Many people have an emotional attachment to food. Whether the constant need to eat quickly so a sibling wouldn’t take vittles off your plate or the smell of baked goods on Christmas morning, food evokes specific memories and feelings. For the person hoarding food, there could be more underneath the surface than the shared diagnosis of a hoarding disorder.
Someone who is hoarding food does not merely collect food items, but the person struggles with throwing anything away. It is common, in these cases, to ignore expiration dates, mold, and other signals that the items are unsafe to consume. There is always a justifiable reason to seek for, steal, amass and need more and more food. Here are some reasons that someone may be hoarding food:
Trauma regarding situations where basic needs for food were unreliably met. As children, food hoarders often experience impoverished conditions where there was neglect or deprivation. This trauma can cause that person to have an overly developed sense of self-sufficiency and self-preservation. This person will be driven to ensure they never have to go without food, even if the condition of the food is unacceptable.
Trauma where the food hoarder uses food to try and fill a void. This is one where hoarding and disordered eating clearly intertwine. In our society many people fill emotional voids with things like drugs, sex, alcohol, or food. As with all of these, that internal “hole in the heart” never gets filled, so an individual may just increase the focus of the addiction. In the case of food, a food hoarder may continue ingesting enough and collecting enough until those emotions are somewhat satiated, but will continue the cycle once that period of calm has ended.
Trauma where a person finds it necessary to have control over food. This sort of trauma is closer tied to the first reason mentioned, but can also be present for other reasons. Many obsessive compulsive behaviors are tied to a need for control when other areas of life seem out of control. Sometimes, it can be due to the loss of someone or something close to the person. Another example could be a person with a submissive personality continually being dominated by family, friends, or an employer. For some food hoarders, being able to provide food items for themselves and consume or store them without outside interference, gives a sense of power, peace, and comfort.
Although these reasons are deep rooted, there is hope to having a healthy relationship with food again. If you are struggling, or someone you know, the most important thing is that the person suffering with food hoarding sees it as a problem and desires to get help. Regardless of the disorder or addiction, this is the only way a behavior can truly begin to change.
When the person desires to change and then reaches out for help, it is important that that he/she gives themselves time. Most people do not execute a lifestyle change perfectly, without any issues or setbacks. Patience is pivotal, as is the understanding that an obstacle does not undo all the progress one makes. One day at a time, one step at a time – with hard work, patience, and endurance – will help bring a lasting transformation and a new way of life.