autism, Blogging, Disability Awareness, Food

The serial cereal thief: living with a compulsive eater

Photo by Binyamin Mellish on

What do you do if you live with someone who compulsively steals food and doesn’t give a fig? You love them, of course, and try to come up with clever ways to thwart their modus operandi.

My elder son, now 20 years old, has a severe learning disability and autism. He’s a giant – in stature and in character. He’s loud, repetitive in his habits and behaviours, and determined that he shall not be challenged.

Dealing with him takes patience and requires subtle persuasion techniques. He does not respond well to ‘firm’ discipline and the resulting anger and meltdowns caused by this approach, renders it counterproductive for any would-be enforcer.

As I type this, I am being continually interrupted by him to be told about a character from a film, or that he has completed a helpful task. In between the interruptions, he is repeating phrases he has heard from his favourite films and TV shows, at top volume. His incessant noise has luckily, over time, afforded me the ability to be able to block out the cacophony and focus on the task in hand!

He does have an endearing side to him. He’s more often than not, good humoured and very loving, albeit that he engages with you on his terms. When he is being negative and is taking an anti-social path, it takes good humour and a ‘cyclical script’ to be able to bring him round to a more positive frame of mind. It can be exhausting to try and convince him to do the thing you want him to do when he has no understanding of how his behaviour affects others. Pointing out such a deficit is, again, deemed as a challenge and is counterproductive, usually.

Now I come to the ‘food’ issue. We are none of us, lightweights in this household and food is a comfort when dealing with the stress and anxiety that each new day can bring. This is further compounded by the fact that my son is on medication which increases his appetite. He is obsessed with helping himself to any food he wants to eat and doesn’t hold back. This is on top of the three usual daily meals!

He regularly dispenses himself a huge bowl of cereal to the point where it’s doming and then proceeds to squeeze in the milk. A four-pack of yoghurts – gone in the blink of an eye. A punnet of tomatoes – devoured, even if you were planning to save them for an evening meal. A 500ml bottle of diet cola – downed in less than ten seconds. The list goes on.

After the crimes have been committed, I can pretty much guarantee that the phrase “Am I the quickest eater/drinker?” will fall from his satiated lips as I, in turn, perform a comical look of disbelief. I find myself replying “You are, aren’t you.” in order to play along; to keep him on an even keel because sanctions don’t work.

So how have I managed to contain much of his impulsive thievery? The measures weren’t easy to implement and they weren’t imposed all at the same time.

First came the fridge. The industrial-strength padlock didn’t go down well, and I had to endure the rage. Although I generally prefer to avoid any battles, this was one which had to be fought, if only for the good of his health. Amazingly, after the fallout, came acceptance. It worked. Now the containment only fails when I forget to lock the fridge or leave the lanyard with the key on it lying around!

My son is very resourceful. He soon discovered that he could move on to proudly steal whole cartons of icecream from the freezer. So next came a matching lock for the freezer. Again, thwarted, I had to endure his ‘meltdown’. But afterwards, success!

His ever-watchful eyes don’t miss a trick. His vigilance is astounding and I jokingly name him ‘Roz’, after a character from the film Monsters Inc. I recite her famous quote as if said by him: “I’m watching you Wazowski. Always watching.” And he takes it well because he loves that film.

I have used a million small hiding places for snacks, all subsequently discovered after his radar detects me rustling the packaging. A box of cereal bars – gone. Three packets of crisps – munched.

The third and final success was buying a metal filing box to keep the snacks locked away in the pantry. The lanyard now boasts three keys and has become the new focus of his attention! Hiding that at night is vital, as he will wake up early and hunt around my bedroom for it!

At this stage he still steals cereal (I now buy variety packs in order to keep the individual portion size down) and he is trustworthy enough to be given the lanyard to help himself to the milk. He will dutifully lock the fridge back up and return the key to me. He understands the boundaries, but is clearly still a serial cereal thief!

It is obvious that these tactics are working. He has lost some weight and looks all the better for it. For someone who has no ‘off switch’, it was a no-brainer that I needed to take action and I’m so glad I did.

If you are in need of such measures to stop somebody from eating compulsively, here are a couple of affilate links to the items I bought from

Fridge Lock White and Cathedral Metal A4 File Box.

If my experiences of living with a compulsive eater resonate with you, I’d love for you to share your story in the comments below.


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