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Healing Food Preoccupation and Trusting Hunger and Fullness

Posted by on May 24, 2019 in Blog Posts |

Below email is shared with permission from an adoptive mom of two early grade-school girls who had experienced food insecurity and were “food preoccupied” (hoarding, sneaking, eating large amounts…). Parents had tried the standard advice of limiting sweets and regulating portions, which had made the interest over the last months and years even more intense.
Almost seems that when we let go of it in our minds, the whole perspective changed, including our kids’ perceptions. What a mind shift
Mom read my first book, Love Me, Feed Me and we had one phone call to answer questions. (The book is “for” adoptive and foster parents, but is the same work I do with children who come to their families by birth.) A few points to note:
  • When transitioning from a control to a responsive, trust approach, eating will likely get worse for a short time before it gets better.
  • Children who ate any and everything may become more picky when they don’t feel the compulsion to eat.
  • Sweets preoccupation is generally improved by including them regularly and reducing shame around these foods. (Browse through blog posts here, just search “sweets.”)
  • Eating can feel soothing. Sometimes eating for comfort is okay. This mom recognizes that and is also building the child’s toolkit for self-soothing.
  • Children who have had a rough start can be trusted. Children can be fed in ways that bury internal regulation skills, or in ways that support them.

“The first few weeks were CRAZY!! There was a lot of gorging and never-ending eating at meals and at times it felt like all they were doing was eating. BUT…. Oh my goodness what an improvement since! Yes, there is still some insecurity around food, which I suspect may not ever completely disappear, but there is a lot of security as well.

As you know, my younger daughter would eat so much (did not ever know when to say enough) that she would cry because of her full tummy. Now she will really say when she doesn’t want any more and she’s full – and this could be after only half her plate is done or after 2 plates so it is a sign of her starting to listen to her body. Where before she would eat anything in front of her, now she is becoming more discerning. Which is a huge improvement. The other day I offered beet salad which she hadn’t had before, and she said “I’ll try a piece” tasted it and said, ‘No thanks, Mama I don’t want that.’ That is huge – for her to say no to any food.

I have seen a lot of improvement with my older daughter as well. While she also has struggled with portions – she’s the one with the super sweet tooth. When it came to any “forbidden food” she would not be able to concentrate on anything else. We have been following the having ‘forbidden foods’ every day and not making it ‘special’ and we have seen how, slowly, it’s becoming normal to her and not that absolute obsession.

Birthday parties have become less stressful too. We have realized that she is a comfort eater so when she feels anxiety she feels that food will help her cope – e.g. she gets extremely anxious in a new environment and will start looking for food. We are working on helping her find other ways to deal with her worry, like maybe we can talk to someone to make us feel better, or we can hold on to something special that helps us feel calmer (like her teddy, deep breaths sometimes help etc. She still talks a lot about food – not in ‘I want this or I want that” but she will, for example, always ask us what we had for lunch at work etc. That’s ok, it’s where she finds comfort and we are just continuing on our journey.

Generally, the greatest part is when we are out and they have something they love in front of them – like fries– and it isn’t a frenzy to just eat eat eat. They will not take a few bites and run off to play then come back for more etc. Secure that they can move away and still have their needs met later.

I can honestly say that, while before we were always on edge around food, now it just is what it is and it’s actually a huge relief. Almost seems that when we let go of it in our minds, the whole perspective changed, including our kids’ perceptions. What a mind shift and I’m so glad we did it now!”

Thanks for this mom for sharing her journey! See my series on Max and on the Worry Cycle for more information (NACAC Beyond the Stash article is a resource you can forward to caseworkers, clinicians, etc.) Learn as much as you can before jumping in if you are dealing with this issue. Generally, the younger a child is, the easier this process is, and the less time it takes to see progress. This family has been working on this for a few months…
Hang in there and good luck!
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