5 Reasons Why Your Child May Be Preoccupied With Food and Eating
Do you have a child who is obsessed with food?
Does your child seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with eating?
Is this creating a power struggle between you and your child?
Mama - you are not alone.
What Does Food Obsession Look Like in Kids?
Having a child who may seemed overly engrossed in food and eating can be concerning for any parent. What might this look like?
Here are a couple ways food obsession may present in a child:
A child may not participate in normal activities or things they previously enjoyed due to a desire to eat
A child may hoard, collect, or keep secret stashes of food
A child may constantly be talking about food or asking when the next meal or snack is soon after eating
A child may obsess over recipes, recipe books or cooking shows
A child may express worry about not having enough food or appear visibly anxious or upset
A child who may constantly eat to the point of feeling sick or throwing up
If food is taking up your child’s precious mental space, leaving them a limited ability to focus on anything else, this may reveal more problematic issues around food that should be addressed.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that may cause a child to feel obsessed with food and eating.
5 Reasons Why Your Child May Be Obsessed With Food
1.Lack of a meal schedule and structure around food
When a child doesn’t reliably know the next time they will eat, this can create a sense of chaos and mistrust around food and eating. If meals and snacks are erratic and unpredictable, this can cause a child to feel more preoccupied with food, because there is a level of uncertainty around the next time they will eat or be fed.
2. Language used around food can create ‘FOMO’
If your child is used to hearing food described in limiting ways, this can create a scarcity mentality, making those foods more desirable, even if they are not necessarily hungry. For example, telling a child, “This is all you get”, or “You can’t have anymore of that”, etc. may be interpreted to mean that food is scarce or limited. Children will naturally begin to feel more preoccupied with foods if there is fear they are missing out.
3. Foods are restricted or a child is placed on a diet
Restricting food or preventing a child from having access to a variety of foods (especially around highly palatable foods - think sweets and desserts) can create a “feast or famine” mentality. Imposed food restrictions and dieting tactics can actually cause a child to desire and want the foods they can’t have. This one is especially tricky because many well-meaning professionals may advise a parent to put their child on a diet due to weight or healthy concerns. However, research has shown how restrictive feeding practices have a detrimental impact on a child’s eating behaviors.
4. Food has become an emotional comfort
For some children, food may become an emotional comfort and sense of pleasure. This can be especially true for children who have experienced trauma in any form, psychological distress, or who have gone through significant transitions (such as moving, divorce, etc).
5. Fear of going hungry
Whether due to lack of food or resources or a disorganization within the family when it comes to meals, inadequate food can cause a child to fear that their basic need to eat is not being met. This worry around not having enough food can grow into an incessant preoccupation with eating.
Improving Feeding Practices to Resolve Food Obsession in Children
Seeing your child stuck in a food obsessive cycle can be frustrating and overwhelming. As a parent, it is important to understand that you are not to blame or at fault for these behaviors. Give yourself grace through the process and be open to exploring some new approaches when it comes to how you feed your child.
Feeding our children is a relationship, and positive feeding strategies can nurture the environment needed for a child to flourish, grow, and eat confidently.
Remember that eating is a basic need, and if a basic need is not being met adequately, it can create a scarcity mentality in our children. In order to help them feel less preoccupied with food and eating, we have to help them heal the scarcity mindset by improving our feeding relationship with them.
What to Do If You Have a Food-Obsessed Kid
If your child is preoccupied with eating and obsessed with food, there are simple steps you can begin to implement to help resolve these issues:
Create a meal schedule: Meal planning and schedules are important in creating food reliability for kids and regular opportunities to eat. As parents, we are busier than ever, but in order to prevent a sense of chaos around food, meal schedules are key for creating food security for kids..
Work on healing the feeding relationship: This means trusting your child to do their part with eating and sticking to your responsibilities with feeding.
Stay patient and neutral: It can be easy to react to a child’s obsessive behavior around food. Sometimes, we may unintentionally give verbal and non-verbal signals to our children that might cause them to feel embarrassed, guilt, or ashamed. Staying neutral in your communication and patient throughout the process can be helpful for a child who is resolving food-obsessiveness.
Self-reflect on your feeding practices: As parents, we can only take our children as far as we have come ourselves. If you don’t trust yourself to eat certain foods, this mistrust is likely also being projected on your children. Healing any of your past struggles with food and body image can help liberate the way you feed your children.
Get support when you need it: Sometimes it helps to have the outside support of a child feeding specialist who may be able to guide you and your family through this process. Connect with a pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist for more help and guidance with feeding your child.
Observing any degree of food obsessiveness in children can be an indicator that the feeding relationship may need some extra attention, care, and nurturing. As a parent, you can help your child feel better about eating and resolve an unhealthy preoccupation with food.