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Why Adolescents Are Overeating

This podcast series, Connecting the Dots, is about awareness and trying to find out why adolescents are overeating in the first place.

We find that there are three main reasons or triggers that are at the root of why adolescents are overeating. Bear in mind, overeating is but one of the escape or safety valves that adolescents may turn to.

In today’s podcast we will deal with the first trigger and that is Body Image / Self Esteem and the Influence of Social Media.

We need to be very real about what is happening to our young people and how challenging the environment is for them to be growing up in.

Adolescents are growing up in a world of social media and can only see one world. The parents grew up prior to this super connected, always-on world, so they can see two worlds. Parents can call this the online world or the internet world but for the adolescents it simply is the world.

Body image is hugely impactful on your people’s lives. This manifests itself in two ways: How they see themselves and what they think of themselves when they see themselves in their world.

You are not alone.

The culture in which adolescents are growing up is a pressurised and instantaneous one. So, pretty much everything that see thy can get their hands on pretty quickly. There is a keen competitiveness attached to that – FOMO.

Parents have inadvertently added to this. If you’re like me, you are coming from a generation that grew up knowing what it’s like to have to do without. We naturally want the best for our kids – there is a genuine goodness and kindness behind it but as a consequence, we are adding to the pressure.

Also, incorrectly, we used to think that body image was exclusively a female issue but it’s very different now and body image is a significant issue for boys. The pressures of what they look like or should look like is incredibly difficult to deal with and manage.

As parents, rather than managing or criticising that culture, we need to understand it.

‘Culture’ is used to encapsulate the world of the adolescent. Their world. Culture today is ever-on, it has no down time. From a generational aspect, say 30 years ago, you had to go out of your way (that is, get off your backside) to find information on any given subject, be it to your library, newsagent or to borrow a book or magazine from a friend.

Today, that search and discover cycle is shortened to an on-demand model with an over-supply of near perfect bodies and superstar lives.

Mobile phone usage is not an adolescent issue – it is a household issue. There are various levels of addiction but a basic level, many teenagers are addicted to their phones. Protracted absence from the phone, in most instances, leads to an inability to think straight other than to get the device back.

As parents, we have to role-model this. So, the big question for parents – when and how often do you use your mobile phone at home in front of the family?

You are not alone.

This leads on to the concept of the numbing effect. Th numbing effect originally came from watching TV. You simply zoned out or got engaged in something that was showing on the TV, resulting in a numbing effect. Remember, 30/40 years ago, many households had one TV with only 1 or 2 channels).

But with mobile phones, the numbing effect has an impact on the central nervous system. This is due to the back light on the mobile or tablet device screen. This back light leads to an over production of cortisone which leads to increased stress levels. Our serotonin levels also drop and to counteract the stress and the lowered serotonin levels, we look to paths of least resistance which leads to coping strategies, and one of them is……..eating.

For adolescents this is a problem. As mentioned previously, the adolescent brain is still developing and it does not have the ability to rationalise what is happening. Your response is purely an emotional one. This response, given what we know is correct and proper and this needs to be understood by both parent and adolescent. Therefore, having a grasp of the mobile phone issue by both parent and adolescent will go some way to discovering and understanding why adolescents are overeating.

I’ve already told you that you will continue to develop your central nervous system until the age of 25 (and beyond in some instances.) The rational part of the brain is a slow developer – that’s human biology at play.

Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Adolescents process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.


As I close, and I hope you take this on board, the Connecting the Dots refrain:

You are not alone.

It is so important to remind both parent and adolescent that your journey is shared by many other families – both Motivation and Zest Life are here to provide support and assistance.

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