Family

Encouraging children to eat healthy

Dear Diane, My daughter is nine years old and so far has been a happy and healthy child. But lately she’s been showing very worrying behaviour, in that she’s refusing to eat meat.
encouraging children to eat healthy, health, health food, children

Dear Diane,

My daughter is nine years old and so far has been a happy and healthy child. But lately she’s been showing very worrying behaviour, in that she’s refusing to eat meat. I have nothing against vegetarians and in fact was one myself for some time in my twenties. But she is being extreme about it – and very stubborn. In fact, she’s possibly far more dogmatic about her eating habits than some vegetarians I know! She hates the idea of animals being killed, which I can absolutely sympathise with, but she also refuses to take supplements or top up her diet with healthy alternatives, which I’ve suggested.

She’s lost weight, and was already quite thin to begin with before becoming obsessed with not eating meat. I’m concerned she’ll do herself long-term damage, particularly considering her age and the fact that she has yet to hit puberty. The most worrying thing is that this has been going on for about six months, which seems like a really long time for a child of that age to hold out and stick to her guns. If you could give me any insights as to what I could do, or whether this could be more than just her taking an ethical standpoint and have turned into an eating disorder, please let me know.

Worried mum, by email

Dear Worried mum,

Many people go off the idea of eating animal products and become vegetarian for a short while, a long time or for life. Usually, they have to eat differently and with care to keep their iron levels up rather than just cut out meat. However the fact that your daughter is refusing to look at healthy alternatives is a very good clue that this is about more than giving up animal products and has all the potential to turn into an eating disorder. I think that you are perfectly correct to wonder if it is just an aversion to animal products or whether your daughter’s vegetarianism is morphing into or disguising an eating disorder.

Sadly, in our society, most nine-year-olds have already been made very self-conscious about body image and body size. What worries me is that she appears to be overriding her natural appetite and she is starting to lose weight. I would start by advising that you have a chat with the people at EDEN (Eating Difficulties Education Network). This is an organisation that believes in health at any size and in promoting body trust. By chatting to the experts, you could well avoid lots of discussions and arguments that will put you and your daughter into opposing camps. Rather, I would like to see the two of you on the same side together and your daughter learning to care about her own wellbeing with you supporting her as a coach.

Diane Levy provides expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [email protected]. Diane’s parenting books are available in book shops.

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