Mom won't stop buying candy and other junk food

joann23456March 10, 2013

My sister and my 11-year-old niece live with me. My sister and I have both struggled with our weight throughout our lives; my niece is slim and athletic. Before they moved in, I kept sweets and salty snacks and other things I wanted to overeat out of the house. I ate them, but I bought them in single servings, one small ice cream cone, one candy bar, a small package of cookies.

My sister doesn't do this, and always keeps cookies or candy plus chips and other snacks around and, as a result, has been gaining weight steadily throughout the years, to the point that she's out of breath after one flight of stairs. (She has serious mental health issues and uses food to soothe herself.)

We've talked about this, she knows how much she's hurting herself and how she makes things harder for me, but she says she can't stop. I have asked her to keep the food in her room and eat it there, and she sometimes agrees, but doesn't keep it up. She always goes back to sitting on the couch with a big bag of M&Ms or cookies.

And it's really affecting my niece. Not only does she eat her mother's junk food, she also begs my sister for her own favorites, and my sister gives in constantly. (My sister says she feels guilty denying my niece when she's buying the stuff for herself.) On Friday, for example, my sister went to the store for her daily fix of junk, and bought my niece a big package of gummy candy (maybe 5-6 ounces), a single-serving bag of Funions, and a large can of whipped cream. And my niece ate almost all of this in one sitting.

My sister isn't stupid. She knows she's hurting her daughter, and will even talk about how she, herself, used to be slim and athletic until puberty, when she gained a ton of weight. But she says she can't quit, and that eating in her own room just isn't as pleasurable as doing it in front of the TV in the living room.

I cook most of our dinners and try to make sure they're well-balanced. I keep healthy snacks around. I talk to my niece about why sugar and lots of fat aren't good for you. But I don't see how to counteract the constant presence of her mother mindlessly shoving chocolate into her mouth.

Just wondering if any of you might have an idea I haven't thought of.

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I don't think you can control your sister or her behaviors, although I worry for your neice. But you do have a say in what happens under your roof.

My personal opinion - if she leaves the junk food anywhere but her own room, it goes into the trash. You pick it up, and you take it outside and put it in the garbage can.

Your house, your rules!

This post was edited by tally on Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 11:47

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I agree that you won't be able to stop your sister from giving her daughter junk food. If your sister is set on a path of self-destruction, there is nothing you can do about it other than talk to her honestly about your concerns, which it sounds like you have.

I was overweight as a child and I still have major self-esteem issues from the bullying and teasing that I went through because of it. I continue to this day to struggle and I really wish someone had sat me down at that age and explained how important it is to develop healthy eating habits, especially when you're young, because it sets you up for the rest of your life .

I would tell her that while she is slim and healthy now, she won't always be if she continues to eat like that, and it is much harder to lose weight than it is to gain it. Just be honest - she is old enough to absorb the message. But also be careful because you don't want to give her any suggestions that would develop into an eating disorder.
She might not appreciate it now but she will later in life.

Another possible tactic would be to try to get her on your side with her mom. Make some kind of reward system for going a few weeks without eating any junk, it doesn't have to be anything expensive. Maybe put her in charge of designing a "family health" plan that includes healthy food and exercise. I know kids sometimes like feeling that they are in control of something, and will often get much more into it when they are leading instead of being forced to follow. Things like putting her in control of making healthy snacks for a movie night or letting her do the grocery shopping (supervised of course) as long as it is all healthy. I would have loved to have that much responsibility at that age. Maybe you can consider planting a garden. I just started my first one and it's a lot of fun. :)

The only thing you are really able to do is try to teach her about the importance of healthy eating, and I would make it as interesting and interactive as possible.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 12:11PM
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Seems you are dealing with TWO CHILDREN.

OK, if you are the default mother to them both, you will have to be the adult. Treat your sister like the child she is on this issue. Junk food in your sight goes down the disposal or toilet -- always.

Yes, there will be tantrums -- because you are dealing with a CHILD. Expect it. Steel yourself to it. No begging or pleading and no anger when you take away the poisons. It's just a household rule being enforced, like washing your hands before dinner or taking off your shoes when you come in the house.

As for your neice: Today it's junk food. Tomorrow it's cigarettes or alcohol or anything else that is 'out of bounds'. You have to be the Consistent Grownup.

You all might sometimes go out for AN ice cream cone or A candy bar. Walk there and back if you can!

Almost no one drinks enough water. You might pick up the junk food with one hand while setting down a glass of water with the other. SMILE! Offer a hug. Say *nothing*. You are doing them a favor!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 1:06PM
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I am addicted to sugar~~it is like my drug. About 7 months ago I went cold turkey off, it is a struggle everyday. I lost weight and I feel great~~~I go to an Ayruvedic counselor, I am making life style changes. She says I can have sweets maybe once a week or monthly. I try not to have any. It is like being any type of addict once you taste it you want more.

I would have to tell my sister that she has to eat her junk food outside, of my house If you were an recovering acoholic or ex drug addict, you would not want her to bring it into your home?

I guess a compromise would be to only eat it in her room, she says it is not as pleasurable to her, too bad. It is your house and you need to be comfortable~~~I could not sit and watch her gobble junk all day.

I would not lecture her on healthy eating or fight with her I would just say this is how it is going to be~~no junk food in the house or only in your room~~really I would say none in the house at all! You really can not bargain with an addict;(

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 1:28PM
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Good suggestions above. Yes, your sister is an addict. She's self-medicating with sugar and junk food. I agree with YogaLady that the only way out of it is to quit cold turkey and stay quit. I did this myself with sugar a long time ago. But I don't see it happening with your sister.

Definitely lay down the law about where the food is eaten. If it's more pleasurable for her to eat in front of the TV in the living room, all the more reason to insist that she can't do it. To allow it is to enable her, and no one should enable an addict. Limiting her binges to her room won't stop them, but it may well cut down on the quantity she eats.

As for your poor niece (and I'm trying to figure out how she managed to consume an entire can of whipped cream), it sounds like your sister is looking for the equivalent of an alcoholic's drinking buddy. She's grooming her to become addicted, too, and it sounds like she has succeeded already.

I wish I could give you some useful advice, but short of banning this "food" from your house entirely I don't see how you can keep your niece away from it with you and your sister operating at cross-purposes. Maybe you could have a word with your niece's pediatrician? Can't hurt, but I have no idea if it'll help.

You have my sympathy, Joann. This must be wildly frustrating for you to observe. But I hope you'll take the tough love approach seriously. That would at least cut down on what you are forced to watch.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 2:58PM
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Addicts have a monster for a master.

They do whatever the boss says.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 3:04PM
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How old is your sister and why does she have to live with you? Does she work and why not? You have to be the adult and not her mommy. Your house your rules I agree. They seem to be taking advantage of you. Sorry but this is called Tough Love. I did it with a person years ago and it worked.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 3:27PM
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can she directed to the lower calorie alternatives? (although they do have side the labels) but we can't tell the difference between nips candy, and the sugarfree. same for several ice cream brands that are sugar free...once a week or 2, we have rootbeer float, that's pretty good!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 10:31PM
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Thanks for the feedback. I was feeling so frustrated this morning.

For those who don't know, my sister lives with me because of serious mental health issues. (And yes, she definitely self-medicates with food.) They've been here since soon after my niece was born, so she's a daughter to me.

We all have a serious talk today and set some ground rules about food. For the first time, my niece was able to tell my sister directly about how having all the junk around affects her, and it got through to my sister, at least for now. We'll see how it goes.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 11:24PM
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Thanks for the update. Wow! Think what you could do with the money once spent on junk food! I almost never enter two aisles of our grocery store -- the candy, chips and sugary drinks aisles.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 11:33AM
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Joann, I was glad to read your update. How has it been going?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 9:02PM
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For the past few days, much better. We all sat down and decided on a couple ground rules: (1) All food must be eaten off plates, not directly from the bag, and (2) If you want to gorge, do it in your room.

She'd been feeling lousy about herself, and decided to try eating better, so she's doing way better right now. And she's been walking with me the past two days and took an exercise class today.

My niece is getting into the spirit, as well. She chose a small sweet to have each night, but has otherwise eaten real food. She's been reading food labels and asking about nutrients.

It's just a start and I have no illusions that things have changed for good, but it's encouraging that she's at least trying to work with me.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 10:26PM
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That is encouraging. I hope things will continue on this track for you.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 10:31PM
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Elraes Miller

Sugar can be a huge part of psychological issues. Even depression will go there. I know two people who are in this situation even with medication. Support you are giving will help a great deal. Counseling is also recommended in this situation. It is known to be part of the brain response and difficult to control under many circumstances.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:07AM
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I wish you the best. Stay strong and maybe suggest a new hobby for both. Also some counseling would help and both will feel better and will take some of the load off of you. Good luck

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I'm also hoping the new routine will STICK! (This reminds me that I need to return to doing my Wii exercises, now that we are home.)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 6:22PM
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I found looking after children that if you deprieved them of sugar, junk food all the time they will go looking and searching for it and pig out on it.

But give them small amounts and also make sure they aren't in the house to find and pig out on.

Buy better foods that they both like and will eat but isn't as harmful on bags of m&m's, chips, etc. whatever she buys and eats all at once.

Plus where is she getting the money from as those things are expensive to buy and eat.

Is she getting help for her issues? Talking to someone to get help for her and not let her daughter do down same path as her mother.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 10:10PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Alternatives need to be provided.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 10:38PM
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I can feel your frustration. I guess in this case, you need to be the role model for your niece (and sister). I would try and stock up/serve the healthiest foods you can. Get your niece involved with prepping/cooking/grocery shopping.

I have small kids and find it's helpful to wash and cut up fruits and veggies so they are easy to grab. We try and stress how healthy foods give us energy, help us feel better, make us strong etc. But we certainly aren't perfect, so yes, I think having treats once in a while or the single serve packs helps curb any binges.

Good Luck!
Teresa-who gave up chocolate for Lent and craves it EVERYDAY!!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 11:23PM
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This may sound crazy but I just got the book The Mood Cure and it is all about diet and mood disorders. I use it for both my sons. One gets depression and the other gets anger outbursts. Thankfully they both seem to react to the same foods (dairy, sugar and gluten) that when these are kept out of their diet they are balanced kids. It is a very interesting read and you can probably get from your local library. My oldest son (12) won't go back to how he used to eat as he has improved in mindset, athletics, focus and his skin cleared up so he is sticking to it. He had a major junk food addiction - well, as much as I would allow but he would always be asking for sweets, dairy and breads.
I also follow this way of eating (with a few more restrictions) for my autoimmune conditions and noticed my irritability also went away. Here is a link to the book if you want to get an idea or check out others reviews.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 9:44AM
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I missed this post first time around and am just reading it now. I know it's about sugar and weight control but the one thing that caught my eye is "she's out of breath after walking a flight of stairs". Yes, this could be because of her weight issue but she should have her heart checked out. Shortness of breath going up stairs or up hills is one sign of heart problems particularly in women. Just saying. It's worth looking into. Meanwhile, I wish you success particularly with your niece. She's at a very impressionable age and I hope she takes more of a lead from you then from her mom.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 5:32PM
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As yet things may not have changed for good but be proud of yourself that things have changed for the good.

Short of abuse it's not your place to tell her how to raise her child but it is your house. Bad time of year for this to come up but under the my house/my rules, just like a smoker you could say consumption of ____ is outside only. At least not in the living room, in front of the TV. Good idea to have it on plates. I'd also suggest all eating at the kitchen table or something if the TV isn't in view. If it is, maybe move the TV. One idea is perhaps start some portion control so at least the niece realizes how much she's eating.

Other things, maybe you and the niece could take a walk when sis is binging. Or go play a board game or something.

Good luck and congratulations to you. You've made progress.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:23PM
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