And shaming kids or adults into losing weight does not work either, it only makes the eating go underground, in other words eating in secret. Shame also makes everyone feel badly about themselves inside and then the shame causes them to eat more.
Shaming and scaring people into not eating only has the opposite of the desired effect and does not work. What we need is a comprehensive program for families to learn new skills for healthy eating, healthy activity levels plus new emotional skills. So that instead of medicating feelings with food families learn to cope and handle painful feelings.
In the USA families are stuck in an endless loop of overeating, diet, exercise and trying to eat healthy. There is no end in sight for these families or hope for prevention, remission or a cure without an understanding of the hidden feelings leading to overeating.
Here is one families story that may sound familiar to all.
Rachel came to see me quite heartbroken and upset. Her daughter Laura, age 11, had come home from school crying that the kids called her fat, fat-so and lard face.
Laura said “Mom I’m so fat. I hate it.” Rachel told me that her response was, “Don’t worry, you’ll grow out of it. It’s baby fat.”
But Laura continued to complain, “I’m fat. I don’t like it. I hate myself.” Thinking it would help, Rachel then said, “Just go out and look for other people in the world like you‚ your size and become friends with them.” In other words, “Find fat friends.” And just embrace who you are as we all come in different shapes and sizes.
I could see in her eyes how much Rachel the (mom) cared about her daughter. She just didn’t know what to do, and had no clue that she was saying all the wrong things. My motto is, “What you dont know CAN hurt you, and your kids.”
First of all, most children don’t grow out of baby fat especially at age 11. I don’t even like to perpetuate that myth over the age of 2. Occasionally, a few lucky kids become taller and thinner in their teens, but if they don’t learn new healthy habits they will eat more and gain the weight back as they get older. For children, strict dieting is not a good idea. So how do we solve this?
In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a fantasy called being “struck sober,” in which the person suddenly stops drinking without undergoing the psychological process to understand why they drank. I liken this to the fantasy that overweight kids will miraculously outgrow their baby fat or adults can just diet and exercise themselves into a good weight.
If you don’t learn why you emotionally eat or drink, you will just develop another symptom either physical or emotional.
I also believe that helping Laura to embrace her size and learn to live with it is not the answer. Yes, people come in all shapes and sizes and we do need to accept that fact. But learning to live with being overweight and unhappy is not an acceptable outcome.
Campaigns for children’s self-esteem that say “embrace who you are” are really very important and can help children because we are all unique and we all come in different shapes and sizes. And it’s really important for parents and children to stop bullying themselves about how they look, (i.e) fight fat talk. But as a child and family psychotherapist with 20 years of experience and a specialty in the emotional issues of obesity, embracing being overweight is psychologically and clinically incorrect.
Embracing being overweight is doing a disservice to our country including the celebrities embracing their huge size. And the same goes for the tiny celebrities with the appearance of a perfect image, they are also sending the wrong message and doing a disservice to our children. We have hunger and we have obesity in our country, we need to find middle-of-the-road.
As a Child and Family Psychotherapist I view embracing obesity as really giving up and not looking into the childhood and adult reasons why people overeat. We can help ourselves and our children learn why we unconsciously make the food mood connection.
No one would ever say, “Oh you drink too much, just embrace it. Food is a substance that people use like a drug to medicate themselves. Overeating or not eating is driven by hidden feelings. Just like taking drugs and drinking too much alcohol is driven by hidden feelings that build up. Every pound is an unshed tear. Every craving has an underlying meaning, every time you control your intake of food it has hidden meaning, you just need to know where to begin to look.
You can see in the mom eyes she was really hurt for her daughter and really cared . But she made matters worse by how she handled it. She had an opportunity to help her daughter change. Her daughter expressed an unhappiness in how things are. In the therapy business we call that ego dystonic, which means the person is unhappy with how things are, this creates an opportunity for change. When things are ego syntonic that someone is not unhappy that they eat or drink too much. then at that point there is very little room for change.
I suggested Rachel say to her daughter “I am sorry that was so hurtful, I am sorry that happened, I am going to help you solve this.” You are a beautiful young lady and we can do this.
1:Our first step is we are going to stop all the negative fat talk and stop bullying ourselves about how we look .
2: Next we are going to start to walk and talk every day.
3: I/we will go to weight watchers and figure out how we as a family can eat healthier.
4: We can cut out soda and juice and junk food from the house.
5: Come talk with me to this feelings Dr. and we can figure out, what I can do differently and why our feelings are so hungry and we are overeating instead of processing our emotions and talking about things.
While it’s true that kids have too much fast food, too much homework and not enough recess or physical activity, these problems cannot be solved without dealing with the underlying emotional issues . Once a child/adult has made the food-mood connection,they will eat for any reason and it takes a lot of psychological work to undo the food-mood-behavior connection. The earlier we intervene with children the more success we will have. Figuring out underlying feelings and talking about them works “scared straight” didnt work in the 60’s “scared skinny” isnt going to work now!
More in depth details on how to teach your kids to process feelings to break the food-mood connection
In the book Parents begin to understand the meaning of their children’s behavior and their own and then develop new strategies.
Learn new skills to show your children that you have empathy for their feelings while teaching them new thoughts, new feelings, new words and new behaviors. These new skills will help your children thrive in today’s world instead of overeating, misbehaving and bullying themselves or others .
The book will also help parents assess their parenting skills and learn how to do an emotional parenting makeover.
Parenting behaviors and actions contribute to a child’s overeating, worries, acting out or misbehaving. For example excessive worrying, controlling or bossing your kids around constantly contribute to overeating. When parents are anxious or controlling or yell a lot children are not learning from you how to process their emotions well. Also consider how many times a day you tell your child to do or not to do something. Then think about how many times the teachers, baby-sitter or your partner does too. It’s very hard for children to thrive in that kind of toxic bossy anxious environment.
Do you bully yourself constantly berate yourself or put yourself down that you look ugly or fat? Your children hear you and copy you and put themselves down. Children do what we do, not what we tell them to do.
Are you an anxious parent? Children really can feel and catch a parent’s moods and anxiety. Anxiety and depression in adults can overwhelm children, leading to overeating and many other unwanted behaviors.
Learn to Tell the Difference Between Hunger and Hurt Feelings
You can start with the children’s book “My Feelings Are Hungry” children are taught to be detectives, discovering how their behavior and overeating is often a result of feelings that are beneath the level of awareness.
For more tips you can Download from Bookstore
24 Tips Healthy-Feelings=Healthy-Eating,My Feelings Are Hungry Written by Ava Parnass
The Feeling Town Map and Feeling States Maps can be found in the bookstore or at the end of the children’s version of “My Feelings Are Hungry” . The map offers a creative and fun activity for parents and kids to learn how to communicate hidden feelings. The three songs “Gotta Find Out” “My Feelings Are Hungry” and “My Good Mood” can be found here . The songs encourages kids to dance and sing along, and while they are at it, find out that the feelings they’re unaware of that can cause them to overeat and or misbehave.