The S-Talk: Sugar, Teenagers, and Emotional Eating

I have many a time reached for something sweet when I felt overwhelming waves of emotion. I’m significantly better about not reaching for a Reese’s peanut butter cups or a two-serving brownie frosted with caramel and chocolate because something has distressed me or I don’t feel good. It hasn’t been easy to overcome a lifetime of emotional eating, but I’ve made some darn good progress. Now, as a foster parent, I’m trying to teach my kiddos some of what I’ve learned.

I believe whole heartedly in sweet treats and recently confessed to be obsessed with cake, but I believe in planned treats and sweets in moderation. When we first got teenage foster kiddos, we agreed to get one junk food-ish item a week; we don’t want kiddos to feel deprived especially since we’re already a TV free and vegetarian home. We also sometimes speak to each other in Latin. Talk about culture shock! We felt like the least we could do was to allow some Doritos.

Purchasing junk food on a regular basis has been difficult for me. I cringe when I see some of the things that they’ve put in the cart and then been horrified at how quickly those unsavory items can disappear. One of my kiddos in particular struggles to moderate her eating, and even though we have mostly healthy foods, she’s managed to gain over ten pounds in the two months she’s been here. We’ve talked about healthy food choices and portion sizes (she once ate a pound of strawberries in a day and still refuses to believe you can eat too much of even healthy foods), but we haven’t made a lot of headway. She is an emotional eater too, and she’s been struggling with the changes in her life and trying to cope by feeding her feels.

After we caught her getting up in the middle of the night to demolish some Oreos after a particularly bad evening, I decided it was time to have the “S-Talk” with her… using visuals. No amount of talking about sugar quantities or about why too much sugar is bad for you has done the trick. So, while the kiddos were at school, I measured out the quantity of sugar in a serving of her Oreos, which is only two Oreos. Who eats only two Oreos? Really? A single serving of Oreos has 13 grams of sugar, which is 3 ¼ teaspoons. I put two Oreos on a plate and measured out the sugar in a pile next to it. Then, I measured out the amount of sugar in an entire package of her Oreos and put it in a bowl too because she has in the past eaten an entire package of Oreos in a 24-hour time span.

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When the kiddo came home, I showed her the visuals of the sugar in both the serving and package of Oreos. I told her some about how I’d struggled with emotional eating because I would be upset and try to “eat my feelz,” much like she does. I told her that it didn’t help me because I would end up just feeling worse because my problems hadn’t gone away but then I’d gained weight and felt worse about that. Overeating and eating comfort foods, like brownies or candy, only made me feel worse, and then I told her I guessed it made her feel worse too. She didn’t say much in response, but the slight nod of her head at that instance signified a moment of awareness. That awareness may not immediately result in change, but hopefully we can make some progress together in dealing not only with her attitude toward food but also with her feelz. If anyone had a reason to want to eat because of overwhelming emotions resulting from experiences most of us can’t imagine, then it would be a teenage girl in foster care desperately missing home.

Although our second kiddo doesn’t have a problem with emotional eating, we thought it would be a good idea for her to get the S-Talk too. She listened to the S-Talk and was as horrified as I was by the amount of sugar in Oreos. I mean, the cookies are essentially the same size as the pile of sugar. Our second kiddo was more demonstrative about her shock in the quantities of sugar and her repulsion by it (“I’m never eating Oreos again!” Ha!), so I think I at least made a point with her that I haven’t quite successfully made with our first kiddo yet. Baby steps.

We decided to no longer purchase junk food at the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean I stopped believing in occasional treats in moderation. After all, I have a spicy hot chocolate cake baking in the oven right now that I’ve been planning to bake and eat for a week and a half!

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