Thursday, July 22, 2010

Switching From a Junk Food Diet to a Healthy Diet May Make Your Child Stop Eating -- But Don't Worry!

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food  OK, you've decided to take the plunge and feed your child nothing but healthy food. You've thrown away all sugary foods -- candy bars, ice cream, granola bars are in the trash. You've stocked up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other healthy foods. The frozen kids meals, crackers, and chips are gone.
The day has come. You put a plate of healthy food in front of your child. He doesn't eat it! Never mind, you think, he'll eat the next meal. But after day goes by and your poor darling barely eats anything!

You begin to worry. Maybe your child just doesn't like healthy food. It's better to give him a little junk food than to starve him, isn't it? You begin to waver in your resolve.

Rest assured. It is completely normal for kids to stop eating if they don't get their junk food. Scientists have found that rats will starve themselves if they have become addicted to junk food and the junk food is taken away. Your child is used to getting a high from junk food, just like a cocaine addict does. Normal, healthy food simply doesn't provide that high.

What the article doesn't mention is that after a period of withdrawal, junk-food-addicted rats will start to eat normal food. If you persevere and continue to give your child healthy food, he will start to eat it. And, because he is no longer addicted to junk food, he will actually like the healthy food. It will taste good to him.

Tips and Techniques

Go cold turkey with your child. Remove all junk food and give him healthy food. Expect a period of time where he will not eat very much. This is normal. After a few weeks of withdrawal, your child will emerge with a new palate, uncorrupted by the addiction of junk food.

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on

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  1. Whew, sounds like tough love! Any suggestions for how to explain to your child why you're making the change now? And I'm assuming the adult can't eat junk food -- at least not in front of the kids!

    -- Claudia

  2. Great point, Mazzba. Going cold turkey works best with younger children, who are too young to need an explanation. Kids who are under 3 or 4 years old will probably ask for their junk food for a few days, but then will forget it.

    With older kids, it's probably best to go in stages. Stop feeding them sweets for a few weeks, then stop feeding them chips, etc. You can tell them that you're giving them a healthier diet.

    And, for both age groups, give them healthy versions of the junk foods that they're used to.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Mmmmm...I don't know about this Miss Julia. I WANT MY JUNK FOOD! I love that you are passionate about children being healthy and being exposed to a wide variety of food, but am wondering about the background for this belief system (ie...get rid of ALL "unhealthy" food) it would be rather extreme in our culture to actually follow this to the letter, and I think it would help to make your argument if you gave some rationales for the change. I also think that you need to be more in depth about some of the comments you make, like about the "junk food high" I know what you are talking about, and I know the research behind it, but it may not be super effective to just throw out statements like, "junk food is like cocaine," but if you talk about the body's response to the combination of saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup, and how that combo is both addictive and harmful to our bodies (especially growing bodies) then perhaps it would be more compelling. I would also discuss behavior changes based on diet. Both positive changes from your model, and also potential negative behavior issues which have been scientifically proven to be linked to bad eating habits. Also, perhaps talking about "body image" issues, and how we are experiencing an "epidemic" of childhood obesity at this time in our society. You might also mention the cruel realities of being an overweight child and the culture of school. Perhaps some discuss of how developing bodies NEED certain things, or they will be permanently affected.

    Also, is it possible to create a forum for discussion on your site, as then parents could "chat" about this subject, and you could moderate, and it would help to give you more feedback and insight as to how people are receiving and using your site.

    I have about fifty more thoughts on this, so perhaps a letter would be a better forum. Hmmmm...that reminds me....I heard tell of something about a letter coming my way, can't be, 'cause I haven't RECEIVED one. I must be mistaken!

    Also, for today, or at least this moment, my last suggestion would be to offer links to scientific or other types of articles which would back up the things you are saying. You should also offer a caveat that you are not a medical doctor and that people should consult with their pediatrician before making any drastic changes, as you do not want to be held liable for your advice, should someone perceive it to have had a negative effect on their child in some way. Know what I mean, jelly bean. Er...I mean...low sodium flash packed kidney bean? Hmmm...just doesn't have the same punch!

    Love what you're doing, and look forward to going backward and reading your other blog posts, not to mention the book attachment you sent me. Your blog has already gotten one new person interested in reading your work...ME!
    Love you,

  4. Hey thanks! Lots to think about. I'd love to hear your other 50 ideas!!

    I have referenced studies, but I think the hyperlink color doesn't show up, so I just changed it.

    I think you're right about giving rationales for taking the leap to an all-healthy diet. I don't want to scare people too much, though.

    A forum would be great. I don't think that Blogger does that. One of these days, I'll create a website.

    The caveat that I'm not a doctor is a great idea. I'll add it to my profile.

    Thanks LOTS!!

  5. Well, you are one busy lady. You posted this at 6 something in the morning. Oh vey! BTW, I used to be very strict with Daniel's diet because of his food sensitivities. So now that he can eat more stuff, he wants to share in the goodies that his friends got to eat all these years. Will you let Sean eat the unhealthy food that is typically served at birthdays and school parties? And, we're back from Oregon! Ava

  6. Sean eats junk food at birthdays parties. We don't want to forbid junk food outright because then it turns into "forbidden fruit", which might make him want it more. We just avoid it at our own house.

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  9. It's so frightening that today, the majority of people get more than half their calories from processed, fast, and fake foods. The fast food health risks are shocking. Thank you for spreading this information. I want to believe that at least some people will put away their hamburger and eat an apple instead. I'd like to advise you reading this article in order to learn more information about how healthy nutrition can even be an effective cancer-fighter.


I'd love to hear your opinions, questions, or comments.