“I don’t even worry about her weight much, but her food obsession scares me to death. I struggled with an eating disorder, and I feel like the only thing she thinks about is when and how much she will eat.” – Alexis, mom to Greta age 2 1/2
Most parents of children who are preoccupied with food know there is a problem. Parents often rate their stress around food and their child as “11 out of 10.”
The word parents use most often is food “obsession.” I prefer “food preoccupation” so as not to confuse the heightened interest, awareness and anxiety around food with the more clinical obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In addition, the word “obsession” has a more negative and blaming tone, while preoccupation invites empathy and understanding.
Your child’s interest in food is excessive if it takes time and attention from other activities, to the detriment of your child’s social or emotional development.
Max’s mom (from Part 1): We never play. He’s always pestering for food. If my husband is cooking, he’s right there, crying and pitching a fit. He even kicks and hits when he gets really mad if we don’t give him food.
Your child’s interest in food is excessive if dealing with it takes intense energy and effort on your part, is upsetting or causes conflict and frustration.
“…we’ve tried to control portions, push protein and veggies, tell him to eat slow, tell him about being healthy and eating healthy foods, to chew and enjoy food. We’ve seen a dietitian who recommended portion control and making him eat vegetables first, and talking about red-light and green-light foods, but that led to huge fits. He eats really fast— just inhales food then tries to get more. He’s always trying to get more.” (Part 1)
The following are signs that your child may be preoccupied with food:
- He regularly eats rapidly, gobbles and stuffs food.
- It takes effort to get her away from the meal or highchair: games, TV, and other distractions.
- You bribe with a favored food to get him to leave a meal.
- She is frantic, clingy during meal prep or around food.
- At playgrounds/parties, he is more interested in eating than playing. He eats, whines, or cries to eat the whole time.
- She exhibits high emotion around meals, whining and crying while waiting, negotiating and begging for food.
- You feel like a “food cop”, not a parents, going to elaborate lengths to try to get your child to eat less: other children are fed at different time, you are not allowed to mention food or eat in front of her, you plan outings based on where you can best manage her eating.
The occasional pestering for sweets or for food while you are cooking is age appropriate. The difference is when your child’s interest in food gets in the way of being a kid.
If you have dealt with food preoccupation, or you’ve healed from your own excessive focus and interest in food, what have you learned? What has helped, what hasn’t?
If you would like to join a new private facebook group for parents (moderated to be a safe space), send a “friend” request to Bonnie Appetites (little girl with pony tails) and you will be invited to join.
Stay tuned for parts 3, 4 and 5…
Parts of this post are excerpted and adapted from my book, Love Me, Feed Me