Replace Depression Eating With Healthy Habits
If children are overeating to compensate for emotional issues, it's important to find their triggers for eating. "The biggest piece is, 'Can I figure out why I'm putting this food in my mouth?'" Weissman says. "'Do I eat when I'm stressed, tired, lonely, when something bad has happened?'" Then you can work together on finding alternatives. These strategies may help:
- Have your teen keep a journal. Recording triggers of sadness can make patterns of depression and eating clearer to you and your teen. After you recognize the triggers, help her find replacements for unhealthy eating in response to negative feelings.
- Talk to your child about school. If bad grades are behind feelings of self-loathing, consider tutoring, or talk to teachers about ways to help your child improve his or her performance. If your child is avoiding his crowd because of teasing or bullying, try to help him find more positive social circles or healthy ways cope.
- Get physical as a family. Activities that families can do together -- a walk after dinner, a game of hoops, a bike ride through the park -- are healthy ways to fight both depression and obesity.
Focus on Health, Not Appearance
Parents walk a thin line in addressing their child's weight issues, says David Ermer, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist for Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D. Criticizing your child over his weight and appearance "can go a long way to hurting self-esteem, so the concern should be about health, not image," Ermer says.
Remember that changing how you behave and think is hard work for children as well as adults, so it's important for family members to support each other. "Don't beat yourself up for setbacks," Ermer says. "The goal is to gradually move from bad habits to better habits."