hungry tummy or hungry feelings?
How many of us stand at the refrigerator door scouring its contents for something—anything—to eat, even when we're not all that hungry? Friend of Ricki Ava Parnass says there's a difference between hungry tummies and hungry feelings, something adults and kids alike are known to confuse. Her guest post teaches us the difference, and how we can build a healthier relationship with food and mood.
Friend of Ricki Ava Parnass: It may come as a surprise to most parents that kid’s feelings, not just their tummies, can get hungry. Kids’ day-to-day upsets and unexpressed feelings can lead to overeating, but food can never truly satisfy a deeper emotional hunger. Here are some ways to tackle the real source of the problem.
Since most kids are not adept at identifying or expressing their feelings in language — only in outward behavior — they need to learn how to effectively express what’s wrong. The more parents learn to recognize children’s behavior as “disguised feelings” and bring those buried feelings to awareness, the more improvement will occur in the overeating behavior. Your kids may already be giving you clues about what upsets them, most of which have nothing to do with food at all.
You can help your child recognize this Food-Mood Connection by teaching them the difference between physical and emotional hunger. We teach our children to walk, talk and read. If in addition to those skills we also show them how to recognize and fully express their underlying feelings, they won’t need to medicate their emotional needs with food.
If you notice your child is overweight or overeats frequently, here are 5 areas to consider in a Food-Mood Makeover. The acronym P.L.E.A.S.E.makes them easy to remember.
• P is for Play:Play together more, including role-playing and imaginitive games.
• L is for Love:Spend more quality time together. Children may appear to tolerate a parent who is unavailable, overworked or distracted, but they often medicate those difficult feelings with food.
• E is for Emotions:Educate yourself and your family by consulting with an expert on hidden feelings. There are many resources and activities that can help improve emotional literacy. Remember, healthy feelings lead to healthy eating.
• A is for Activity:Be more active every day, increasing the amount of exercise your child gets.
• S is for Silence:Listen more, talk less, pay attention to your child’s clues, and be in the moment. When you speak, keep it positive by demonstrating new skills instead of resorting to punishment and control.
• E is for Eat Healthy: Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous are great places to start learning healthy eating habits.
The Food-Mood Makeover: Improving Your Responses
Here are some typical parent-child conversations, and better choices you can start to make:
“Mom, can I have a snack?“
“No, you just had one.”
“Your clothes are already too tight.”
“Your tummy’s getting big.”
“I said NO, stop eating!”
“I notice that you’re really hungry and asking for a lot of snacks lately. I think your feelings are hungry, not your tummy. Is something bothering you? What’s on your mind?
“That’s crazy! Nothings bothering me, I’m just HUNGRY!”
“I know it’s hard to tell the difference between a hungry tummy and hungry feelings, but we’re going to start a new routine in our family. So, is there something you really need? Maybe more hugs, or spending more time together? Did your feelings get hurt today? Did a teacher or a friend say something that upset you?”
“No, nothing’s wrong, nothing happened! I want a snack now… I’m starving!“
“Okay, in a little while. But let’s try something new first.”
At this point, give your child some choices as to what might be wrong, or what they might be feeling. Most emotional upsets result from a series of events.
Even if introducing the idea of the Food-Mood Connection is as far as you get at first, at least you’ve started the conversation about the relationship between perceived hunger and emotional states such as sadness, hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration and fear.
Children always need to be given choices of possible feelings to help them learn to identify them. It’s like learning to read — no one learns a complex skill overnight. So practice and patience are the key.
Ava Parnass is an author, songwriter and child therapist who specializes in marrying entertainment and social-emotional literacy for kids. She helps kids and parents become “Behavior and Feelings Detectives“ so they can figure out the connection between hunger and disguised feelings. Her book and song,“My Feelings are Hungry” are available online. Connect with Ava on Facebook and Twitter.