• Emotional Eating – How It’s Hijacking Our Families | Karen R Koenig | Episode 23

  • Emotional eating has become a widespread problem and it’s one that affects parents and teens alike. We’ve watched stress levels rise in ourselves and in our teenagers, but along with that we have not really learned new ways to handle that stress or all the other feelings we experience on a daily basis. So what happens? We use food to deal with our emotions and get into a pattern of emotional eating. When parents try to stop their child’s emotional eating it can lead to a power struggle. This can have a profound effect on the parent-child relationship and it’s hijacking our families. Karen R. Koenig, an expert in eating psychology, shares insights with Mighty Parenting podcast co-hosts, Judy Davis and Sandy Fowler. They dig into the why and how of emotional eating as well as looking at what we can do for ourselves and our teens.

    Real Talk:

    Have you ever found yourself making statements like, “Kids today…” or “Teenagers are always…” then finishing off those statements with a negative observation? It’s a common occurrence and in today’s Real Talk, Judy and Sandy look at what happens when we do this. They discuss why this is an issue and what can happen instead.



    A Favorite Quote from the Show:

    If we don’t have effective life skills for dealing with stress and distress, then we turn to food.

    High Points of the Emotional Eating Interview:

    emotional eatingIf we don’t have effective life skills for dealing with stress and distress, then we turn to food. Turning to food reinforces our lack of skills and stops us from learning the skills we need.

    Emotional eating makes you feel physically uncomfortable, ashamed, regretful, frustrated, or fills you with self-contempt. It lowers our self-esteem.

    When you have the urge to eat, use these questions to know if you’re emotionally eating:

    • Am I hungry? – YES
    • Am I hungry enough to eat? – YES
    • What do I want to eat?
    • Am I hungry? – NO
    • What am I feeling?

    These questions are powerful but what happens when we are so disconnected that we may not even understand the feeling of hunger? There are 2 things we can do

    • Notice the usual triggers that drive you to food. Keep a log, not of what you eat but of what you are feeling.
    • Be more mindful of what we are doing especially during eating.

    Whether it’s you or your child who is emotionally eating, do not be critical in discussing it. Show compassion and self-compassion.

    Gurze – Salucore (edcatalogue.com) has a catalogue of books for teens on eating, body image, etc.

    What are some of the signs your child is developing an emotional relationship with food?

    • Not eating enough, wearing baggy clothes, over exercising, refusing foods they love – may be signs of food restriction or anorexia
    • Sneak eating
    • Binge eating
    • Preoccupation with food or weight

    What should parents do about it? Don’t jump in immediately. Follow these steps:

    1. Watch them casually and notice what and how they are eating
    2. Don’t make comments, even if you are alarmed
    3. Talk to another adult to help you understand what you are seeing
    4. Think about it
    5. Talk to someone about it and determine your approach

    When approaching a teen about food concerns, your approach will need to be informed by your relationship with your child. It’s important to be very gentle. The child already feels badly, and we don’t want to add to that. Remember this isn’t a one-time conversation. Take your time, go slow, and be gentle.

    Things to ask:

    • Do you have a minute? How do you think your relationship with food is? These days it’s kind of hard to know what to do and what to eat.
    • I’m a bit concerned about your health. How are you feeling? How are you doing with food?
    • “How can I help?” This gives the message that you’re there for them.
    • “Is there anything I’m doing that’s making it harder for you?” Keep it neutral.
    • “What kind of things are troubling you?”

    Parents and other relatives often contribute to eating issues through our words and our body language. Eye rolling and comments from parents that can indicate you are contributing to the problem. Some problematic comments include:

    • Are you eating again?
    • Why don’t you finish your food?
    • Why are you eating that?
    • You’re getting fat.

    We want to talk to our kids about health and self-care, not eating and weight. We want them to take excellent care of themselves—have good health and well-being.

    If your child is an emotional eater, it’s not about getting them help with food, it’s about getting them help with emotions.

    High Points of Real Talk:

    Parents don’t always see the potential in the teen generation, so we try to tame them rather than unleash them.

    We can get stuck focusing on all the things that are going wrong and this negatively impacts our relationship with our child.

    The more we try to control the outcome, the more teens shut down and pull away. When we share a goal, give them control and let their creative flags fly, teens will get energized, take the reins and run with it.

    There is so much potential that we don’t tap into because we think we know better since we have more life experience. Sometimes, the better way is to not have any boundaries or preconceived notions, and that’s where teens shine.

    When our role is one of guide and mentor it lets our kids shine and improves our relationship with our teen.

    Our Guest Expert On Emotional Eating:

    Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW is an international, award-winning author of seven books on eating, weight and body image, a psychotherapist with 30-plus years of experience, a health educator, and a popular blogger. Her expertise is in eating psychology—the why and how, not the what, of it—and helping chronic dieters, emotional, binge, and over-eaters become “normal” eaters. She lives and practices in Sarasota, Florida.