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When food turns into a problem: how to teach your child to eat healthy

20.05.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Toddlers often refuse to eat, 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 firsthand, read this article. You will learn why children’s eating habits can be broken, how to teach the child to eat properly and how to properly build a child’s diet.


  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 is the solution to the problem

Eating disorders and their causes

why does the child eat badly?

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 disorders. [1]


In childhood this problem is manifested in the fact that it’s impossible to make the child eat: he/she refuses to eat or agrees to eat only a certain type of food. Almost all children pass 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 time, 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 this case, 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, a mental illness that manifests itself in a pathological desire to lose weight and a fear of gaining weight, as well as in a distorted notion of one’s appearance. Most often, this disease occurs in girls. Anorexia can be caused by complex relationships with parents, 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 — alas, it’s not always healthy.

We will teach you to eat nutritiously

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

In adolescence overeating, especially compulsive one, can be a symptom of bulimia. It’s a mental illness based on a distorted view of one’s own body. Ill 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 deprived childhood or the impact of generally accepted standards on the fragile teenage psyche.

Food addiction

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

Food can cause both psychological and physical dependence: when a child often consumes products with taste enhancers or a large amount of salt, taste buds adapt and ordinary food seems unflavored and uninteresting, it is not enjoyable anymore.

Consequences of poor nutrition

nutritional disorders among children

Unfortunately, the broken 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 amount of sweets in the diet;
  • stomatitis — an inflammation of the oral mucosa. It occurs due to constant trauma of mucous caused by candies or its irritation by salty products;
  • excess weight and obesity. It, in turn, leads to a variety of psychological and physical consequences: low self-esteem and depression, diabetes, hypertension, varicosity, heart and vascular problems, infertility, bad joints – and 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 — protein-energy deficiency;
  • allergy. It is provoked by various dietary additives — dyes, flavor enhancers and flavors;
  • immunity problems due to insufficient amount 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 get regular meals.

A healthy diet for children: doctors’ recommendations

A well-built diet is very important for the normal development of the child’s body — it 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 the diet and feed a child at about the same time. 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: sweets and pastries. You can replace them with fruits or dried fruits — they 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 with energy;
  • Every day there should be fresh vegetables in the diet;
  • at least once a week your child needs to 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 get 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 the thirst.

Here is one more little piece of advice. Often the 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: beautifully decorate dishes on a plate, come up with different forms of serving, and, even better, involve children in cooking and serving the table. You can choose the most beautiful lunch box together with your child and then make a 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 by starting preventive measures. 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, to eat everything on the plate, if he/she is already full, and, of course, do not scold him/her for lack of appetite. He/she must learn and recognize the signals of his/her own body: it is a guarantee that he/she will not face regular overeating or constant dieting in adulthood. Help him/her develop the ability to distinguish hunger from thirst or boredom. This will help him/her eat only when he/she is 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, games and walks. Let the child have more positive emotions not 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 he ate. This causes anxiety in him/her and lowers his/her 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 of the teenager: excessive thinness, obesity and skin condition. Unfortunately, eating disorders often arise when the child was regularly hinted that he/she would do well to lose weight, for example. The opinion of parents is very important for each child. If you point him to the “flaws” of his appearance often enough, the child will be forced to live with the idea that he is ugly and unloved.
  6. Of course, don’t forget that you are the best example. The healthy eating culture skills are instilled in the child in the family; children eat what their parents do. Instill the love of healthy nutrition by example, follow your diet and come up with delicious healthy dishes.

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

If you have been scratching your head for many years over how to teach your child to eat healthy or cure the eating disorder, but have not achieved your goal yet, it is worth starting working with the in-depth mindset that makes them choose unhealthy food and neglect the 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, A.A.Ukhtomsky. Working with this method helps identify the attitudes that led to destructive behavior patterns and change them to positive ones. The positive mindset becomes the basis for healthy behavior.

We will teach you to eat nutritiously

Make for consultation WATCH VIDEO

7Spsy behavior modification course takes place remotely with children from 7 years old, takes 2 to 6 weeks and starts with the 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, it can be confidential.

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


  1. Kseniya Burceva, «Pishchevoe povedenie rebyonka: prostye sposoby ne dopustit narushenij» (https://healthy-kids.ru/pishhevoe-povedenie-rebenka-prostye-sposoby-ne-d…)
  2. Anna Strelkova, «Chem opasno nepravilnoe pitanie dlya detej» (https://medaboutme.ru/mat-i-ditya/publikacii/stati/pitanie_rebenka/chem_opasno_nepravilnoe_pitanie_dlya_detey)