Misadventures in Eating


Photo Credit: Chris Piascik

The photo may seem incongruous. Just wait…

During our first year, our girl ate like a wild thing. She and her brother were undernourished, so I allowed them to have seconds and sometimes thirds.

Since “thirds” seemed to help them feel secure, I made portions smaller once they reached a healthy weight—they were eating the equivalent of maybe one-and-a-half helpings. As they settled, third helpings became unnecessary.

Then, one school day she neglected to finish her lunch. I mentioned she needed lunch to fuel her brain for the afternoon. She asked lots of questions. We spent about thirty minutes discussing nutrition.

I thought we’d made a breakthrough; it was our first real connection. The inaugural Mother-Daughter Conversation of True Meaning.

The next day, she’d eaten even less, but then we had another great conversation.

By the next week, she’d stopped eating lunch.

Within a month, she barely ate anything. Every meal was a struggle. Some days, we actually resorted to spoon-feeding her to get her to finish a meal. She was eight.

We went to the psychiatrist and pediatrician and ended up in a Children’s Hospital feeding program (outpatient) after six months. By that time, she was emaciated.

I was terrified she was developing an eating disorder. Foster children are at high risk for eating disorders; one study found a quarter of the foster children monitored engaged in “aberrant” eating behaviors.  Others show similar numbers.

Their psychologist is an understanding genius. She helped me understand what I’d done, though inadvertently, to foster the behavior—and how to reverse the process.

Ignore the negative behavior and make it inconvenient for her. Reward ANY move toward positive behavior.

She patted my shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. But you can’t EVER give attention to a behavior unless you want it continued. It’s her way of controlling her world.”

She recommended that we ignore her eating issues altogether and substitute the worst-tasting Ensure-type product I could find. Give her only the meal substitute for a few days, then put both a meal and the bottle in front of her.

“Tell your daughter, ‘we don’t have a preference for which you ingest; either way, whatever you eat needs to be finished within half an hour. If you are finished when I return, you can go to bed five minutes later.’ Walk away,” the psychologist said, “then come back in half an hour and remove anything left over, without comment.”

Our girl was eating again within a week.

This was only the beginning. Now, I am always on alert…hypervigilant, if you will…in my quest to protect her from scheming against herself.

As parents, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here’s the great secret: almost no inadvertent mistakes cause permanent damage, as long as you make changes.

The best way to avoid those mistakes:

  • Surround yourself with individuals who are experienced with similar situations.
  • Find a mentor in an adoption professional you trust.
  • Talk to a counselor (either the child’s or a separate one for you) about your tactics. Ask them to be honest about whether they recommend what you’re attempting. Beforehand, make sure the counselor is experienced with foster/adopted children and their issues.
  • Read blogs and articles and medical journals and social work websites.
  • IGNORE (or be selective* in taking) advice from anyone who has never adopted or fostered. *Instances may occur in which one of these individuals brings an epiphany.
  • Don’t allow others to guilt you into anything (e.g., “She fell down AGAIN? And you didn’t pick her up to soothe her? You totally missed a bonding opportunity.” No, in my case, I prevented seventeen more falls).
  • Go with your gut: as you learn this child’s triggers and nuances, you’ll know when to avoid certain situations or try a tactic others might consider ridiculous. If you think it will work, try it. Trust yourself.

And finally, if you have been through the wringer, SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Someone needs help.

Yes, you. Right now. Start typing. 

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Add your advice below.



About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'm determined to give my kids the chance they deserve. Adoption isn't always easy. I promise, you're not alone in this. Join me at - we're in this together.

Posted on February 25, 2016, in Adoption, advice, Food, Parent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Powerful post! I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been. Thanks for being brave enough to share.


  2. Thanks for your love!! I will definitely think about sharing more I promise. You are right it is insane the statistics! Insane and sad! For even tho there are statistics out there of how many kids it affects, trying to get help for it is VERY HARD! My daughter had people from New York and New Jersey that were patients with her whens he was inpatient. Why? Because there is only 1 inpatient rehab in New York for eating Disorders and I am not sure about New Jersey. That is insane!! There is only 10-20 worldwide! WE were extremely blessed to have one only 3 hours away from us.Yes, things need to change! Thanks for the support and I will try to help you and your precious daughter. I am sorry about your roommate also! Hope she did end up getting the help she needed!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hugs to you for helping to pull your girl through this! Once again she is so lucky to have you fighting to help her be the best she can be! I will admit this post tugged greatly on my heart strings! I have not been as bold as you to share on my blog, but I am way too familiar with eating disorders, learned more than I ever wanted to learn these past 2 years as I helped pull my dear daughter through!! Hers was for different reasons, but the emotional pain is the same at seeing your dear daughter emanciated! I was a mess, its why if you look back in my blogs for last year from April to September the posts are more sparse. And if you re-read some posts, you can read between the lines now as that was my way to cope. she had to be inpatient. One of the hardest things our family has ever gone through and I am sitting here trying to think of what I can say to help others. I think what’s most important is to pay attention to the warning signs. Don”t try to deny it, I will admit at first i did try that. Most importantly NEVER stop loving your child and remember that the right thing to do is sometimes the most hardest thing to do!!! I will be glad to answer questions about anorexia if anyone wants to ask. I feel unfortunately that a lot of people misunderstand it! Its a LOT deeper than wanting to be thin. Honestly that really isn’t it at all. Ok, will stop before I write more than your post! LOL! See what you unleashed! Love and prayer to you as you keep being hypervigilant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your heart! I’m so sorry you and your daughter (and whole family) experienced such pain. I hope she’s doing better. No pressure, but maybe (maybe?) it’s time to write about that, to give others hope. The statistics for eating disorders are insane; so many girls are dealing with those issues now—or will in the future. I would definitely want to read about warning signs that are easy to ignore. We know that our daughter is at risk for those types of disorders as she gets older; it’s rampant among kids who’ve been in the foster system. My roommate in college was anorexic and I didn’t see it for almost a year; I was distracted and she hid it well. I hope that experience will help me in the future. I’ll take all the advice I can get! 🙂 Love you!!!


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