I’ve been thinking about food and being hungry for some weeks now, not just because I’ve been on a detox…but because it’s come up in lots of different places I’ve been in. Understanding how our bodies work, in terms of our physical needs, can be confusing at times. I must admit as a parent of three adopted children I find it hard to understand sometimes why there is such a fixation on food. I’ve never been really hungry, lucky for me, I have thought I was really hungry and even said I’m ‘starving’ or ‘desperate’ for food but I’m not really.
When you’ve not truly experienced hunger it’s hard to understand and really appreciate the fear associated with lack of food and not getting your needs met. My children have had plenty of food for a long time now – 10 years probably and on the rare occasion it can still be a worry that the food will not be there.
I was out walking my dog yesterday and he’s started to realise when the times up and so refuses to come back to the car. He’s a clever thing, he knows that once he’s in the car all fun is over! So I decided to try and entice him with his food. I didn’t feed him his breakfast before and took it with us, with the hope that he’d run back for his food.
Whilst we were on the walk he was totally consumed with running after his ball, not the lack of food. Dogs can be so focused at times and desperate for something, at the risk of anything else they strive after that one thing. He jumped over obstacles, ran in the water and mud, dived through the grass to get his ball. Totally driven by that need.
Once it was time to get in the car of course he wasn’t interested in his food! Eventually he did come back to see another dog and then have his food so all was well.
Why am I talking about my dog alongside hunger in children who’ve been neglected in early years?
Well as I was watching him I started to think about this confusing experience with children and food. It’s as if there is a drive within them, an instinct or a switch that was turned on many years ago. Even though they don’t need that instinct now, as they have access to enough food, the drive is there and overrides everything else.
In the school situation you may see this through odd behaviours such as:-
- Need to be front of the queue all the time
- Change in behaviour near to lunch time
- Triggered by smells from kitchen
- Stealing others food
- Eating disorders
- Lack of concentration
- Eating non food substances
All may be signs of early physical neglect around food. Just like my dog if that switch is turned on they will be totally focused on getting that need met.
I also recently came across a syndrome I’d not heard of before – Prader-Willi Syndrome. This is a genetic condition that affects 1 in 15,000 children in England. The main problems are around always feeling hunger – however much a child eats they cannot satisfy that hunger. It also comes with restricted growth and muscle tone and learning difficulties. Whilst this is a relatively little known condition it has life long implications for the child and parents/carers.
For many children and young people the difficult behaviours around food are the result of early trauma and neglect, not a genetic condition as above. Secrecy can become a way of life for children who struggle in this area.
How to help can be very difficult and long term, but some things I’ve know have helped others are:-
- Always have access to healthy food for the child
- Be aware of the need around food and never take food off them as punishment
- Model a healthy attitude to food and good habits
- If issues are around hoarding and gorging then try to manage the times children eat and where they eat
- Focus on relationship and building a safe place for the child
- Meet physical and emotional needs as quickly as possible
- Seek professional help if you are worried about possible eating disorders