Ask An Expert / OCD: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

I’m afraid my 15-year-old daughter is a hoarder because she hides food around her room. What do you think?

There are other explanations that might be more likely

Jerry Bubrick, PhD
Jerry Bubrick, PhD

Senior Clinical Psychologist, Anxiety Disorders Center

Child Mind Institute

I fear that my 15 year old daughter is a hoarder especially about food. She hides food under her bed and in her closet and in drawers but says she doesn't remember eating it and it wasn't her food. She has ADHD and takes medication for that but I find that all over the house too. Her room is very messy and she is completely disorganized and gets bad grades because she never turns in her homework. I have taken her for therapy but the doctors never seemed to get to the subject of hoarding. Do you think this is hoarding?

Hoarding is a disorder that interferes a lot with a child’s daily life. Kids who hoard have a lot of clutter in their bedrooms, and it’s different from the kind of clutter that kids accumulate when they’re just being messy and disorganized. Kids who hoard tend to keep a lot of stuff in their drawers, making it hard to use them for just storing clothes, or keep a lot of things on their desk, making it hard to do homework. It would probably be difficult to maneuver around her room because there would be a lot of stuff on her floor. And, most likely, there would be a lot of different kinds of things that she would be saving — not just food.

Without having seen your daughter I can’t say for sure, but the fact that you particularly mention food makes me think that she might not be hoarding, or if she is then she is doing an unusual form of it. I can actually think of some other possibilities that might be more likely explanations of your daughter’s behavior.

Sometimes people who have eating disorders will hoard food. So that’s one possibility. Whether or not she has an eating disorder, she could also be hoarding food as a coping mechanism to help her deal with stress. In other words, she could be engaging in emotional eating.

You mention that your daughter is disorganized, homework is hard for her, and she’s getting bad grades. This is something that could be causing considerable stress for your daughter, and possibly even triggering depression. She could be using food as a way of coping with the negative emotions that she’s feeling. And she might not be bringing it up in therapy because she isn’t ready to give up this coping skill that she feels is helping her deal with her emotions.

You should get your daughter evaluated to find out if she is depressed or if she has some other issue that she’s dealing with. If it turns out that she is depressed, then as part of her treatment she should be learning better skills to help her handle her emotions so that she doesn’t need to rely on food anymore.