Foster children come from all walks of life, and many of them have lived each day not knowing when they’d next be given food. Unfortunately, this type of trauma can lead to food obsession, which may manifest through stealing, bingeing, and hoarding. Luckily, there are ways to deal with food obsession in foster children.
Reasons for Food Obsession
Stable homes provide full meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with a few snacks thrown in along the way. However, children from troubled homes don’t always benefit from this basic need because they’ve been left to look after themselves. Unfortunately, as mentioned, this can often involve searching through bins for scraps, stealing food, and hoarding to take care of younger siblings.
When foster children are placed in a loving home with regular meals, this behaviour carries over because it’s all they’ve known. Just like any habit, they’re not always easy to break, and you will need to practice plenty of patience. However, if you need support with this, visit your foster agency’s website and reach out for support – fosterplus.co.uk has a whole portal dedicated to current foster parents.
Set a Meal Schedule
Regardless of your foster child’s eating habits, set mealtimes to the same schedule every day. Over time, this will help lift any food-related fears and anxieties. When laying down your household rules, you should include, “We have set times for meals and snacks”. Further, you need to give them the food yourself to avoid making them feel as though they’re fending for themselves.
Don’t Restrict Food Access
Restricting their food probably sounds like the best idea, but this can make matters worse. According to research, restriction of food leads to “feeding in the absence of hunger”. Although it sounds counterintuitive, restricting food can cause associations with traumatic events in the past.
Avoid Limiting Food Intake
The aim is to teach foster children how to regulate their eating. If you take something away from a child, it makes it more desirable. Here is a list of ways to tackle eating obsession without making matters worse:
- Make all food available 24/7 but stick to rules about mealtimes.
- Let some sweet food enter into their snack allowance.
- Introduce new foods that stray away from sugars and carbs.
- Let them decide when they’re full, which will help them regulate their body.
- Ask them if they’re hungry after meals. If their answer is yes, you can work out how to change this.
Give Them a Cupboard
If your foster child is stealing food and hoarding, it might be because they feel a lack of control. To give them some power, allocate them some personal cupboard space. If they feel secure that they’ll never run out of food, the hoarding behaviours may stop. Of course, you need to be responsible for preparing your foster child’s meals.
Food obsessions in foster children are born out of trauma, but you can help them by practising the tactics above. The most important thing to remember is to avoid limiting food and being restrictive – food education is more effective.