Many children come into care with a poor nutritional status, and they often have food anxieties caused by their early experiences of either abuse or neglect. This can be linked to a simple lack of food at their birth home, or it can be much more complex and associated with a traumatic relationship with food. It is believed that neglect, such as being deprived of food or care, is often more damaging to the child than individual episodes of abuse.
So where do food aversions in young people in care come from?
- 'many young people in care frequently change placements, this leads to them experiencing a range of intense emotions like fear, sadness, anxiety, or grief, which can impact appetite
- some children and young people have a history of bad feeding experiences (force feeding, too rapid feeding, bottle propping). This can create negative physiological reactions and/or negative associations with eating
- feelings of powerlessness from having little say over if they ate, what they ate, how much they ate, and who fed them. If living in a neglectful situation, they may have had little to no control over when or how food was provided
- limited variety of meal plans in institutions or families living in poverty may make a child resistant to new foods.' (adoption nutrition.org.uk)
Kerry talks about how Thomas, one of her foster children, came to her with big food issues and a skinny drawn appearance.
How do food aversions manifest?
Children aren’t always able to express why they act as they do around food. Instead, they express their feelings through various behaviours, known as food aversions and common examples include:
- mood swings and irregular sleeping patterns
- only eating one type of food or wanting to eat the same food over and over again
- overeating, binge eating and throwing up
- being accustomed to ‘convenience food’
- constantly checking out what is in the fridge
- talking about food persistently or asking when food will be served
- hiding food in the bedroom or bags or stocking up for the next day
- indiscriminate eating; for example, packet soups with no added water
- using hands rather than cutlery so that they can eat faster
- messy eating; aggressive behaviour
- always finishing food before other people
- eating out of pet bowls/bins/other people’s plates
- looking after their siblings food needs
- looking after themselves and not willing to share
- secretive behaviour, such as eating alone and hiding