Many parents are concerned that their youngsters are not eating enough food. But some children have a love affair with food that causes their parents to ask, "Is it normal if my kid is obsessed with food?" and wonder what to do about a generous appetite. To answer that question, you need to first look at why your child is eating or demanding large quantities of food. Knowing the root cause will guide you toward the most effective solution.
Addiction or Hunger?
Kaboose.com, in an article, "Little Kids, Big Appetites: What's Normal?" points out that there is a difference between a child who fixates on a particular food or foods such as cheese, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni-and-cheese or bread, and one who is compulsively binging. Jennifer Fisher, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine's Children's Nutrition Research Center, explains that kids are pretty good at knowing when they've had enough. So as long as your child is eating nutritious foods, she will most likely balance out to get her needed nutrition over the course of the day. On the other hand, if you notice she is eating a lot of junk food, possibly for comfort or stress relief or hiding food to binge in secret, she will need your support and professional help to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Forbidden Foods and Binge Eating
When your child wants seconds or snacks and treats and you say no, it creates an even greater desire for the forbidden food, asserts Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association Nutrition Entrepreneur practice group. This can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food that manifests in symptoms of binge eating disorder, such as craving and excessive consumption of sweets and junk food, hiding food and eating in secret.
According to KidsHealth.org, "People who binge are usually overweight -- even obese -- because they take in so many more calories than their body can use." Your doctor can help you assess whether your child is a healthy weight for his age, height and build using comparison percentiles, body mass index and body fat percentages. If your child's weight exceeds healthy expectations and your doctor rules out a metabolic disorder, it is likely due to unhealthy eating patterns, one of which might be compulsive eating. Weight alone, however, is not sufficient for a diagnosis. You and your doctor will need to look at all the pieces of the puzzle to determine if your child has an unhealthy obsession with food.
Avoiding Unhealthy Food Obsession
Jacobsen recommends that parents offer healthy food choices at the table, including the occasional treat, controlling the what and when of good nutrition but ultimately trusting your child to decide how much -- as long as it falls within reason. When you give your child permission to eat until full, your child will relax and self-regulate; and you avoid creating a scarcity mentality of eating rapidly to excess and hoarding food in fear of not having enough.