Surviving The Holidays With A Food Hoarder

Everyone knows the Holiday season can be stressful. When you’re raising a child with major food issues, the stress can be insurmountable. How do you successfully navigate a season filled with foods that your child cannot have?


One Hour Ago.

My son is an hour into a full on rage. Our family room is littered with previously folded laundry. He has tipped the piano bench over and the toy box is now teetering on the edge of the couch. With the Christmas tree clutched in his fist, he is threatening to break every ornament. My husband and I have chosen not to engage. We are sitting at the dining room table with our laptops open pretending to work. We are messaging back and forth. Encouraging one another to keep our cool. We will not intervene unless he is going to hurt himself or someone else. We glance up every so often to see his eyes darting back and forth between his mess, us and the front door. “I’ll run away!” He screams. “I’ll miss you.” I say. It’s the first word we’ve spoken since we found the cookies and candy canes jammed into the pockets of his dress pants. We have an agreement with him that if a rage like this ever happens again he will be responsible for cleaning up every last item. He will also be responsible for earning money to pay for any items that are damaged.

I quickly send a text to my mom, dad and two friends that understand. There aren’t many people who believe that my son is not being a brat. He is unable to regulate his emotions. He is also extremely sensitive to food dyes, high fructose corn syrup and sugar. His brain was damaged before he was born by exposure to drugs and alcohol. He suffered severe neglect in his first year of life and that has left him traumatized. His emotions are on overload right now with the Holiday season. His anxiety is boiling over and the party we just attended has made everything worse.

Three Hours Ago.

My son has been on high alert all day. He struggles with the concept of time, therefore he has been diligently checking the clock every five minutes. “When is the party mom? Will we be late? What if they have foods I can’t eat? Are we going to miss it?” The same series of questions have cycled through his conversation all day. I’m regretting saying we could go to the party at all. It’s for my work though and I’m feeling trapped. It will be fun for other people but for us it has all the components of a perfect storm.

We walk into the party about 10 minutes late. We’ve been sitting in the car for the last 15 minutes talking through how to handle anything stressful that might happen during the night. We’re feeling pretty good as we enter the doors. Friends are waving and welcoming. I’m distracted though. I’m afraid I probably seem rude but something just caught my eye. In the corner of the room is a hot cocoa bar. My son is going to have enough of a struggle with the hot chocolate, let alone the peppermint sticks, whipped cream, chocolate drizzle and marshmallows. Sure enough, my son sits down next to me with a plate overflowing with cookies and sweets. “Son, that’s too much. I’d really like you to choose one thing.” I say. “Gosh mom. Nothing on here has food dye, I checked,” he retorts. I hold firm to my request and he chooses a cookie. We play a few games and I stop to talk to my friends throughout the night but my eye is always on my son. He takes more cookies and I see him slip one into his pocket. I want him to make a better choice but I know he is acting out of fear and self-preservation.

12 Years Ago.

My son sits quietly in a crib. He’s past the point of whimpering. He’s soiled diaper is beyond itching and infected scabs have formed where the diaper rash began. He hasn’t seen an adult in over 24 hours. His big sister has fixed him a bottle but she’s only 3. She tries to copy Mommy. She’s not exactly sure how though and clumps of formula clog the nipple. My son lays there hungry, scared, hurting and that’s when his brain changes. He knows now that Mommies and Daddies do not provide. They do not have his best interest in mind. They do not care.

Right Now.

My hands are placed flat on the dining room table. This tantrum has taken a toll on my heart. He’s had too much sugar, this I know. I’m disappointed in his choice but I feel something more than disappointment. I feel compassion. My husband and I begin to pray for this boy. We to pray for the young man he will become and for the hurting baby he once was. I know my mom is praying too and so is my dad. My friends have dropped everything and lifted my son up as well. As I whisper the words in my heart, I see something incredible. My son puts the Christmas tree down. He folds the clothes neatly back into piles. He rights the furniture and even vacuums the carpet. He moves to the dining room next and proceeds to clean every inch. My husband and I don’t move one bit. He finishes by straightening the kitchen and washing all the dishes. When he’s done he heads to his room, but first he sticks his head back out of the door and simply says, “I’m sorry I took the cookies, I’m sorry I trashed the house.”

We’ll talk more tomorrow. There is so much healing still left to be done. For now I want to crawl into a hole until this holiday season is over. But I can’t and neither can he. He will always struggle with food. Holidays will always be difficult, but I’m hopeful we will one day be able to find a peaceful way to celebrate.

Question: Do you deal with similar issues as a parent? How are you successfully navigating this Holiday season? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Don’t miss our FREE live webinar event, this coming Monday, December 14th at 1pm EST/10am PST with Andrew and Michele Schneidler from The Refresh Conference. We’ll be discussing ‘How to move from hurting, to hopeful, to helpful’ in your foster or adoptive parenting journey. Space is limited so grab your spot soon. Click here to register!

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  • Allisonm

    I don’t notice a huge issue with what my children eat in terms of sensitivities, but food hoarding is a daily event. If there is a place to stash food, I’ve seen it. If there is a condition that can happen to food stashed without appropriate preservation, I’ve seen–and smelled–that, too, and scraped it off of its hiding place. I recently moved an item of furniture in my son’s room and 17 (you think I’m kidding) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches fell out from behind it. He gets up in the night and gets food, then doesn’t remember in the morning. He went hungry as a very young child and was punished with being on bread and water, so access to food is vital to his well-being. My older kids have grown past most of their hoarding.

    We always have healthy food visible and available in our house. Our cupboards and fridge are kept well-stocked. Our particular kids need that from us. Life is anxiety-producing enough for them without adding more to their fear that they will not get what they need. They have to feel safe before they can be expected to “make good choices.” The safer they feel, the better choices I see them make. While food hoarding in the face of plenty may not be an ideal coping strategy, at least it shows that my kids do still want to survive. I see that as a positive and try to help them move towards coping strategies that have fewer downsides and more benefits. Someday, maybe logic will rule the day, but for now, we are dealing with a fundamental anxiety that they cannot wish or reason away. On day at a time, healing is coming at God’s pace.

    • Kristin Berry

      Absolutely! Our prayer is for healing for all of our children who are still living scared.

      On a side note: I completely believe the 17 PBJ sandwiches. My sister once found over 2 dozen cans of pop under her child’s bed, they don’t even drink pop!

      Hang in there. I truly believe our children are survivors. They have been created with a wonderful purpose.

  • Danie Botha

    The issues we had are minor in comparison.
    I salute you and Mike!
    I cannot see how else you will survive such frequent outbursts (emotionally, physically and spiritually) if not for the intercession by prayer warriors, as you had available in the incident described above.
    It boils down to real-time spiritual warfare.
    It can not be easy. And, it is not for the faint-hearted. Then again, we never received that promise–that it would be easy. But He did say: My grace will be sufficient for you.
    Although, the hurt can linger.
    Fortunately, we can start every morning new.

    Thank you for sharing, Kristin.

    • Hey Danie, I’m answering for Kristin… 🙂 It’s our pleasure. Glad you liked the post. 🙂

  • Stormywen

    Sounds way too familiar. We have adopted 6 children through the foster care system. One of my children just doesn’t do very well in any type of social situation and only can hold it together for almost 2 hours before he starts emotionally falling apart and other people start thinking he’s a horrible child. It makes me sad that everybody can’t see how hard he has to work to try to look like their “normal”.

    • Unfortunately we live in a world that will pretty much always misunderstand. We are saddened by it to and believe a lot of issues with children would be solved with different dietary items. Thanks for commenting.

  • Cynthia Tamlyn

    I find the root of these behaviors is anxiety. I’m a certified clinical aromatherapist. I make aromatherapeutic personal inhalers and body butters for my son to tame that anxiety beast and help him stay in his thinking brain.

    • Kristin Berry

      That’s great!