How to Help Your Teen Stop Overeating WITHOUT Giving Up Their Favorite Foods

Does your teen eat ALL the time?

Eating food to soothe yourself is a pretty common practice and considered socially acceptable by many. One time my then preteen daughter said she couldn’t wait to break up with a boyfriend so that she would have a reason to eat an entire pint of ice cream just like the characters on her favorite shows. As a health coach and mother, I was not thrilled that my daughter viewed soothing a stressful situation with overeating as a life experience she couldn’t wait to have.

The unfortunate reality is that eating sugary and high carb food does actually make us feel better. When we eat something like ice cream or a bag of chips, our brains become flooded with dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. If your teen eats ice cream when they are sad, it WILL make them feel better for a little while. However, the effects are temporary, and a teen who soothes stress by eating will eventually have the additional stress of unwanted manifestations like extra weight or a weakened immune system. The teen gets stuck in the Chronic Stress Loop, and they need to develop a healthier replacement habit to help themselves break free. Luckily, I have a 2 step strategy to help your teen stop overeating without giving up their favorite foods.

Step 1: Determine the Source of the Hunger

The best strategy to help your teen stop overeating is to help them to develop a mindful eating practice. Mindful eating is when your teen takes the time to determine if their desire to eat is coming from their mind, heart or stomach.

If a craving is coming from your teen’s mind, then they will start to justify why it is okay to eat something. It was a really stressful day, so I deserve __________.

If it is coming from your teen’s heart, they are eating out of nostalgia. I always get cotton candy at the fair.

If it is coming from their stomach, then they will have signals like a grumbly stomach. This might seem obvious, but many teens don’t take hunger into consideration when making choices about what or when to eat. They eat because it is lunch time or because someone just offered them a cookie.

Step 2: Take a Moment

If your teen isn’t quite sure if they are REALLY hungry, then have them try one of the strategies below. This way they have a different action to take rather than eating.

Brush Teeth

When your teen brushes their teeth, the food won’t taste good for a while. This gives your teen time to determine if they are actually hungry. If your teen is still hungry when the mint flavor fades, then they are truly hungry and should eat.

Drink a Glass of Water

Many teens don’t drink a lot of water, and their bodies confuse thirst and hunger signals. Thirst is experienced at 4% dehydration while hunger is activated at 2% dehydration. If your teen feels hungry, they might actually be thirsty. Your teen should drink 8 oz of water, wait 15 minutes and if still hungry then they should eat.

5–5–7 Breath

The 5–5–7 breath helps your teen slow down and tune into their body. Your teen should breathe in for the count of five, hold their breath for the count of five and exhale for the count of seven. They should do three rounds. This breath floods the brain with oxygen stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which tells the body it is safe to relax. Once in a relaxed state, your teen will be better able to assess their true hunger.

Helping your teen learn how to eat only when they are hungry is a valuable life skill. However, when stress arises in your teen’s life (and it will), they need to have a go-to strategy that soothes their stress, so they can manage expectations better, experience more success and be happy and healthy in school and beyond. To help your teen find the perfect tool for their life, grab a copy of my Top 5 Strategies to Lower Stress Instantly here.

Originally published at on March 30, 2018.