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How to Stop Food Hoarding in Children

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/23/2010

The excessive collection of items and an inability to discard them is known as hoarding. When food hoarding occurs, there is a risk of living conditions becoming overwhelmed with contaminated foods. Children often engage in food habits which generally fade over time, not so with hoarding.

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    Food Hoarding Children

    Children hoard food for different reasons, but the primary reason is they have been deprived of food at some time. They become concerned that their food supply will run out, resulting in a fear of being hungry. Hoarding food for these children means they will have something to eat, should they become hungry. A child who hoards food will often take the items from cupboards and/or refrigerators without their caretaker's knowledge. The food will normally be found hidden drawers, closets, under the bed and in pockets.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Hoarding has not yet been identified to be an official, distinct disorder. However, it has been diagnosed as a possible subtype or symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Therefore, the treatment most commonly used in treating OCD, cognitive behavior therapy, is used as a treatment of hoarding.

    The goal of CBT is to reduce the child’s need to acquire food due to the invalid belief that he or she will go hungry without it. CBT helps to improve decision making skills, provides tools to prevent the compulsion to hoard food and to discard the items that have spoiled or rotted.

    Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a component of cognitive behavior therapy. REBT focuses on the premise that how someone feels and behaves toward their reactions to life events, can lead to unwanted behaviors. In the case of hoarding food, the child feels threatened and/or fear of hunger, therefore reacts with unwanted behaviors (food hoarding). The goal of REBT is to replace the child’s negative thoughts and reactions with those that are positive. REBT gradually teaches the child to trust that there will be food available without the need to stockpile.

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    Self Help Techniques

    Several “self help" techniques are also beneficial in the treatment of food hoarding. The focus of self help is not an immediate solution for how to stop a child from hoarding food, but will aid the child in realizing the food supply will not end.

    It is important to have all family members involved in the process of preventing the hoarding. Providing children with their own “food container" will help to prevent the need to secretly take and hide food. Whenever possible, prepare a container with items that the child can store and hold on to for several days if necessary. Have a basket filled with healthy snacks available for the child to have access to.

    Should the child hoard the food basket, limits should be set without removal of the basket. It is also recommended, that a container be packed in the child’s school backpack as well, to prevent taking food from others at school.

    If gorging is also a problem, avoiding serving excessive amounts of food at meals will be beneficial. The servings should be the same amount for all family members to avoid the child feeling as though they are being denied food.

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    References:

    Psychcentral, When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/when-your-child-has-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/

    Mayo Clinic, Hoarding. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966