Speaking about the connection of mental illness and weight gain could be a unique subject for many. We reached out to Eliza Kingsford, the Executive Director of Wellspring Camps to share her expertise in this area and offer solutions for those who need help and support.
May is recognized as Mental Health month, a time when we focus on mental health disorders and their effects on individuals and families. Wellspring Camps believes that the connection between obesity and mental health is strong and cannot be ignored, especially as childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the CDC.
Recognizing the Signs of a Bigger Issue – Current research is pointing towards food having a larger impact on our brain and our behavior than we had originally thought. The concept of “food addiction” is gaining traction in mainstream society as more and more research emerges about its validity. Some signs that your child might be struggling with a food addiction are:
• Shameful, anxious or depressive feelings after eating
• Reporting an “inability” to stop eating certain foods
• Eating beyond the point of feeling full
• Avoiding social or normal situations (school, work, friends) because of feelings towards food
• Feelings of “withdrawal” when trying to cut back on certain foods (agitation, depression, anxiety)
Your child may not be suffering from food addiction, but may still have emotional disruption around food. Food can be a source of comfort for someone who is struggling to deal with other issues. It can act as a numbing agent, allowing the individual a reprieve from what they are dealing with.
This can be a conscious or a subconscious act, depending on the emotional awareness of the child. Here are some signs that your child might be struggling with a deeper emotional issue.
• Sneaking or hiding food
• Eating purposefully while no one is around (at night or when no one is home so they can consume without being watched or judged)
• Consuming large amounts of food that would be considerably more than someone would normally eat in one sitting
• Reporting an inability to stop eating certain foods.
How to help as a Parent
Parents are the best resource for helping kids change their relationship with food. Parents provide most of the meals at a young age and can monitor food habits at home. It is important to watch your language as a parent. The wrong words can be infectious and impact a child’s mental health.
Rather than imply that your child needs to go on a diet or cut back, try using phrases like “our family is eating healthier” or “we’re going to eat more nutritiously together.” Speaking as a family unit and focusing on the positive will be better for the child’s overall mental health.
Make healthy choices enjoyable!
Healthy doesn’t mean boring. Keeping little extras like all natural peanut butter, dried fruit, and ricotta cheese at home will make eating fruits and veggies a lot more appealing.
Be aware of sneaky calories.
Try and eliminate soda entirely. Cutting back on sugar-heavy fruit juices and whole milk is also a good idea. As an alternative, try introducing skim milk and soda water with fresh fruit cut up (strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, lemon or orange).
Let your kids help prepare healthy options!
Making hummus, zoodles, and homemade whole wheat bread are easy and fun activities that your kids will enjoy. If they feel like they are part of the process, they may be more likely to eat their creations later on.