Q: Last year we adopted a three-year-old who was raised from birth in an orphanage. We’re concerned because he can’t seem to stop eating, even after he’s full. He scavenges for food, he steals other kids’ snacks, picks food off dirty tables in restaurants, and has even eaten food from the garbage at preschool. Help!
A: Children in institutions often have a regimented and restricted diet. When they move into a home where food is plentiful, it’s common for them to act as your son does. Let him know that there will always be plenty of food for him. Allow him to carry around a bag of healthy snacks to eat whenever he’s hungry. Keep healthy foods, such as a bowl of fruit, on the kitchen table. Use smaller plates at dinner, so you can limit portion sizes but still offer him a full plate. Never watch television during meals. Your son needs to pay attention to the amount he eats and learn to recognize fullness. Ask the staff at his school whether the garbage can be covered or moved out of sight.
Just as some adults overeat for psychological reasons, some children seek comfort from food. If you think his overeating may be due to stress, ask your health care provider for a referral to a therapist experienced in adoption.