Is Your Child Sneaking Food?

At times the desire to eat certain foods becomes overpowering and in an attempt to avoid disappointing Mom and Dad, kids start to sneak food.  Often, parents do not see the amount of unhealthy foods their children are consuming.  Have you noticed any erratic eating patterns, hidden candy wrappers, disappearing foods, or consistent weight gain?   If so, your child may be sneaking food.  Over time, children who sneak unhealthy foods can become overweight or obese.
What can you do as a concerned parent?

  1. Initiate a conversation with your child and let him know that you will be discussing an important health issue.  Try not to come on too strong.  You might start by saying, “I have noticed something and I am worried about your health.”  You can then state your concern.  “I found a bunch of candy wrappers under your bed” or “I can’t understand why you are gaining weight when you seem to eat so healthy.”  Then tell him that you want to help, not condemn.
  2. Do not bombard your child with questions all at once.  Once you have opened up the conversation, sit back and listen to what your child has to say.  At first, you may get denials.  If so, simply tell him that you love him and that you are always there if he wants to talk.  It may take some time before your child is ready to open up to you.
  3. Be aware that secretive eating is almost always associated with feelings of guilt.  Let your child explain why he feels guilty about eating certain foods.  Try to emphasize that eating and enjoying food is an important part of life and should not be associated with guilt.  Remind your child that no food is off limits and that anything is okay in moderation.
  4. Be sure your child knows that he should not feel embarrassed about craving certain foods or about overindulging.  Explain that dieting is not easy and that everybody goes overboard once in a while.  Let him know that you will not be angry if he occasionally eats unhealthy foods.  Tell him you are there to help him get through his cravings without completely sacrificing his nutrition.  Then explain what you do when you face cravings.  The bottom line is to make sure your child knows that you understand what he is going through.
  5. Help your child find nutritious foods that he enjoys.  If your child is sneaking brownies, suggest a 100-calorie pack of brownies or a brownie Vitamuffin.  You may be able to find a healthier version of the desired food.
  6. Try not to have junk food, desserts, and unhealthy snacks in the house. Remove the temptation by clearing the fridge and cupboards.
  7. If the problem persists, consult a health professional.  Sneaking food is often a symptom of an underlying emotional issue.  It may even be a sign of depression so it is important to seek additional help if you cannot resolve the food sneaking behavior by yourself.

Joanna Dolgoff MD is a pediatrician who specializes in child and adolescent weight management. She is the creator of Dr. Dolgoff’s Weigh.

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