Q&A: How to Help Children With Overeating Habits

An Interview with Cecillia Sun, Registered Dietitian (RD)

Interview by Tao Wang, FCSN Voices Reporter

Graphics by Megan Kellogg, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist

FCSN Voices has recently initiated a series of interviews with Cecillia Sun, Registered Dietitian (RD), on the important topics related to nutrition for children with special needs. In this interview, Cecilia addresses parents’ concerns regarding children (aged 13 and over) who have a habit of overeating.  

How can parents determine if their child has an overeating problem?

If a parent is not sure whether or not a child is overeating, the first step a parent can do is to create a food journal. The purpose of a food journal is to record the child’s daily food/fluid consumption. Review and discuss the food journal with the child’s primary care provider during the child’s wellness visit. Ask the child’s primary care provider about a child’s Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is one of the subjective assessment tools to help identify if a child is within his/her normal weight range. A child’s BMI can be classified as healthy weight, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. If the BMI indicates a child is overweight or obese due to overeating, the doctor may refer the parent/child to work with a registered dietitian for weight control. Parents may also consider working with a behavioral therapist if needed.  

A parent may also refer to Dietary Guidelines for Americans for adolescents who are 13 years old or older. The guidelines provide recommended calorie level, food group/subgroups, numbers of servings, and portion sizes for each food group. The recommended caloric level per day is based on age, gender, height, weight, BMI and physical activities. If a child is eating excessively more than the recommended amount of foods from any food groups, it may indicate a child is overeating.

What are some common reasons behind overeating?

Some reasons may include but not limited to the following:

  • Compulsive behavior 
  • Missed scheduled meals and snack time 
  • Medication – side effect may be “increased appetite”

What are the potential health risks from overeating habits? 

Potential health risks from overeating include the following: 

  • Obesity/morbid obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hip and joints problems

Portion control is a key factor in managing overeating habits. What are some easy ways to manage portion control?

There are ways to manage portion control. For example, I like the MyPlate method to manage portion size. The MyPlate Plan shows your food group. The plan is based on gender, age, height, weight, and physical activity. Download the app from MyPlate.org. You can also consider using “Healthy Eating Pyramid” which is a guide for healthy grocery shopping.

What is your advice on how to help children to curb his/her overeating?

There are multiple things that parents and children can do to curb overeating.

  • Achieve a healthy lifestyle – encourage a child to do more physical activity every day. 
  • Adequate sleep – sleep deprivation may increase hunger sensation
  • Schedule routine meals and snack time
  • Maintain good hydration by drinking water everyday 
  • Limit easy access to foods and snacks by putting foods high up in a food pantry
  • Avoid / limit buying high calorie, high sugary foods and beverages home
  • Involve the child in cooking if the child is age appropriate
  • Serve meals on a smaller plate
  • Serve low sodium soup as an appetizer before serving entrée
  • Create a quiet and relaxed eating environment 
  • Encourage the child to chew foods slowly

Cecillia has been a RD for over 30 years, working in various medical fields and institutions. She has been a clinical dietitian in the Cardiac Rehab, ICU/ CCU, Obstetric/Pediatric, and surgical/oncology departments of various hospitals. She has assisted bariatric physicians, doctors who specialize in helping patients lose weight with surgical intervention. She was a dietitian consultant for Regional Center of East Bay (RCEB). Currently Cecillia is a level 3 renal dietitian at Davita Dialysis Center. Cecillia received her B.S. degree from University of Georgia and her M.S. degree in Nutrition Science from the University of New Haven. 

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