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Why Is My Toddler Overeating and Vomiting?

“My toddler threw up after eating! What should I do?”

I’ve heard that more than once from parents in my career as a pediatric dietitian.

Toddler overeating and vomiting can be a surprising and upsetting event for you and your child, but it’s not uncommon.

Your pediatrician ruled out medical factors. There’s nothing wrong with your child physically and that’s a relief! But now what?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at behavioral reasons for toddler overeating and vomiting and what you can do to curb this behavior.

A toddler eating breakfast in Why is my toddler Overeating and vomiting?

Is My Toddler Eating Too Much?

You might be concerned aboutyour toddler overeating and how much is the “right” amount he should eat every day.

How much your child eats from day to-day will fluctuate. Normally, that’s nothing to worry about.

Calorie needs are pretty high for your toddler’s small but growing body and brain! Toddlers ages 12 to 23 months need about 700 to 1000 calories a day.

Follow basic toddler portion sizes for guidance to get an idea of what your young child needs each day.

Remember, very active children and kids going through growth spurts will be hungrier. When your child has a positive relationship with food, he’s more likely to regulate the amount of food his body needs by listening to his hunger signals and knowing when he’s full.

And sometimes your child eats dessert just because their yummy – that’s perfectly normal.

Are you worried about your toddler’s overeating when his eating doesn’t seem to be motivated by hunger?

You’re not alone.

Here’s a letter from a concerned parent.

Dear Jill,

I have been following you on Facebook and your blog for a while and I wanted to thank you so much for everything. The lessons you have taught me have been invaluable. 

That being said, I contacted you a while ago with regards to my daughter, who is a toddler. My husband and I are both very slim and fit people who have never had to really watch our weight. 

However, our daughter is in the 90th percentile for weight and is very much obsessed with food. This has gotten SO MUCH BETTER since you let me know that I was monitoring her food intake too closely. 

Since then we have given her more choices and let her decide when she is full and she has in turn seemed to regulate what she is eating and food doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue. So, THANK YOU!!! 

A new problem has arrived recently that when she goes out to eat with anyone she will overeat. Yesterday she did it to the point that she threw up. 

I am wondering if there is something I can do to help address this problem. Please let me know if you have any pointers. Thank you!!!

Thanks to MN for writing to update me on her daughter’s progress, and for making my day with her kind words.

Let’s dive into reasons for a toddler’s overeating and what you can do about it.

Why Is My Child Vomiting After Eating Too Much?

There are medical and mechanical reasons your child may be vomiting after eating too much. Some causes are gastroparesis, food allergies, a viral infection, food poisoning, and other infections like ear infections. 

And even a crying spell can lead to vomiting!

When overeating and vomiting happens regularly and there isn’t a medical reason for it, the cause might be something else, like:

Food restriction

Restricting what and how much your child eats can trigger the desire to eat as much as possible because she’s afraid she won’t get that food again. This promotes overeating.

Excessive hunger

If your child missed a meal or snack and is very hungry, he may overeat. Establishing structure and a schedule for meals and snacks helps prevent overeating.

Eating too fast

When your child eats too fast, he can swallow a lot of air. And, a fast eater tends to eat a lot more food before he realizes how much he’s eaten.

Distractions

Television, video games, toys and even reading take your child’s mind off his tummy and the food he’s eating. Before he knows it, he’s overeaten. Some kids don’t realize they’ve even eaten at all when they’re distracted.

Tips to Prevent Overeating and Vomiting

Helping your child develop healthy eating habits is not a fast endeavor. Unhealthy eating habits can stick around into adulthood. The goal is to encourage lifelong healthy habits for your child.

Let’s dive into a few positive changes you can make to create a positive food environment.

Talk About Hunger and Fullness

If you haven’t talked about hunger and fullness (‘happy belly’ = satisfied; ‘hungry belly’ = needs to eat) with your daughter, it’s time to help her identify her internal feelings, and also teach her that eating happens mostly when we are hungry.

Redirect Your Child After Meals

When it seems like your child has had enough to eat, or she is slowing down, you can ask her if she’s ready to do something else (go play, etc).

Sometimes it’s hard at restaurants because there’s a lot of food, and a lot of sitting.

Adopt a Diplomatic Feeding Style

A diplomatic feeding style promotes better self-regulation of eating and a positive relationship with food compared to a controlling or indulgent feeding style.

Try practicing Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding: let your child decide how much he’ll eat and whether he’ll eat what you’ve provided.

It may seem counterintuitive, but restricting your child’s food and forcing him to eat his vegetables may actually do more harm than good.

What to Do When Your Toddler Vomits After Overeating

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to a toddler overeating and vomiting, but despite your best efforts, it might happen from time to time.

As a pediatric dietitian, I have some advice.

First, don’t make too big a deal about it.

Instead, turn it into a teachable moment.

Teach your child to make an association. With toddlers, keep it simple but definitely make associations so they learn.

How did she feel after she threw up?

You can associate how it feels to eat too much, and how that resulted in throwing up. Suggest a pause after eating a reasonable amount.

I would treat the event as a ‘woops, remember what happened when you ate too much? That’s why we have to listen to our tummy…’

Send Me The Do’s & Dont’s of Picky Eating!

Final Thoughts

There are medical and mechanical reasons a child might vomit after eating, so it’s important your pediatrician rules out any issues first.

Don’t worry – if this a negative behavior, it can be corrected with your guidance and with the help of a nutrition professional.

Raising healthy kids can be a tough job with lots of challenges peppered along the way.

My program, The Nourished Child Blueprint, can help you strike a nutritious food balance, feed with love and limits, and implement healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Learn the facts about junk food, or ultra-processed foods, in your child’s diet and rethink the convenience foods in your pantry.

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