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Is Your Child Obsessed with Food?

By Jessica Charbonneau, LCSW


Do your kids eat when they’re not hungry or consume oversized portions? If so, they could be headed down a dangerous, unhealthy path. Many kids today are tipping the scales and struggling with their weight.


Most of the time, you will find that the cause of compulsive overeating has nothing to do with hunger. Some kids develop these habits to cope with stress, depression or anxiety.


One common mistake parents make with their children is the use of food as a bribe, a reward, or even as punishment. For instance, a parent may say, ''If you have a good report card, we will take you out for ice-cream” or “we always go out to eat for your birthdays”. In these relatable scenarios, food is no longer serving physiological needs but rather psychological needs. Try to identify other means of rewarding your children and celebrating accomplishments. Create new family traditions that are not centered around food.


Another common mistake parents make that can lead to food obsession is to forbid or restrict particular foods or food groups. Instead you should ''legalize'' all foods. When food is withheld, a psychological power struggle begins. Research shows that restriction creates desire and fixation on eating.


So how can we help our children if we think they may be obsessed with food? Instead of focusing on what your child eats, start with focusing on the concept of hunger vs. fullness. Teach them how to make mindful eating decisions. Teach them to listen to what their bodies are telling them and to eat only when they are hungry and to stop eating when they are full. You may even want to use a hunger fullness scale as a tool to help your children conceptualize the idea of hunger vs. fullness. As parents, we can help our children by practicing good self-awareness and by role modeling good behaviors. Sometimes we restrict food because we have difficulty with these foods ourselves. We can sometimes be obsessed ourselves with weight, body size, and dieting. If you constantly monitor and worry your children about eating, they could end up shutting you out and experience increased food obsessing. These badgering behaviors can also, in certain cases, lead to food hoarding and other more serious pathological behaviors.


Remember, as parents, we also need to practice compassion. Don’t play the blame game. It doesn’t matter why your child is the way he or she is. What matters is helping him or her develop non-food related coping skills and a healthy relationship with food.


If you feel that your child eats compulsively, you may need to discuss this with your pediatrician so together you are supporting your child to develop healthier ways of eating.