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Impact of Past Food Insecurity

Posted by on Mar 28, 2020 in Blog Posts |

I’m hearing from foster care providers and adoptive parents. This highly anxious time, the disruption of routine, missing friends etc. is not surprisingly leading to increased food-seeking behaviors and anxieties, and a resurfacing of trauma. Perhaps a child is only a few weeks out from living in a food-insecure home, or they may have a decade or more of regular, reliable and filling meals behind them with a secure attachment. One mother wrote to ask about her teen who was adopted several years ago from a situation with severe neglect and food insecurity to the point of significant growth delay. Her daughter’s anxiety and food-seeking are spiking now, even after thousands of meals showing up like clockwork.

A history of neglect, food insecurity, dieting, or being restricted as a child can lead to anxieties and challenges into adulthood. If you or your children are experiencing increased anxiety and focus on food for any reason – bare shelves at the stores, media images around those bare shelves, or you’re having trouble accessing enough or your usual foods, I’m so very sorry you are going through this. I’ll share a few ideas specifically in this scenario for the mother of the teen, but that may help others:

  • Reassure her that her reactions are expected and common in times of increased stress and real (or even the hint of) food insecurity.
  • Stock up (not buy out the store of a 6 month supply) if you can on staples, on high energy foods, on her favorites.
  • Expect her to eat more, to look for food between meal and snack times, to favor her “comfort” foods. To eat when she’s bored. Try not to shame or blame when she does.
  • Ask her what might be helpful. Perhaps a granola bar on her night-table may help her know if she wakes up that she can eat. See how that goes.
  • Consider moving meals and snacks a bit closer together for a while. Try not to miss those times. Consider posting a schedule with times for eating and stick to it.
  • Consider offering her control when possible: baking, helping with menu planning, asking her for a few options for acceptable crackers or cereals, just in case they are out of his usual.
  • Don’t worry about vegetables for now. Focus on full bellies.
  • Touch base with her therapist if you have one. She may also be eating more as a means of self-soothing. This is not a bad thing. Recognize that food can give comfort and is one means of coping in this scary time. If she has other coping skills, include those into the daily routine.
  • Listen to her fears and concerns, or just the Tik Tok video she loves. She may not connect any of this in her rational/thinking brain to early food insecurity and that’s okay too. Expect her to “regress” a bit, or seek out more connection. Or, she might need time alone or with her friends online.
  • Include fun movement or walks, dancing, yoga if you can. Maybe some mediation apps or other tools you have for addressing the anxiety. Limit evening screen times if you can and focus on good sleep habits.
  • Don’t focus on weight or worry or comment about your or anyone else’s weight changes during this time.

Seek help if things worsen or you continue to have concerns.

And most of all, be kind to yourself and your daughter as you get through this. Remind her that she’s strong, you’re strong. You got through so much already, you will get through this too!

For more, check out my book, Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parents’ Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More

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