Why do children get addicted to junk food?
In my practice as parenting consultant I often come across this question. Most parents are unable to understand why their children get addicted to any food that can be classified as junk food. And never despite their best efforts – ever get addicted to food that can be classified as healthy.
The first time any parent buys a junk food item – they buy it because they want to give the child a special treat. More than what the food product is about they buy it because it is packaged beautifully – and looks attractive and appealing. Their intention is to buy a gift. A wrapped gift – that is inexpensive – does not require too much time or effort to buy and is sure to bring an instant smile to their child’s face.
But slowly they find that this junk food item – has taken over their child’s life. All their interactions with their child have begun to revolve around that packaged food. And they literally have a junk food addict on their hands.
How did this happen? They ask. How does a child get addicted to something that is bought as an occasional treat and not to things that available every day – all the time for him/her to eat?
The answer actually lies in what the junk food contains.
Junk food is addicting because it contains large quatities of sugar and trans fat.
Sugar, and trans fats trigger reward pathway of the brain. The reward pathway is a very critical pathway of the brain. It is the same pathway that is responsible for converting cocaine abusers into cocaine addicts.
This is how a cocaine abuser becomes an addict.
A person takes cocaine. Cocaine triggers the reward pathway of the brain. The brain loves the rewarding sensation comes from cocaine. The brain asks for more and more of the rewarding sensation. This prompts the person to take more and more cocaine in larger and larger doses. And that is how a person who just started taking cocaine turns into addict.
Everyone knows that cocaine is addicting. So in our wildest dreams we wouldn’t think of offering our children cocaine.
Junk foods are addicting too but we do offer our children junk foods.
We offer them as brides, rewards and gifts like this .
“If you study all day today I will take you for pizza in the evening.”
“If you play basketball well I will take you for ice-cream on the way back.”
“If you finish dinner quickly I will give you dessert.”
When we offer junk food as bribes and rewards, with our words we elevate and addicting substance to a wonderful thing that is worth working hard for.
When we buy children junk food as gifts to compensate for our physical or emotional absence – we tell children that junk food is love.
That is how children get addicted to junk food.
Junk food does not lead to death like cocaine. But it does damage the physical and mental health of your child and therefore is dangerous.
Stop providing your child with junk food.
Instead reward your child with large doses of your time and attention.
Offer rewards like this –
“You get two kisses instead of one every time you play the piano piece right.”
“We play two games of Uno instead of one if you finish your dinner early.”
“We go for a walk in the evening if you finish your study during the day.”
Children need your time and attention. Give them your time and attention. Do not unintentionally convey to them that love is junk food.
When your child gets your time and attention he/she will not need junk food.
Read more on Junk Food addiction here
Also read What you can do to make your child like Healthy Food, don’t get upset because your child did not eat
don’t stay hungry until your child eats and Never force your child to eat
Read our detailed article on how a child becomes a Picky Eater
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