How can I help my daughter stop emotional eating without making it worse?
MOLLY: This came from a reader from California. She added that her daughter is a teenager and when she brings it up for conversation it seems to make things worse.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): This can be a very difficult area to address.
What I would probably do first is talk to the child about what’s going on emotionally in her life without connecting it to the eating because usually kids can get quite defensive about behaviors like this. This is a time to tread carefully. I would try to assess what might be going on in the child’s life that is distressing for her and driving her to seek solace in food.
MOLLY: Should she take her kid to see a therapist?
MOM: Well, it depends if her parents can help her reduce her stress with some coping strategies so that she naturally becomes less dependent on food to feel better about herself. If the root is low self-esteem, finding ways to improve her self-image will help. If it’s severe enough that there’s a significant weight gain or weight loss, or if the child begins to hurt herself by cutting on herself –those things often go together– then absolutely the child should see someone.
MOLLY: What could be the long-term consequences?
MOM: Well, it’s hard to predict. What we don’t know is if the emotional issue is long-term or if it’s a temporary one that will pass on its own. The longer it goes on the more impact it will have. Often we see that when such a kid becomes an adult and has some stress in her life she’s likely to revert back to that eating pattern.
MOLLY: So you want to break the pattern.
MOM: Right, you want to break the pattern of linking food with emotions. And, it’s not an easy job.