Q: Our nine-year-old daughter has developed a habit of storing food in her backpack. We’ve also found several bagels in her dresser. We’ve explained why it’s wrong to waste food and said that she should return uneaten items to the fridge, to no avail. She is otherwise a very kind, thoughtful child who helps choose her lunch each morning.
A: Is your daughter hoarding food or hiding food? If it’s the latter, she may be afraid of telling you her true food preferences. Another possibility, and a more worrisome one, is that she may be developing an eating disorder. Sadly, girls your daughter’s age and even younger can have distorted body images and begin to fret about gaining weight. If you think this is a possibility, see your family doctor immediately for a referral to someone who specializes in treating eating disorders.
On the other hand, if your daughter is hoarding food, this may indicate she is worried about not having enough food around when she feels hungry, or it could signal she has emotional needs that are not being met.
Whatever the cause, your daughter is trying to tell you something through her behaviour that she can’t quite tell you in words. Encourage her to open up about her worries and see if you can understand her motivation: Is she afraid that rejecting the food choices you give her will hurt your feelings? Is she unhappy with her body? Does she have unmet emotional needs?
If, after discussions with you, she continues to store food, look into visiting a qualified mental health professional together.