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Early Childhood Hunger

My daughter was severely neglected by her biological family during her early years of life. Drug and alcohol abuse played into it. I believe generational poverty and lack of resources, including guidance and education, to be at the root of it. She told me once that she remembers one of her siblings sneaking a cookie home from school. There were six children. They split the cookie six ways for dinner. It was the only food she had that day.



She entered foster care when she was four years old. No one helped her work through the damage caused by the trauma of being hungry for years. Instead, rules and restrictions were forced on food. For example, in one foster home she wasn’t allowed to have a beverage with breakfast if she had cereal because they counted the milk as her drink. Food was guarded and foster parents kept watchful control of the portions each child was allotted. She was constantly worried food would vanish from her life again and having to share it with the other foster children sent her into a panic.



So she started sneaking out of her room at night to steal food. Sometimes she’d rally the other foster children and they’d get a system down – someone kept watch while another child grabbed the food and another located a good hiding spot for their stash. She has told me that she loved it when they had bologna in the house. Bologna slices are thin and slimy. She stuck them right on her skin under her pajamas to smuggle them back to her room.



We adopted her when she was nine. She’s been with us for two years. We have a very different policy when it comes to food with few restrictions. My husband and I have worked hard to help her feel safe and to trust that we’ll provide for her. She’s come a long ways.



She still struggles with her food issues, though, especially in times of stress. It’s one of the first clues that something is on her mind. Her table manners go out the window. She shovels food in with her hands at a rapid pace and eats until her stomach sticks way out. She’s taken money that wasn’t hers to buy snacks at camp and hid empty food wrappers in between the couch cushions. She suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and being hungry is a major trigger for her. 


She’s shown me firsthand the damage lack of food causes. It’s not just something that is felt physically. It is also mentally, emotionally and socially damaging. It impacts her view of herself and relationship with others. Food is constantly on her mind. 

It brings her great shame. She knows her relationship with food is different from most kids. It’s just one more thing that sets her apart from “kids without hurt parts.”

Here are some things we do to help her deal with her food panic:


Rachael is a freelance writer and adjunct college professor with a background in early childhood education. Her passion became therapeutic parenting after adopting her daughter in 2010. Read more about their journey at www.lastmom.com.


Read more about the U.S. diet, including common foods and recipes: http://adoptionnutrition.org/nutrition-by-country/usa/


The Nutrition Profiles on this site express the views of the individual authors and not SPOON Foundation. SPOON Foundation has not conducted any independent verification of the information contained in the Nutrition Profiles. As a result, SPOON Foundation makes no representations concerning, and assumes no responsibility for, the accuracy of the information or the appropriateness of advice contained in the Nutrition Profiles. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from the Nutrition Profiles with other sources, and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with your child’s physician.

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