Stress and Eating (cont.)

One of the best things parents can do is to set up regular meals where the family eats together. Make it a family event to help plan the menu and get children and teens involved in things like grocery shopping and cooking.

For instance when you take them to the grocery store, you can begin to introduce children to such things as too much sugar in a cereal, calcium, fat -- all in little doses. You're not telling them this is bad for you, or this is forbidden, because the first time someone tells any of us that we can't have a certain food our mind is automatically going to want that certain food.

In other words, in small packages begin to educate your child about nutrition and healthy amounts of food to eat. Don't restrict certain foods.

For example, one of the parents I saw with her child told me that she hid the sweets in her house so the children didn't have access to them, but in speaking to her little boy privately, he told me he often found her stash and would begin to sneak food.

In doing that, he would also get a little power surge that he was able to get one over on his mom. But also the more troubling aspect was he began to associate a wealth of emotions with eating that don't need to be attached to food.

Another good idea for parents is to make sure your children are moving. Get them outside to play and after that family dinner, let the dishes sit while the family goes on a walk. Not a power walk, just a relaxing walk, and if you want to, add skipping or a little bit of jogging. Even putting on a CD on a rainy day and dancing with the kids is something fun without pressure that will help them maintain a healthy weight.

MODERATOR: Many parents do not have a firm foundation of education about nutrition themselves. How do you advise parents who need to learn about preparing and eating healthy meals?

CRAWFORD-CLARK: There are numerous places, including WebMD, on the internet, where people can get an idea of what a healthy meal is. The Food Pyramid also provides ideas.

It doesn't mean that you need to strictly adhere to that every day; your family is going to have special needs, special events, that may interfere from time to time. But just getting a general idea of the amount of fruits and vegetables that make for a healthy meal would be your best bet.

Then you can develop a strategy of eating which includes healthy portions, and healthy portions is something many people have difficulty with. So occasionally it's helpful to measure out, for instance, a cup of vegetables or a cup of pasta, so your child and you can see if you're eating a healthy portion.

"The most important thing you can do is to throw away your shame and guilt."

CRAWFORD-CLARK: I think diets are like an abusive relationship. They make a lot of promises, and they often make you feel like you're a failure, because most diet companies imply that if the diet doesn't work it's your fault and not theirs.

Probably more importantly is that a diet by itself is not a magic wand. Many times people have started overeating for a purpose and they may not even realize when that process began.

I suggest everyone think back in their lives to consider what trauma and loss has occurred, because often that's where food issues begin. Things that most people don't even consider can be the anchor that keeps someone from keeping weight off or getting past a stuck point once they've started to lose.

Those things can include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Illnesses or accidents
  • A death
  • Divorce
  • Infertility
  • Financial strain
  • Feeling like you have to be perfect
  • Childhood bullying
  • Being labeled as different (such as a kid who has ADHD or learning disability)
  • Adoption

There's also what I call living in a fish bowl, and that applies to children and adults who are exposed more to judgments of others. And that would include people who have to have public personas, such as personalities, preachers' kids or spouses, and politicians. Even such a thing as having a handicap can make one feel like you're living in a fish bowl.

All of those things can contribute to a vast array of feelings including feeling powerless, alone in the world, betrayed, angry, not fitting in, rejected, abandoned, and the list goes on.

What happens is what I call a trauma bond. Something can occur today that triggers you to react with some of those same feelings -- core feelings -- that you had when the original loss or trauma took place. That can cause you to overreact emotionally; it can cause you to numb out or use food to get away from that flooding of feelings.

In that way, it's very important to understand when and where your weight problem began, so you can begin to untangle the residual effects of that over the years.

I can give you an example. One of my clients shared that after she got to work one day a friend called and cancelled movie plans with her that night. She immediately felt betrayed and rejected and wondered if something was wrong with her. What she did was head to the candy machine. She told me that as soon as she had that candy bar in her drawer at her desk that she felt safe.

Any time you find yourself using those words safe, in control, empowered, and you're talking about food, you know you're battling with an emotional issue too.

That same morning this woman's boss came by and asked her to correct a minor mistake. She immediately got flooded with feelings again, feeling not good enough and telling herself, I can't do anything right. It was at that time she began to think about what food she would stop to get on her way home from work.

By the end of the day, this woman stopped at a fast-food place, hid all those wrappers in the outside trash, made dinner and sat down with her family to eat.

That's an example of that trauma bond, where something in the past was causing her to overreact and overeat. In her case, she had been the victim of sexual abuse from her father and had had many of those feelings as a child. The relatively inconsequential things that happened to her that day sparked an overreaction that led her directly to food.

That's why it's so important that you tune into yourself as part of your journey to a healthy weight.

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