Why Is My 10 Yr Old Daughter Overeating?

Updated on July 02, 2012
S.A. asks from Chicago, IL
22 answers

Hi Mamas,

I'm getting worried about my 10 yr old daughter's eating habits. She was always a super skinny kid with no body fat up until she turned about 8-9. She started getting a little curvy, and in the last year (between 9-10) she has gained about 20 lbs. When I took her for her physical in April, the pediatrician mentioned that her BMI wasn't that great and told her that she should limit her intake of sweets and junk food, and basically stay active all of the time-a sport every season. We left the appointment and she cried on the way home saying she was fat. I told her that's not what the doctor said, just that she needed to start watching things and making healthy choices.

So, I talked to my husband and we examined our pantry. We mainly buy healthy foods with a few treats. Our biggest problem was fast food. We would get fast food or carry-out 1-2 times a week due to crazy sports schedules etc...so we decided to cut back on that, and not buy sweets, chips or soda for home. We said we would have our "treat day" on Sundays when we go to my parents house for dinner. They always make a not so "light" meal and scrumptious dessert. Our daughter was initially unhappy to have to cut back on her treats, but seemed to adjust when she realized the stuff was just not in the house.

Now that it's almost July, I feel like she's trimmed down a tad. She's been taking swimming lessons 4 days a week, playing softball, and the sweets and other bad foods have not been as available.

My concern is that on the rare occasion that we do go to a fast food place now, she wants to order what would be a huge meal for an adult. My son had his baseball end of the season party at Culver's on Tuesday night. We had eaten dinner before the game, and granted she didn't eat that much because it was 4:30 PM, but when we got to Culver's she didn't want just ice cream. She wanted a double cheeseburger basket, cheese curds, and ice cream. While I was over by my son's team watching him and our 2 yr old, she convinced my husband to order her this food by saying she was starving. I took half of the cheese curds away from her, and it's a good thing I did because she had a bad stomachache afterwards. I talked to her and told her gently that the stomachache was because she overate. She cried and said she knew it, and knew it was too much food, but she wanted it.

Mamas, I'm so worried because I was an overweight child and I'm desperate to keep her from the same fate. How can I keep her from overeating? She has had pretty good self image up until recently, and I don't want to make her feel badly about herself. I know it's unrealistic to never go to restaurants. We have cut back, but now that it's summer, sometimes we go places wtih my mom and then eat at a restaurant. How can I get her to make better choices at restaurants? She says she's too hungry for the portions on the kids menu, but then she orders some huge thing from the regular menu and either stuffs herself or wastes it.

Yesterday, she had went to a program at the library. It was called Pictionary. I assumed they would just learn how to play Pictionary and play it. It was a program she went to by herself in a classroom, and the parents waited outside. When she came out, she had Cheetos dust on her mouth and told me they got to have Cheetos and cookies. I casually asked her how much of that stuff she ate. She told me a little bit of cheetos, but 4 cookies! WTH???? I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.

We have a vacation coming up at the end of July, and are staying at a hotel so unfortunately, it will involve a lot of restaurant eating. I don't want her binge eating and being miserable all night.

Any tips or advice would be GREATLY appreciated!

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So What Happened?

No, I am most certainly not telling my daughter she's fat. That is a ridiculous assumption. I am not giving her a complex either. Her pediatrician told her she needs to cut down on sugary and fatty foods, and ramp up her exercise. I am not talking about her weight daily or even in any regular capacity. I'm talking about when we go to restaurants. Thanks to those who actually offered some beneficial advice. For the others who jumped all over me, and basically told me I'm verbally abusing my daughter, and making her think she's fat because I asked how many Cheetos and cookies she ate at the library , you can go fly a kite. I really hope you are all really the perfect parents you portray yourselves as. If you are, your kids are very lucky indeed!

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answers from Dallas on

I'd worry most about what she's eating at home for meals and snacks and let the other even out.

Do her other little friends look a bit chunkier than they used to? It seems like pre-pubescent girls plump up a bit about 10-11 yrs old and then slim down around 12-14 yrs old.

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answers from Chicago on

I have a 10 year old that sneaks chocolate and other sweets. She's getting pudgy because of it. For us, I've not removed all candy in the house because if it's there she eats it. My other daughter, is overweight. She loves eating. She has also bitten her nails since she was very young. She has told me that she likes keeping her hands busy by eating food. At first my approach was that everything would work itself out and I didn't need to police their behavior. But, I now police their behavior as well as keep temptation out of the house. Travel is so hard when it comes to eating right. My biggest goal has been to cut down on soda and french fries. Chicken nuggets, OK. Fries? Skip them. It's a really hard line to walk and I start feeling as if all I say is No. But nothing else seems to work except monitoring their intake. I did want to say that kids do gain weight as puberty begins. Good-luck.

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answers from Dallas on

Sounds like she is going thru a growth spurt.

She's very active and is probably trying to replace the nourishment she needs for swimming and softball.

I think you are overreacting and putting your personal fears on her. Whether you intend to or not, your telling her at age ten to cut out sweets when she didn't need to before - that sends a huge message and it may just get into her psyche. Ten year olds are not stupid, she knows very well why those foods aren't available to her anymore.

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answers from Seattle on

So I've shared this swedish study a few times on this site... but not for awhile. This isn't going to be my best rendition of it, because I'm having an allergic reaction (grrr....latex) and am waiting for the meds to kick in.


A HUGE study in Sweden (both longitudinal... spanning 3 generations, as well huge in number, hundreds of thousands of 'participants') was done looking at weights and menstrual cycles.

Cut to the chase / results:

- Nearly all prepubescent girls PACK on 20-30 pounds right before puberty

- Of those who diet / radically increase exercise/ etc.... they typically struggle with being 20-30 pounds overweight until menopause.

- Of those who CHANGE NOTHING, the weight stays on for 6mo-18mo and then just melts off with absolutely no change at all. This group typically has no to very few instances of being overweight during childbearing years.

Pretty jaw dropping, huh?

The theory behind this is that when the body is gearing up for reproduction, it's also setting certain 'norms'. If the body judges that it's in a famine or high stress environment, it sets a normal weight higher to make surviving pregnancy more likely.

Looked at historically... girls used to "come out" at 16. Prior to that, girls wore fairly shapeless dresses with empire waists almost universally (in the western world), until an age when nearly every girl has finished puberty. There are COUNTLESS references to 'baby fat', thinning out, growing curves, that show that pre 1900, this 'trend' for prepubescent girls to pack on weight was holding strong. Also highlights a bunch of other things, but we don't need to go into those (aka how girl's clothes have changed and the 'need' to be pretty/sexy/slim has crashed down into the childhood years could go on for pages).

Childhood obesity, obesity in general... isn't a 'single fix' problem. There are lots and lots of things that go into it (although, because of the startling results of the Swedish Study... the modern day trend of 'starving' infants by giving them tablefood at 6mo onward is also being looked into... the theory being that there are certain times in one's life that are key for setting 'normal' in one's weight).

This, however (the DO NOT DIET during pre-menses fat-stack) is a HUGE thing to be aware of. An extra 20-30 pound from pre-menses to menopause. That's a good 40 years of struggling to maintain a healthy weight, when 1 year of being chubby could eradicate it.

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answers from Boca Raton on

The foods that she is gravitating towards (burgers, ice cream, cheetos) . . . sound like cravings for FAT! And the human body (especially a growing child) needs fat!

I would look at healthy fats like coconut oils, organic, grass fed meats and eggs, etc.

I would not expect a pre-pubescent girl to ease up on these cravings until her nutritional needs are met. We have an instinct to hunt and eat what our bodies need. Even my little puppy knows to go out and chew grass or leaves when she needs some roughage or has a tummy ache. It's very hard to turn off that instinct, nor should we actually. The problem is that - in modern society - we have faux food that doesn't meet our needs (therefore we have to eat alot of it which is bad for us).

I would do alot of reading on the subject. I would not want to limit her calories but I would want to make sure the calories are high in nutrient content (including good fats).

You could even meet with a nutritionist (just be aware they are not all created equally).

I would not make a big deal out of it with my daughter.

Good luck.

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answers from Springfield on

I think you might be hyper-aware right now, and she's still getting used to the changes that have been made.

You went to an event at the library where a snack was a part of it. Kids are going to overindulge when adults allow them. My kids are young and are very used to being told they can have 2 cookies or 1 serving of chips or whatever. There are some things they attend where you get these adult volunteers who just love to overindulge the kids. I just laugh inside and make a mental note for dinner. (Also, my in-laws are like this, so my husband and I tend to be very aware before and after a visit with them).

You gave several reasons why she was hungry at Culvers. It might have been better if you had said nothing at all. It sounds like she might have stopped eating about half-way through her meal because she would have been full. "Her eyes were bigger than her stomach," as my dad would say. But it takes time for kids to understand that and really apply that.

You're doing the right thing by having healthy choices at home. You're going to have to trust that and relax a bit when their are less healthy moments.

When you go on vacation, think about the restaurants you choose. Restaurants do not automatically mean unhealthy. You can go to some sandwich places, do a little research on-line and find restaurants you like that also healthy options on their menu. Maybe tell your family to order from that section of the menu.

Right now you need to relax a bit. Also, keep in mind that she's a growing girl and that she really might need more than what the kids menu has to offer.

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answers from Dallas on

I wouldn't worry or stress about it. Gaining some extra weight at this age is normal.

I remember being 10 and hearing my mother tell people that I was not overweight, I was healthy. So I assume (I don't actually remember feeling fat) I was overweight. My daughter and many of her classmates gained some weight at 10, and it was not because of lack of exercise, nor unhealthy eating. I won't list the activities she was involved in at that time, but she was VERY active, as were her friends. They just need that extra weight for a biggie growth spurt, and their bodies are preparing them for menstruation. Women need a certain amount of fat to menstruate. Have you noticed that women who diet a lot and/or exercise too much have irregular periods, to the point that they miss periods? Women and young girls need a certain amount of fat. Don't stress though; she will lose the weight within a year or so as her body changes.

I haven't read all the responses, and so I do not know the tone of the responses that caused you to feel you were attacked. I do know that kids are A LOT smarter than we give them credit for. Even though you may have casually asked how much she ate, she probably knew that underlying that you were asking if she ate too much. I have made the same mistake before and, even though you may have made your tone as neutral as possible, kids know and they remember. My daughter is sixteen and is still insecure about comments her dad made (tact is not his style; he bluntly told her she was overweight) when she was 10.

I am not saying this to bash you or make you feel like a bad parent. Only to point out that our kids are smart and they know us and our subtle manipulation techniques. I have learned not to ask when it concerns weight or food--they can become insecure no matter how subtle we try to be, and the last thing you want is a daughter who is insecure and bulimic and/or anorexic. The only thing you can do is buy healthier food (but not comment on it or why, just quietly make the switch) and encourage exercise (again, without comment).

Best of luck! It'll sort itself out soon enough.

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answers from Muncie on

She is 10, if she can not make wise healthy choices then remove the ability for her to choose when you are out. Also make sure your husband knows the meal plan when you are out so she can not "divide and conquer" the two of you again.

As you said, you were a heavy child yourself, this could be genetic in part. Do you have old pictures of yourself at her age? Showing her that she is not alone, that you do know how it feels, may help. Help her understand that it's not about "fat" or "thin" but healthy and gorging herself is not healthy (even if it's on "healthy" foods, my daughter could eat a whole bag of grapes in a sitting if I'd let her.).

Good luck. I'm an overweight momma and I'm trying not to pass on "food issues" with my own daughter.

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answers from Denver on

Just a thought about the restaurant aspect of this issue:

She is only 10, and I'm presuming she does not have her own cash or credit card. So you make the rules in the restaurant. The person who has the money and who will be paying the bill gets to set the rules, within reason, right? (There's an old joke about a young cash-strapped man nervously taking his new girlfriend out to lunch. He looks at the waitress and pointedly says 'I'll just have a cup of soup and a glass of water'. Then he looks at his girlfriend and says 'And what will you just have?') Of course, you and your husband will both have to be on board with this.

What would you do if you walked into a restaurant and she insisted on the lobster and caviar, when everyone else was getting the hot dog special? Would you say ok? I doubt it! You wouldn't be thinking about calories, you'd be thinking "No way! You're 10! You don't get to choose anything regardless of price or anything else!"

So let her know you are paying the bill and making the decisions, and she may order off the kids' menu. Don't let her peruse the grownups' menu. Hand her the kids' menu only. You don't need to mention portion sizes or calories or fat content, you simply need to say that the kids' menu is perfect for kids and more reasonably priced and that's that.

If she's hungry, she'll eat that and she might find out that she's satisfied.

If she eats the entire kids' meal and still wants more food, that sounds like more than an appetite issue, or hunger, because even kids' meals are pretty substantial at most American restaurants. That sounds like more of a control problem or some other issue.

And if she insists on the half pound burger with all the fries, simply hold your ground and take her out of the restaurant. Again, it's not about the calories, it's just that most kids don't need to establish that pattern and insist on ordering whatever they want.

Stand your ground.

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answers from Seattle on

I've got an 8 year old with curves if you will. She's 4'2" and around 75lbs. My daughter also occasionally stuffs herself. She can out eat a lot of adults. However, she is active and not overweight though yes on the higher end. I cannot believe your daughter's pediatrician is using BMI at her age. There is a huge possibility that all those curves and such are just baby fat that her body does need in order to grow into a healthy teen. I realize you do not want her to be overweight as you were so instead of focusing on her weight and how much she eats constantly why not shift the focus to fun things you all can do as a family as well as enjoying cooking and coming up with new foods and recipes to try in the kitchen.

In regard to eating out allow her something off of the kid's menu and always give plenty of water to drink. Whenever my daughter comes to me "but I'm starving I want the ____ meal" I let her know that she's free to drink all the water in the world as it will help her feel fuller. Try to always give protein with each meal and allow snacking between meals. There is no sense anyone eats only 3 meals a day. It is much better to allow smaller meals and snacks throughout the day as it enables a better digestion and allows the body to feel fuller longer.

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answers from San Francisco on

Don't worry about things like Cheetos or 4 cookies at the library. Most kids would do that. Just keep her portions reasonable at home (including takeout), which is where she does most of her eating. Allow small amounts of treats, so she doesn't become obsessed over them.

I don't know what a double cheeseburger basket is, but it sounds like more food than anyone needs -- two cheeseburgers? -- so I would never get a child that.

Most of it is about portion control. So keep her portions reasonable, without making a big deal about it. At restaurants, I usually never bought each kid their own meal, because of cost, since most restaurants serve massive portions. If she orders a huge meal at a restaurant, have her split it with someone else, or take half home for another meal.

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answers from Miami on

You know it concerns me that 1. the doctor spoke about her weight in front of a 10 year old. 2. that parents are making such a big deal on it with a 10 year old. I would hate for that girl to get a complex as she is growing up. Baby fat 10-12 usually burns off. Feed her healthy food and keep her in sports, health programs. Teach her about health I am upset a 10 year old thinks she is fat. If she makes not the best healthy choice meal or a bigger meal. Remember she is still only 10. She got a stomach ache after eating she learned her lesson i think. Didnt need any one metioning weight etc. I'd have just said ooh you know that much greasy food is bad for your health .

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answers from Washington DC on

I agree with you in limiting the fast food and treats however I think by eliminating them entirely you're making those foods more desirable. You know how it is when you want the one thing you can't have. It can rapidly turn into an obsession.

I'd also stop asking her about the quantity of food or types of food she is eating. You are making her quite self conscious about it and the last thing you want is for her to develop an eating disorder.

Your fear of her becoming overweight is a rational fear however it is a fear you must keep to yourself for her sake. Perhaps your doctor could recommend a nutritionist that would work with you in developing healthy menus for your family. Do not tell your daughter about this. Just make sure your entire family is on the same menu. NEVER isolate her by allowing others in the family to eat something you feel she shouldn't be eating.

Keep plenty of healthy snacks on hand but also have some treat items in your home. She needs to start being able to make those healthy choices for herself. She also needs to feel in control of herself and her eating habits. The key lesson she needs to learn is that EVERYTHING is ok in moderation. Yes, she can still have a burger or cheese curds or ice cream...just not everyday and certainly not all 3 at once. (I can picture you flinching when you got back to the table to discover that nightmare...lol. Lesson learned Dad.) Give her time and keep leading by example Mama...you're doing what you can to raise a healthy child.

Peace and Blessings
T. B

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answers from Indianapolis on

My niece went through a chubby stage. Her parents are divorced. So at her dad's house she was forced to eat healthy and told that she was fat. Her mom treated her differently, allowing her to eat whenever and whatever she wanted. She's now a happy healthy 16 year old who is SKINNY. The fat went away but the hurt by how she was treated is still there.

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answers from San Francisco on

My daughter will be 10 in a few months, and is very (very!) active - she takes dance lessons 4 days per week for several hours at a time, and on off-days, she swims, rides her bike, etc. However, I've noticed at this age that girls tend to put on a little weight in preparation for their big growth spurt. I asked a friend of mine who is a pediatric gynecologist (she deals with precocious puberty among other things) - anyway, she said that about 2 years before a girl's period starts, she will start having body changes. Breast buds, hips developing, etc. Anyway, then girls will have a huge growth spurt where they could grow as much as a foot in a few years' time, and then they get their period and they're pretty much done growing. I've observed over the years with both of my daughters that they tend to grow up an inch or two and look really skinny, then they will stop growing and gain a little weight, then grow an inch or two and look skinny again, then gain a little weight... that's how it goes. Well, now, just as puberty starts, it's normal to gain a little weight. She will soon hit a big growth spurt that will use the weight she's gaining now.

All that being said, obviously you'd rather have her eating healthy foods. Eating fast food every so often isn't terrible, and eating an adult-sized meal isn't so bad either (she is probably feeling really hungry - my daughter is too!). Just encourage a lot of physical activity and try to only have healthy snacks around the house. You're already doing a great job with that. I'd have another conversation with the pediatrician about this, and if the pediatrician isn't really hearing you, then I'd consider switching to a different doctor, perhaps. It's important that kids feel okay about their body changes during this challenging time. It's probably a little scary for them to be changing so fast.

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answers from Chicago on

I was overweight at that age and then the pressure for me to become skinny drove me on. That was the around the 'Twiggy' days (an english model who was built like a stick). Too many people preoccupied with weight became ill with bulemia, anorexia and young girls starved themselves (me too). My mother, on her own always had a slim figure without much work and was eight inches taller than me.Forever hearing her talk about how overweight I was and I look back, it was about actually ten pounds over the chart, I starved, binged, I made chocolate frosting and ate it in the bathroom, had candy bars and cookies all the time, then went on diets that made me physically ill and dizzy. I sure didn't feel loved by my mom. I ask you if there is a way to let her be and just not say anything. She knows if she is uncomfortable or not. And this society is working hard on trying to help people accept their bodies no matter how they are (Lane Bryant, Dove commercials, etc.) they discuss good health in school, and they provide good lunches if you buy them. You are doing the right thing in your house and now I am kindly suggesting (please don't get mad at me, I like to be liked) to try to not obsess about it. When you go on vacation you can offer to split a plate with her instead of letting her have the whole plate, you can model portion control, you can turn down bread baskets and order salad before the actual meal. There are a lot of things you can do without saying anything. And you could lessen the restaurant visits and buy fruits and have picnics with low cal items. But I seriously think the best thing is to let her find her way herself and you be there loving her all the way.

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answers from Minneapolis on

From your post, I would be much more concerned that she is developing an eating disorder than I would be concerned about her weight. You need NOT to be "desperate" for her to not be overweight. She is picking up on that desperation and starting to react to it and the result is binge eating.

I would suggest that you and your husband look closely at your approach to food and your daughter. How many times a day do you talk about food or weight or her weight? How many times a day do you think about this or act on this concern? You must be aware of your language, your body language, and your actions.

You can help your daughter learn to trust her body and her appetite. When she is hungry, she should eat. When she is not hungry, not eat. This is a simple process that we have as children and then can get corrupted by outside influences (what the doctor said, how you and your husband handled it, what actions you've taken since, her friends, even the media she sees and hears).


Bulimia is very common in young girls. It can lead to serious health complications throughout life. Eating disorders are complicated, dangerous, and extremely hard to "cure".

If your daughter's behavior around eating does not improve, or you notice new concerning behaviors, please consider finding a counselor who specializes in eating disorders to help her.

I began my battle with an eating disorder at 15. My dad and my first boyfriend repeatedly "teased" me I was "fat" (I was not). My mother was obese. My obsession with eating\not eating and weight robbed me of enjoyment of my teen years and have endangered my health periodically throughout my life.

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answers from Appleton on

Is it hormonal? Sounds like she is about to start her periods or did so recently.
Next --- don't obess about her eating habits. As long as you keep the snack foods to a miminum at your house and she is getting enough exercise all is good. She is aware now that what she eats is a choice. If you belabor the point she will make poor choices. Similar to the 'friend' you don't like if you make negative comments she will defend her friend. If you watch her eating like a hawk she will start to sneak snacks because she doesn't want to hear it.

My daughter now 25 told me recently that because I always prepared healthy meals and rarely ever stopped at fast food restaurants when she turned 12 or 13 it was all she wanted. She actually craved fast food because she never got it, so her babysitting money went to the nearest fast food place. Food (no pun intended) for thought.

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answers from Grand Forks on

When going out for fast food I would allow her to have the kid size meal, and if she is still hungry she can fill up on fruits and veggies at home. I am sometimes guilty of ordering more food than I need, and stuffing myself so as not to waste it. Now, when I go to McDonalds, I order myself the kid size portions, and honestly it is usually enough.

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answers from Columbia on

Kids don't make wise choices unless they are made to do so.

She's 10. Of course she's going to choose what tastes good.

I suggest letting her know that if she "cheats," she doesn't get that scrumptuous dessert at grandma's house....because she's already had her treat.

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answers from Chicago on

I don't have any beneficial advice but I just wanted to send a hug your way. It's hard when we come on here for support and advice... because we care so much and our kids are the most important things in our world. Unfortunately, there will always be people who will twist your question/wording and attack. Such a sad, sad thing. Good for you for reaching out and looking for ways to support and encourage your daughter to live a healthy life. I was always on the heavier side growing up and I'm an overweight adult now. I have two little girls and I find myself often stressing over their eating and their body. However, all of that is in my head. I do not vocalize it or express it in any way. It's my issue with my weight. I do my best to provide healthy food, plan activities that will get them moving and give them lots and lots of hugs. What's the saying... "We can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." My mom's thin, always has been. I'm not. She tried the best she could with me and I'm doing the best I can with my girls. Sounds like you're doing the best you can. Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

My dd isn't overweight, but always eats too much when were out at restaurants and gets a stomach ache. I always remind her that she doesn't have to finish the meal - so she doesn't get a stomach ache.

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