Often when that happens to children they grow up seeing food as a form of perk, a gift to themselves for being good. They feel they get their ‘just desserts’.
Food can also be used to soothe; so when a child falls over or is hurt in some way, or if there are family conflicts, food can be used as a plaster, like “You hurt your knee so have an ice cream.” The child could very well have a lovely hug and kiss but ice cream or any food is deemed necessary to console them instead or as well as.
In the old days food wasn’t available as recreation, people worked for it and were hungry for it, it was functional, but still nice! Now we have food in abundance, absolutely everywhere, and food has taken on a meaning that’s way way beyond fuel.
So it’s not hard to see why so many adults nowadays turn to food in times of celebration or grief and all levels of those two things in-between. They might have a nice conversation with a friend and think “Ooh that went well, I deserve some biscuits.”
Conversely someone might make a negative remark towards them and they think “I need soothing, I deserve some biscuits.”
The food is often the less healthy stuff because that tends to be what was given as a reward when they were children. I notice this quite a bit in people who practise reward eating when they refer to sweets as ‘sweeties’, an absolute throwback to childhood.
What to do then
Noticing it is the first step; acknowledging that you use food as reward.
After that it’s a case of finding other types of reward or consolation and changing that automated response of reaching for a piece of cake or some ice cream or toast or crisps, or whatever.
Or it could be a case of trying to break the expectation of a reward for things that just happen on a daily’ish basis. Realising that it’s not out of the ordinary to do or feel certain things and they don’t need any sort of action. Alternatively you could directly address the issue if it’s a negative one rather than addressing it by overeating, it might not be the easy route but in the long run it’s the healthier.