We are honored to have Robyn Gobbel back again today at Death by Great Wall.
Food issues are such a complex, yet such a common struggle for adoptive families. So complex and so common that I’d say almost every single adopted child I work with has some sort of food thing. They may not hoard or overeat or do anything that interrupts their daily life, but it’s there.
Over on my trauma momma blog, I sometimes talk about the four superpowers that trauma mommas develop after being in the trenches with their traumatized kiddo.
n Understanding the neurobiological impact of trauma on the brain. What happens to a child’s attachment, emotion regulation system, and sense of self when he spends months or years hungry? How does your body react when it believes it is starving? How does your brain respond to a slight dip in blood sugar level (a cue that you need to eat)? Know that hunger is registered in the brain stem, the most primal area of your brain. When your blood sugar dips, cortisol is produced. Brains that have lived in chronic fight/flight/freeze mode register that slight dip in blood sugar as “I’M GOING TO STARVE” as opposed to “It must be getting close to lunch time…my stomach is growling!”
2. Understanding how their child’s specific trauma has impacted their specific brain. OK, so you are starting to understand the theory behind how hungry tummies impact the brain. But how does this translate to your child specifically? Look at your child’s history. Compare it to what you know about brains. Look at your child’s present life and find her common themes. “I’m starving!” “If I don’t eat RIGHT NOW I never know when I’ll eat again!” “I don’t like this feeling so I will soothe myself with food.” “I don’t trust adults to take care of me so I must take care of myself, always making sure I have enough food to eat.” These themes help us peek into their past.
3. How are you participating in the trauma tornado? The trauma tornado is the cycle of the scared child who acts scary who triggers the parent to feel scared and then act scary. Say WHAT?!?!
Heal thyself. Is food a huge trigger for you? Do you love to prepare good, healthy foods and therefore watching your child gorge or hoard junk food is really a sore spot with you? Take what you learned in step three and sooth and heal yourself. This is how we jump out of the trauma tornado. If you can turn around those negative beliefs and feelings by reminding yourself of what you learned in step one and two, you’ll respond in a way that is not scary to your child. “My child hoards food because her brain believes that every time she is slightly hungry she is actually starving to death. I will make sure my child knows that food is always available to her.”
OK, you want some practical advice now!
It’s impossible to blog about the perfect solution for your specific situation, unfortunately. But my #1 suggestion to families is to create a place-- a drawer, a cupboard, a backpack, a container of some sort.
Together, you and your child fill it with healthy foods that you both agree on. Allow your child unlimited access to this stash. If dinner is five minutes away…your child can still take from his snack drawer. If dinner was just over five minutes ago…your child can still take from her snack drawer. If you child fills up on the healthy foods you’ve agreed to put in his snack drawer and doesn’t eat dinner, no problem! It was healthy!! If your child raids the fridge at night, then give him a bedroom snack container. Or place a granola bar or an apple on her nightstand. Give this several days. Weeks.
This may alleviate your child’s food anxiety. This may just alleviate it a tiny bit. It may not alleviate it at all. Oftentimes children with traumatic pasts will benefit from both therapeutic parenting and trauma healing. Look for a therapist that promotes and believes in attachment, as well as one trained in trauma healing, such as EMDR or Somatic Experiencing. Check out the therapist listing at the Attachment & Trauma Network- they are a great resource.
Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a therapist in Austin, TX and the founder of the Central Texas Attachment and Trauma Center. She specializes in helping children and families heal after attachment trauma. Robyn blogs at www.gobbelcounseling.com/blog in an attempt to help trauma mommas feel more supported and less alone.