When Food Turns into a Problem: How to Teach Your Child to Eat Healthily

May 20, 2019

 

Toddlers often refuse to eat and schoolchildren do not want to eat healthy broccoli or oatmeal. Teenagers, in general, seem to live on chips alone – and many of them are obsessed with weight loss! However, it is parents who have to deal with the consequences of chronic eating disorders in children.

If you know this problem first-hand, then read this article. You will learn how children’s poor eating habits can be broken, how to teach the child to eat healthily and how to properly build a child’s diet.

Contents:

  1. Eating disorders and their causes
  2. Consequences of poor nutrition
  3. A healthy diet for children: doctors’ recommendations
  4. How to instill a healthy eating culture in your child
  5. The 7Spsy behavior modification technique as the solution to the problem.

 

Eating disorders and their causes?

There are three types of eating disorders in children and teenagers: malnutrition, overnutrition and food addiction. Let’s talk about each of them in more detail and analyze the causes that lead to such disorders. [1]

Malnutrition

In childhood this problem is manifested in instances when it’s impossible to make the child eat. He/she may refuse to eat or agree to eat only a certain type of food. Almost all children pass through this stage, and if it lasts a couple of months there is nothing wrong with that. But if a child refuses many products for a long period of time, then it is worth paying attention to the problem. It can lead to a lack of weight and a shortage of substances necessary for growth and development.

Why does a child eat poorly? Often children refuse to eat if they were fed against their will at an early age. In such cases, eating is associated with negative emotions. Moreover, the appetite may disappear due to chronic stress or illness.

In adolescence, food refusal can be a symptom of anorexia, which is a mental illness that manifests itself in a pathological desire to lose weight and a fear of gaining weight. This is also connected to a distorted notion of one’s appearance and most often this condition occurs in girls. Anorexia can be caused by a complex relationship with parents or feelings of “enmity” and pressure from the family or society. In popular culture, there is a certain image of an ideal body, which is often impossible to achieve for an ordinary person. Young girls are told that they will find happiness and love only when they come close to the cherished standard. This mindset makes girls try anything to lose weight — but alas it’s not always healthy.

Overnutrition

In infancy, each of us associates food with protection, maternal warmth and comfort because we receive it by nuzzling close to our mothers. Physicians  reinforce the link between eating and meeting emotional needs. If parents don’t give their child enough love, acceptance and safe communication, he/she will try to fill the gap with food. In this way real hunger is being replaced by a psychological one.

In adolescence overeating, especially compulsively, can be a symptom of bulimia. This is a mental illness based on a distorted view of one’s own body. Unwell people are prone to bouts of gluttony and then, feeling guilty about that, seek to get rid of the eaten food. As with anorexia, the causes of bulimia can often be found in issues during childhood or the impact of generally accepted standards on the fragile teenage psyche.

Food addiction

For anyone, food can become something of an antidepressant or just a source of positive emotions. This is especially true for food with a strong taste, such as sweets, salty snacks and fast food. Almost all children like them, and sometimes these become the basis of their diet. Trying to feed a child with anything they would eat, parents unknowingly encourage these harmful tastes. Besides, they often teach children to eat something tasty to improve the child’s mood or to perceive food as a reward in cases of distress  — for example, when they buy something sweet after going to the dentist or taking an exam.

Food can cause both psychological and physical dependence. When a child often consumes products with taste enhancers or a large amount of salt, his/her taste buds will adapt, and ordinary food may seem unflavored and uninteresting and is not enjoyable anymore.

Consequences of poor nutrition

Unfortunately, a poor diet has consequences for everyone, and these consequences are not limited to gastritis alone. Here are the most common ailments faced by children who have nutritional problems: [2]

  • tooth decay, caused by a large number of sweets in the diet
  • stomatitis — an inflammation of the oral mucosa. This occurs due to constant trauma of mucous caused by candies or its irritation by salty products
  • excess weight and obesity. This, in turn, leads to a variety of psychological and physical consequences, including low self-esteem, depression, diabetes, hypertension, varicosity, heart and vascular problems, infertility and bad joints. This, alas, is not a full list
  • lack of weight, which occurs if the child systematically refuses to eat. This can lead to dystrophy or hypotrophy — a protein-energy deficiency
  • allergy. This is provoked by various dietary additives — dyes, flavor enhancers and flavors
  • immunity problems due to insufficient intake of vitamins, protein, and other essential elements. If the diet is not balanced, the child may get sick more often and it would be more difficult for him/her to recover;
  • diseases of the digestive system: gastritis, ulcer and dysbacteriosis. Most often they appear in children who are used to constantly eating snacks and do not receive regular meals.

A healthy diet for children: doctors' recommendations

A well rounded, nutritious diet is very important for the normal development of the child’s body and is the key to health for life. To provide the child with the necessary substances for growth and development, so that he/she is full of energy and strength, doctors give the following recommendations:

  • to stick to a good diet and feed a child at about the same times each day. You can build a diet according to the following scheme: three main meals with hot food – two healthy snacks (fruits, unsweetened yogurt, and nuts)
  • limit fast-release carbohydrates such as sweets and pastries. You can replace them with fruits or dried fruits, which will make up for the lack of glucose. Slow-release carbohydrates such as porridge, pasta from hard wheat varieties and whole-grain bread will provide energy-giving foods
  • every day there should be fresh vegetables in the diet
  • at least once a week your child should eat fish and once a week — red meat
  • energy costs need to be taken into account in diet planning. The calorie content of the food should be sufficient to compensate for them. For example, physically active children should receive more calories
  • nutrition should be varied since this is the only way to provide the body with all the necessary substances
  • Accustom your child to drinking plain water. Let it be the main way to quench his/her thirst.

Here is one more little piece of advice. Often healthy nutrition in children is associated with something boring. Do not forget that children, especially small ones, are aesthetes, it is important for them that the food looks attractive. Teenagers want it to be fashionable. So pay attention to the visual aspect of food. Decorate dishes on a plate beautifully and come up with different forms of serving. Even better, involve your children in cooking and serving to the table. You can choose the most beautiful lunch box together with your child and then make a nutritious lunch, which he/she will be happy to eat at school.

How to instill a healthy eating culture in your child

It is better to solve problems with eating disorders in children early with preventive measures, and it is very important to cultivate a healthy attitude towards food in the child. First and foremost, food should serve as a way to satisfy hunger, and only then – to bring pleasure. Of course, food should never be associated with trouble, stress, quarrels, shame or guilt. To form a healthy eating culture in children, psychologists give the following recommendations: [1]

  1. Food violence is unacceptable! Never force a child to eat if he/she is not hungry. Do not expect the child to eat everything on the plate, and, of course, do not scold your child for lack of appetite. Your child must learn and recognize the signals of his/her own body, this is a guarantee that he/she will not face regular overeating or constant dieting in adulthood. Help your little one to develop the ability to distinguish hunger from thirst or boredom. This will help him/her eat only when really hungry and recognize the moment of satiation.
  2. Don’t make a cult around the food. Food should not be a substitute for full communication with children, including games and walks. Let the child have many positive emotions not just related to food.
  3. Don’t pay too much attention to food. Some parents reduce all interactions with the child to discussions of what and when regarding eating. This causes anxiety and lowers self-esteem.
  4. Do not constantly focus on the fact that some food is harmful or considered bad in your family. This will only cause more interest in the “forbidden fruit” and the desire to try this product.
  5. Do not discuss the physical features of the child, especially a teenager. Avoid talking about excessive thinness, obesity, and skin condition. Unfortunately, eating disorders often arise when the child has been subjected to regular hints that he/she would do well to lose weight, for example. The opinion of parents is very important for every child. If you point to the “flaws” of his/her appearance often enough, the child will be forced to live with the idea that he/she is ugly and unloved.
  6. Of course, don’t forget that you are the best example. The healthy eating culture attitudes are instilled in the child by the family and children eat as their parents. Instill the love of healthy nutrition by example, follow your diet and come up with delicious healthy dishes.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique as the solution to the problem.

If you have been scratching your head for many years over how to teach your child to eat healthily or to cure an eating disorder, but have not achieved your goal yet, it is worth starting to work on the in-depth mindset that makes a child choose unhealthy food and neglect the correct regime. The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is geared towards this. (link to landing page) This is a patented method of behavioral psychology based on the theories of well-known psychologists, namely I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and A.A.Ukhtomsky. Working with this method helps identify the attitudes that has led to destructive behavior patterns and change them to positive ones. The positive mindset then becomes the basis for healthy behavior.

The 7Spsy behavior modification course takes place remotely with children from 7 years old. It takes 2 to 6 weeks and starts with a diagnosis of the problem. Throughout the course a professional psychologist will support you and your child. You will be able to contact the psychologist in online chat, by e-mail or phone. The child will not have to tell his friends or teachers about his/her problems, the course can be totally confidential.

At the end of the course you and your child will be able to forget about eating disorders and form a healthy nutritional culture.

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