Healing the Psychological Causes of Childhood Obesity

Many people jump to an obvious, and often wrong, conclusion when they see a child who is obese.

“The parents are letting those kids eat anything they want. Those parents must be lazy.”

“A little self discipline is all those kids need. If that kid would just quit eating so much.”

However, for many kids the cause of obesity may go much deeper. Childhood obesity can be a physical manifestation of a psychological trauma and what that child needs is help handling their emotions. When the healing begins, a new healthy life can begin as well. First, adults need to understand the emotional causes of childhood obesity.

Childhood Traumas Can Cause Obesity

There is no such thing as a perfect family. We all do what we can for our children but the situation may be less than ideal. Changes in the home not only affect the parents, but also the kids.


One stress in the house may be divorce. It literally turns a child’s world upside down. If the parents are constantly fighting for the child’s affections, that can be even more damaging. Many children turn to food as a form of rebellion as well as comfort when they can’t seem to get it anywhere else. Eating comfort foods releases those same feel good endorphins that exercise does, but the reality is that children will turn to food first because it’s easier.


Children are also affected by abuse. It can be sexual, physical, or verbal. Children are looking for acceptance, and when that comes in the form of hurt from those who are supposed to love them, it can confuse a child and destroy their self worth. Food is often a substitute for love and a hiding place from the abuse they can’t stop.

Traumatic injury or accidents

Trauma suffered in childhood can also lead to childhood obesity. Living through stressful situations beyond your control like a devastating hurricane, earthquake, tornado, flood, fire, war, or a terrible accident can bring on post-traumatic stress. Children can become withdrawn and prone to unhealthy behaviors like drugs, alcohol, and stress-induced eating. In this situation, food can become a coping mechanism that leads to another unhealthy problem — obesity.

End Obesity Through Emotional Healing

Children who experience psychological changes in their lives need an outlet for their pain as well as avenues for healing. One solution is therapy. When a family is going through divorce, a therapist can help all parties involved deal with their own feelings, as well as those of the other family members. Kids have a chance to vent and also to understand that the divorce has nothing to do with them.

In cases of abuse whether by a family member or an outsider, healing is crucial. A child needs guidance in how to process their feelings, as well as acceptance and understanding from their family. Eating disorders are commonplace in children of abuse. Therapy can give a child who finds solace in food a healthier way to communicate and deal with his or her pain.

When an injury or accident occurs in a child’s life they can be left to feel helpless. The ingestion of food is one thing they can control. Proper psychological help is crucial in this instance as this could become a lifelong preoccupation with controlling the world through means as futile as what they eat. Besides the control, the whole endorphin through eating comes into play once again, setting children up for a vicious cycle of eating for comfort, then eating to hide from their feelings about being obese.

Obese children are often hiding a deep, psychological pain. Learning to cope constructively with feelings not only produces emotionally well adjusted children, but physically fit children, too. Look beyond the sugary treats if you love a child who is obese and help them find the pain behind the problem.

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