Remember when your parents rewarded you with a treat after you ate your veggies at dinner? Or maybe they only permitted you to order a pizza when you got a good grade or when a boy broke your heart. Well, according to a new study conducted by a group of English researchers, these “overly controlling” feeding practices could have subconsciously taught you to rely on food as a coping mechanism. And in case you weren’t certain, that’s not a good thing. According to the study, controlling feeding practices can cause emotional eating later in life, making it all the more difficult to maintain and lose weight as an adult.
To come to this finding, the researchers followed a group of three and four-year-old children (along with their parents) and watched them eat. They then followed up with the same children when they were between the ages of five and seven to see if they were more likely to turn to snacks or toys when they were mildly stressed. They discovered that the children whose parents had used food as a reward or as a means to cheer them up earlier in the study were far more likely to turn to food as a coping mechanism.
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“The evidence from our initial research shows that [when we reward or console children with food], we may be teaching [them] to use food to cope with their different emotions and in turn unintentionally teaching them to emotionally eat later in life,” lead researcher Dr. Claire Farrow noted in a statement. The bottom line: Adults who were given food as rewards when they were children are much more likely to “eat their feelings.” Old habits die hard.
Why is this bad news for your health and waistline? People who emotionally eat aren’t usually reaching for cucumber slices or apples. They tend to turn to foods that are high in calories and fat a.k.a, the same goodies and sweets that parents often reserve as rewards for their children. To break free of this bad habit, consider this: Previous research shows that although “comfort foods,” taste better when you’re sad or stressed, they don’t actually help you feel any better. So next time you have a bad day at the office or a major blowout with your significant other, step away from the cookie jar. Instead, stay in line with your better-body goals and use different strategies to get out of your slump. Go for a run, text a friend, or try these Natural Cures for Depression, Stress, and Bad Mood, all of which have been shown to banish the blues.