4 Overlooked Reasons Kids (and Adults!) Seek and Eat Food Without Being Hungry

boredom distraction emotional eating family growth habits hunger kids Dec 17, 2021
Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD
4 Overlooked Reasons Kids (and Adults!) Seek and Eat Food Without Being Hungry

Previously, we talked about Hunger & Kids. To recap:

  • Hunger is normal.
  • When we have increased fuel requirements, like when kids are going through a growth spurt, they will have hunger spurts too.
  • Hunger is not an emergency, nor anything to worry about.
  • EATING solves the "problem" of hunger.

Empty fuel tank (stomach) 

         ➡️  hunger signals sent

                    ➡️  non-emergent message received to start looking for refueling opportunity

                                  ➡️  eat food  🍪 🥕 🥜  🥡 

                                                 ➡️  😋 not hungry 😋

It sounds so straightforward: Eat when you're hungry. Don't if you're not.

But in real life, it's not so straightforward. You may have noticed that kids say that they are hungry a lot. Sometimes it's because of a growth spurt. And other times it's because it's a Tuesday. At 4:30 and 5:30. And 7:30. In the morning!!

Today, we will focus on 4 Overlooked Reasons Kids (and Adults!) Seek and Eat Food Without Being Hungry

1) Boredom

"Mom, I'm boooored!" Yeah, that soundtrack is broken around here from playing it so much. Boredom is experienced when there is a decreased stimulation or looking for something to do. A lot of times we look to food to "fix" boredom. Eating becomes the thing that we do (notice how it's not because of hunger).

2) Environmental associations 

When I watch a movie, think about eating popcorn, even when there is no hunger at all. I buy the popcorn or make it because my brain is making an association between catching the latest installment in the Marvel Comic Universe and mindlessly crunching on popcorn.

The same phenomenon has been witnessed during the pandemic, which I call the "Pantry Pass." Working and studying from home meant that there was a lot more time passing by the pantry, and a tendency to look in the pantry when passing by, you know, to see what was new in there. It wasn't hunger, it was the walking by that led to looking for food.

3) Comfort 

Food is FANTASTIC at comforting. We've all used it. In face, I use it in the doctor's office all the time: the classic popsicle after a COVID swab or other procedure. Food is used to comfort all sorts of emotions, like fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness... This goes hand-in-hand with stress or emotional eating -- ultimately we are trying to avoid a feeling - and turn to food for comfort. The comfort of food distracts us from the discomfort of the emotion.

4) Bonding 

Communion and social eating. Are you eating because others are eating? Notice how often this happens. This type of eating occurs as regularly as family meals, or during special occasions like parties if there is no hunger.

OMG. I've seen that. Now what?

The opportunity now is to OBSERVE for your own body. What is going on when you go to eat? Become aware -- do you have the grumblies in the tummy of hunger, or frustration after a long day? What associations do you see when you're eating? What happens in social settings?

We get to observe this for ourselves FIRST.

Then we can see what emerges before trying to make ANY change in the family. 

Do not observe your kids and then start telling them they're not hungry.

Not.your.job. No one can truly tell when someone else is hungry or not. I'll tell you one thing that won't end well: telling someone not to eat because they aren't hungry. No one has ever said, "Wow, you're so right, thank you, I'll put down the fork." Man, I'd stick that food in my mouth to spite that person.

Right now is a time for you to learn about yourself, your hunger and your eating cues. Become aware of your own patterns so you will be even more practiced at observing & understanding in the family.

Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!

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