It can happen at almost anytime. While you’re talking on the phone, when you’re taking a shower, when you’re out running errands—without your knowledge and perhaps without you ever finding out, your overweight child may start sneaking food. When she’s older, she may indulge at friends’ homes, or when she has money, she may purchase her own treats.
Why is your youngster behaving this way? After all, she may truly want to lose weight, so why is she sneaking food behind your back? There are many possible explanations. Your child could be feeling anxiety over issues with friends, and she might find food soothing and comforting. She could be bored or tired. Or she may be sad or lonely. In many cases, she might interpret these emotions as hunger, and she’ll raid the cupboard when no one’s looking.
In most families, this sneaking of food doesn’t go undetected for long. You might notice a few dirty dishes in her bedroom. Maybe there will be food items noticeably missing from the refrigerator. Perhaps you’ll find candy wrappers in her waste basket. In cases like these, what should you do?
First, don’t panic or overreact. Raise the issue with your child. Without being accusatory and becoming angry or threatening to punish her, tell your child that you’ve noticed that she sometimes eats in her room when she thinks no one is looking. Explain that you’re aware of her behavior. Point out that it’s counterproductive to her weight-loss goals. Then agree to help your child work on the problem.
Some parents find it helpful to establish a rule that their children have to ask them (or their spouses) for food. Rather than simply telling your youngster, “Don’t sneak!” encourage her to ask for food when she wants it. Explain that you’ll help her make good nutritional decisions about what and when to eat. You can move her in the direction of sneaking less often and making better food choices when she does eat.
For example, you might say, “What kinds of foods have you been sneaking?” Your child might respond, “I’m eating chips late at night.” You could follow up by asking, “Where do you get them?” “I buy them from the vending machine at school.” “Well, when you feel like eating, can you make healthier decisions than reaching for chips? Next time you want some food, ask me. We’ll choose foods together that can keep your weight-loss efforts moving in the right direction.”
Once your child begins to ask you for food, reward her for doing so (although obviously don’t reward her with food!). For a young child, give her a sticker or star each time she asks you for something to eat, or read her an extra bedtime story. She also can accumulate points for a low-cost toy or school supplies. For an older child, perhaps she can build up points for a ticket to the movies on Saturday afternoon or a day at the skating rink or zoo.