It’s Ok To Make Your Child Eat

Aug 11, 2021

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It’s Ok To Make Your Child Eat

Not only CAN you make your child eat, but you might NEED to make them eat (Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about force feeding. I do not endorse that.) I’m talking about setting clear expectations regarding when, what and how much they eat and setting natural consequences for if they don’t. Your child might not want to eat, but ultimately they have the choice to eat or accept the established, appropriate consequences.  Not eating is seldom an act of defiance, so the consequences are not to be imposed like a punishment, but rather a natural result of their decision.  In some cases these consequences can offer a form of motivation for your child to eat. Does your child have consequences for not listening to you about other things?

Yes, in a healthy eating circumstance an individual is supposed to determine how much they eat based on their body’s hunger and fullness signals, but with eating disorders the eating circumstances are already not as they are supposed to be (and neither are their hunger and fullness signals). Read more to learn about what makes the circumstances different in the case of eating disorders.

Factors to consider:

  1. Your child’s current decision making ability/capacity?
      • There is a reason that the legal age for risk taking behaviors such as gambling, smoking or drinking alcohol is over the age of 18 years old. The age of a mature brain is in the early 20s.
      • Eating disorders involve cognitive distortions. They are mental illnesses that control a person’s thoughts and decisions; giving them decision making power is essentially giving power over to the eating disorder. If you think of it that way, would you give their eating disorder the decision to eat or not?
        Mental illness→brain→decisions
        They need a rational, outside perspective to help make decisions
      • A malnourished brain has a harder time making rational decisions
  2. Is your child responsible for making other critical health decisions for themselves?
  3.  The importance of the decision they are making
      • This decision involves a human need that is essential to life. What if your child had a different potentially life threatening illness like cancer that required medication as part of treatment, would you allow your child to decide to take the medication or not?
  4. Weigh (no pun intended) the consequences of each alternative

Don’t eat

Pacify ED & anxiety temporarily

Continued illness/anxiety

Declined health & depression



Challenge ED/increased anxiety temporarily

Recovery/reduced anxiety

Improved health and happiness

The easier journey is seldom the best route.

The best destination usually involves a harder journey.

Which alternative is best for your child?

Providing your child’s needs and keeping them safe is within your role as a parent regardless of whether they want that. You don’t need your child’s permission to do what’s best for them. They might not be able to choose recovery for themselves at the moment because their malnourished brain has impaired rational thought and decision making processes. Or the state of their mental illness might be too strong for them to overcome on their own, but they NEED you to step in and help. You can think of it as carrying them toward recovery when they are unable to walk toward it on their own.

So what is an appropriate, natural consequence for refusing to eat all of the food served?

  • Nutrition supplements such as Ensure Plus or Boost Plus- Remember that food is their MEDICINE so not getting their medicine isn’t an option. If they refuse to eat or are unable to complete a meal or snack, supplement is a way to ensure that your child gets the medicine they need. Often times supplement is undesirable, but it can be useful if the volume of food is more than your child can tolerate because it is more easily digested, and will not increase the degree of fullness as much as solid food.
  • Once again, you cannot force feed your child, so there is the possibility that they refuse supplement as well. In that case, it needs to be clear that their needs come before their wants (and their health is more important than their happiness). If they are not able to fuel their body, they will not be able to participate in activities they enjoy or be allowed any privileges (wants) such as spending time with friends, playing games or using their phone/electronic devices until they complete 100% of the next meal or snack.
  • If your child refuses to eat and refuses supplement repeatedly, it would be an indicator that you need to be looking for a higher level of care (eating disorder program) that can ensure they get the medicine they need.

Written by Krista Godfrey, MS, RD, LMNT

1 Comment

  1. TriptiaAcept

    This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am truly impressed to read everthing at alone place.


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