My Learning Curve: Catching Hunger Early

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This post, from February 10, 2009, launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back deep into my archives to share some of the best posts with you (with updates) over the next weeks. I hope you find them helpful.

Kalkidan is a lean girl – thin, muscular, and very strong. We thought that once she was home she would begin to gain weight, but in 21 months she has only gained 3.5 kg while growing significantly taller. She has the beautiful Ethiopian look of a long distance runner, but she doesn’t have much in the way of fat reserves.

When it comes to food, I am easygoing with my children. Food just isn’t a battle I’ve chosen to fight. We don’t struggle over finishing everything on our plates, or save dinner for breakfast if it isn’t eaten. That isn’t to say that I let them eat dessert when they haven’t had dinner, but I try to be relaxed about food.

One day in the midst of a very hard moment with Kalkidan, she cried out, “I’m hungry!” I had already offered her several healthy snack options, none of which were to her liking. She chose not to eat rather than accept one of the choices. What she didn’t perceive is that she needed to eat.

Here are my humble thoughts. Like many other children in Ethiopia, Dimples experienced times of severe hunger. We will never know how long she may have gone without food, but we can presume that she was severely deprived.

When she experiences hunger now, she may not initially perceive that she is hungry because she had to suppress those feelings in order to endure the pain of it when she was younger. Her body, however, is spiraling down into a state of deprivation which makes it difficult for her to control her emotions and behavior. The anxiety created by hunger begins to grow and feelings of panic set in – all without her even realizing that she is hungry.

My task is to catch hunger before it becomes panic. I am working on finding foods that appeal to her and can be readily available in small quantities. Now that Kalkidan is in school, it is even harder to make sure she is eating enough. I put a little bag of almonds or beef jerky in her pocket for her to eat during recess. I also try to pack more than I think she will eat for lunch in the hope that she will choose some of it to eat.

The other key is having a healthy and appealing snack when she walks in the door after school. I make a second lunch of sorts, quesadillas and apples, or popcorn with cheese and oranges, etc. If she likes what I’ve made, which is a bit of a toss up, it makes for a happier afternoon.

My hope is that by catching hunger early, we can avoid the physical response that she may not even perceive, which results in an emotional response that she cannot prevent .

This is just one of many puzzles I am pondering. If you’ve dealt with this with your children, or have any thoughts to share, please send them my way. We can learn together.

Humbly,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

21 Comments

  1. Sharon
    August 26, 2015

    This. "My hope is that by catching hunger early, we can avoid the physical response that she may not even perceive, which results in an emotional response that she cannot prevent." Yes! Thank you for reposting this- I needed this reminder.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      I have to remember this with my boys too.

      Reply
  2. Mandy
    August 26, 2015

    Karyn Pervis recommends having a snack every two hours and a counselor we were seeing said she wanted us to feed our boys high protein snacks every two hours. She recommended adding protein powder to muffins, oatmeal, smoothies etc. to get protein in. I can definitely tell a difference when they've eaten and when they haven't.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      Such good advice, Mandy.

      Reply
    2. Emily
      August 26, 2015

      I like the adding protein powder to muffins idea- which one do you use?

      Reply
  3. Emily Summers
    August 26, 2015

    2 years home, and we still fugh food anxiety with our daughter. A family mantra is "always enough".

    There's always enough to eat.
    There's.always enough to drink.
    There's always enough love to go around.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      We used to say that with Kalkidan too – "I have enough."

      Reply
  4. Bethany Mullen
    August 26, 2015

    This is also a struggle for me in learning this, as well as finding healthy options that are easy to grab for eating. Interestingly enough I have one child who will spiral downward very quickly when he has to poop (can I say poop on here without offending people?). I am learning to suggest a potty break at the first signs of defiance or anger over something miniscule. The hunger thing I can understand as he was deprived and hungry quite often, this other issue is baffling to me.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      Bethany, you can say poop! That cracked me up. I think our kids' bodies hold so many memories that when they experience normal sensations – hunger, the need to poop, etc. – it brings up physical fear. Good job figuring that out with your son.

      Reply
      1. Emily
        August 26, 2015

        Bethany, in one of Deborah Gray's excellent books- I think Nurturing Adoptions, but it could be Attaching in Adoption- she writes specifically about a kid who panicked when ever he had to poop. (woohoo! Saying poop!). I'm trying to remember how she explained this, but she talked about how she helped him work through that. If you have her books, look for it, and if I find the section I'll post it here!

        Reply
        1. ahhodgman
          August 27, 2015

          Even un-traumatized bio toddlers have this problem. Or mine did. I used to wonder if it was something to do with trying to ignore pain because pain was scary and pooping meant giving in to it. There was also a "you can't have it, it's mine" thing going on when we started toilet-training.
          Oh, the places you'll go…

          Reply
        2. Emily Summers
          August 28, 2015

          I think there was a bit in Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis too (author correct? I can't remember now.)

          Reply
  5. ESmama
    August 26, 2015

    You aren't the only who is baffled by the strange meltdowns 🙂 I have one who spirals down when he needs to pee or blow his nose, both of which he is old enough to do on his own. Either will often send him into a panicked tantrum. Lots of gently suggested potty breaks, a pocket of tissues, and honey lemon tea & claritin during allergy season help.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      You're a good mama! Doesn't it seem like our kids are puzzles sometimes? We have to learn from them.

      Reply
  6. Karin
    August 26, 2015

    My boy told my today that his emotional reaction was because he was thirsty and didn't tell me that. Most likely this is a similar issue, because I know he was water deprived in Haiti. Thanks door sharing your post.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 26, 2015

      I hadn't thought of thirst, Karin. It makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing that.

      Reply
      1. Emily Summers
        August 28, 2015

        Thirst is a bid deal to our daughter. We are pretty good about having her water bottle, but she can't pace herself at all (she's also only 3). She'll drink her entire bottle on the 10 minute drive to her brothers' 2 hour football practice. If I don't let her drink the whole bottle up front, she cries the whole trip. If I do, she cries whenever she sees her brothers drinking from their bottles during practice. If we refill, she has to pee every 30 minutes… just can't win some days!

        Reply
  7. Emily
    August 26, 2015

    So a lot of the unofficial research about ADHD I’ve been reading talks about having more-extreme-than-typical reactions to things like being hungry, hot, cold, etc. I have mixed feelings about that for a variety of reasons: but it’s definitely true that I tend to melt down, or at least want to, embarrassingly quickly when I’m even just a little bit uncomfortably warm or have low blood sugar. And that’s me with a totally healthy childhood…

    So in addition the trauma memories… and also the increased propensity for ADHD and other similar diagnoses among kids from hard places… I wonder if there is somehow a double whammy of this reaction to hunger, or the other physical sensations people are describing. (or, maybe it’s all the same thing ultimately anyway)? OK, this sounds obvious out loud. We know that kids with trauma backgrounds have physical effects that make it hard for them to regulate anyway. Just interesting that there’s also the non-trauma ADHD tendency as well. Hmmmmm.

    Separate note. Can you share about Kalkidan and Kathleen and Chipotle? I love that story.

    Love you so much!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 27, 2015

      Emily, I think you're right that some of our kids really get hit with so much in terms of things that make it difficult for them to cope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I was just thinking yesterday that we're way overdue for a phone call. I'll have to remember the Chipotle story with Kathleen and Kalkidan well enough to tell it – or maybe you should tell it!

      Reply
  8. Hope
    August 26, 2015

    I collected my son from elementary school every day with a smoothie in hand! I varied the ingredients- but always included fruit, a protein (yogurt, peanut butter, protein powder), and a bit of sweetness! I found the afternoons were smooth with a level blood sugar and a full belly. He's a big guy now and makes his own smoothies, but I thought I share what used to work!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 27, 2015

      That's brilliant, Hope.

      Reply

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