Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 22: So. Your Adopted Child Hoards Food.

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?!?!

The scared child (hungry! When will I eat again!) acts scary (hoarding, overeating). Scared momma (“The doctor is on my case about my overweight child!” Or maybe “My parents were restrictive and shaming regarding food and this is triggering my old stuff!” Or maybe “I can never satiate or make my child satisfied. I’m a bad mom!!”) acts scary (restricts food). The cycle continues. Trauma mommas get very good at jumping out of the trauma tornado. And the place to jump out is at the “scared mom” step.

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 in an attempt to help trauma mommas feel more supported and less alone. 

1 comment:

  1. My kids aren't bad about food at home. However we have problems when we go out somewhere where there are treats.

    My oldest is 5. He entered foster care when he was about 2 and moved to be with us when he was about 3.5. Part of why he was removed from his home was that his mom would leave him and his siblings for weeks at a time and they wouldn't have proper food. At his previous foster home, food was plentiful but somewhat restrictive due to cost.

    At our home, he eats a lot of fruit. When he gets a treat, we don't bring out more than what we are eating at the time and he is okay with that being over and he gets down and plays or he asks for a banana.

    But when we go out and they have plates upon plates of cookies and doughnut holes, he goes crazy and eats until he makes himself sick or if I cut him off, he will make a scene or run off and tell a grandmotherly type person he is soooooooooooo hungry and she will give him more.

    Or if there is a pizza party or junky snack at school, he asks for seconds and thirds and fourths until he is cut off and that makes him sad and he cries.

    Any suggestions for this behavior? He usually is a very well behaved disciplined child so I don't think this is just "I didn't get what I wanted" behavior, I think he really does think he is still hungry.

    I guess I could start carrying fruit with me when we go to parties so when he says he is starving, I can hand that to him. He does better at parties where there is the option of fruit instead of just pastries. He likes to be healthy and eat good 'growing foods'. But any suggestions for school? I'm almost tempted to allow more junky fun foods in my house to get them to not be such a big deal however he is a kind of hefty guy so I don't think letting junk foods be an all the time thing would be a good idea and once I go there, I think it would be very difficult to go back to healthier things.


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