Friday, December 4, 2015

Twinkle, Obesity and Fat Shaming

Twinkle is not obese, by any means. If anything she is a wee little thing, possibly even slightly small for her age.

But my word, can she pack away the food. It's a standing joke that when I go to pick her up from nursery and they tell me what she's done that day, it's just a long list of everything that she's eaten. At home, she's obsessed by mealtimes, constantly asking if it's dinner time, or wondering when I'm making dinner. If someone mentions food or if she sees any food she immediately proclaims, "I'm hungry!" There's never any food left on her plate at the end of a meal.

I have heard enough parents worrying over their child's picky eating habits to know that many would consider me lucky to have a child that is so easy to feed. But it's not that simple.

Twinkle can't leave food. She just can't leave it. If she can see food, she has to have it. She has no sense of what her body is saying to her about hungry/not hungry, full/not full. If food is served buffet style, she will load her plate with as much as she can physically carry, and then work her way through it as though slogging through a marathon. Leftovers in the bin are fair game.

On the occasions when she has been sick, it has been immediately evident that she barely chews her food at all. She just inhales it.

After six months of rigid routine and predictability around the provision of meals, and the reassurances, and the availability of snacks, and the special plates and cups, she has finally begun to utter the words, "I've had enough." But it's a chimera of progress. The moment I approach her to remove the unemptied plate, she repents. "No, I want it!" Her brain is wired for food survival, never sure when, or if, the next meal is coming. "Eat up now!" it whispers to her. "You might go hungry later."

I wonder whether one day all of this will catch up with Twinkle, and she will join the statistics of the obesity crisis we hear so much about. And if that happens, will someone, Katie Hopkins style, one day call her lazy? Or stupid? Or say "How could you let yourself get like this?" Or hand her a cruel, cowardly 'fat-shaming' card while she's minding her own business on the bus?

3 comments:

  1. Our 6 year old foster child is the same. He's lived with us for more than two years and if he thinks we're not watching he will still stuff his mouth with so much food that he gags. We micro-manage his mealtimes to help him, cut everything into chunks (including sandwiches and biscuits) and remind him to eat them one at a time. Food is barely chewed, you can see him forcing big chunks down, it looks really uncomfortable. For the first 6 months we couldn't take him to a play centre with a cafe as he would cruise the tables (and other people's handbags) for food. We can't go to a buffet, he just can't cope. He's a healthy weight for his age but like you we've wondered about his future health and future relationship with food.

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  2. We have this exact issue with our almost 11yo. He arrived with us as a very overweight 8yo having just eaten everything in sight for 18months in temporary foster placement. We're much stricter at scheduling meal & snacktimes, and eating with good manners, but food security just isn't on his radar, and I feel as though all I've done is make him more anxious about food when what I wanted was to show him that food is not love, comfort or entertainment. He now eats with one eye on me as if I'm going to snatch it away, even though that's never once happened. Man, our poor messed-up kids. It sucks.

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  3. Thank you for this post, it really resonates with me. We've just adopted a 15 month old boy who was overfed 4x the recommended amount of food/formula from 1 month old in foster care. He has similar issues as mentioned and his first word, predictably, was "more". He cries when he has emptied his plate and used to get into a flap if people ate near or in front of him, insisting on having their food as well as his own, even if it was the same. The Foster carer let this turn into a habit and I still find it hard to take him out for food, though he is slowly calming down and not crying as much. I worry so much about him not being able to shed the weight or having a damaged appetite control too. We are using his relentless appetite to feed him very low calorie snacks like celery, melon, plain rice cakes or home made veggie smoothies. We've also got him to drink instead of eating, by letting him have a special lukewarm cup of camomile or peppermint tea with the grownups which makes him feel involved and special too, but if either of us want a treat (biscuit/cake etc) we have to snaffle it in the kitchen on the sly so he doesn't see as he can't stand not to have it. It feels weird and unhealthy to have to do this and I miss being able to bake nice things for the family - but it seems the only way forward. I think I am hoping, like the Bouwers mentioned, to concentrate on good manners, the cooking process itself, and the 'ritual' of mealtimes so that it becomes more about creativity and good company, rather than bingeing. When I hear him wheezing as he toddles or see the size of him next to other children I feel so deeply sad and angry that this was allowed to happen to him - and yet determined not to be passive about it either. I would love to talk to more adopters about issues like this!

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