the feelings of rejection, shame or being different by using food to numb it. To help them feel more comfortable with who they are, start saying things to them which create more consistent acceptance. Give them compliments, tell them they are beautiful, tell them you are proud, that you like them. Right now, they have little confidence in who they are so you need to start it for them.
I can’t stress how important it is that you choose to help your child now instead of just leaving them to it. Yes, leaving them to it is an option. They have found a way of coping, it results in weight gain but ultimately, they are still okay, no great tragedy yet. But the tragedy doesn’t happen straight away, it stays silent and hidden until it begins to take over a whole life. Looking back, I realise now that by the time I was in my twenties and over 300 pounds, I had no personality, no identity. My weight and emotional lack stopped me knowing who I was, stopped me taking chances, stopped me wanting to be near people because I expected rejection and I expected them to be uninterested in me. When you have that expectation, you stay away because the fear and need for self-preservation is too strong. It is safer to stay alone and eating. I stayed this way well into my thirties and some of it is still with me in my forties. I saw myself as unimportant, as irrelevant to the world and others, and not deserving of anything good. Food stopped all that pain and replaced people and emotion. When I began realising all this and started the process of changing and developing myself, it was much harder to do because I had to undo 30 years of thoughts and emotion. Am I all ‘cured’ now? No, because you can never unlearn something completely, you can only try to replace it with something better. So, no matter how unsettling and difficult this is for you to do now, please don’t stop. The alternative may be easier for you but it’s a lot worse for them, and I can’t imagine any parent wanting that for their child.