Someone asked me recently if I had children...and if so, how do they handle a restricted diet?
And I guess the answer is different for each of them.
About 7 years ago, when we began our journey towards a more whole foods diet, eliminating artificial additives and preservatives from the Standard American Diet we were then eating and thereby transforming our health (See Our Food Story that I posted on ), we then had 2 children. At that time they were 12 and 8.
My children saw the reactions we had to the artificial foods when we added them back into our diet. They saw themselves. My daughter's skin turned the brightest red I have ever seen on a person that had NOT just spent an entire day at the beach without sunscreen. My son itched and itched until he cried. Both felt ill and uncomfortable. My daughter's mood was anxious and irritable. My son was agitated as well - possibly from the itching or another symptom - hard to say. They saw our reactions. My husband was nauseous and itchy with a rash. I was moody to say the least, itchy, anxious and could not sleep most of the night. This of course, only summarizes the reactions we had that week.
My children did not enjoy feeling that way. They understood,for the most part, why we were never taking part in those artificial ingredients ever again.
Now was it easy to transition? Certainly not. But we did what we could to make it fun or at least as easy as we could. We homeschool... so that made it easier. It was easier to say, "Well for health class this year, we are transitioning to a more whole foods diet. We will be exploring the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and learning about reading labels, artificial ingredients and what they do to the body/brain and for Home Ec, we will learn to cook more foods with wholesome ingredients from scratch". I think because we homeschool, this made the transition easier. But I am certain one does not have to homeschool to get your kids on board to a healthier diet or make them a big part of it. I hear public school families can have deep conversations and discussions at the dinner-time as well!! And I'm sure our way is not the only way to make a transition work!
At that time, we found Christina Cooks on television and would watch her show and bought two of her cookbooks. Now Christina used macrobiotics (an approach to physical and emotional wellness through consuming foods that are balanced energetically (between yin and yang) and nutritionally. It is typically a well-balanced diet with high fibre, low-fat, lots of vegetables and grains, vegetable protein, and limited meat, with an emphasis on eating seasonal organic food) and was also a vegan. I was not, and still am not, totally convinced of the macrobiotic vegan approach (though I do believe that macrobiotics play an important rule in health to a degree and think that veganism, if approached correctly, can be healthy for SOME people though perhaps not ideally...) but what attracted us to Christina was the wealth of information and cooking techniques her show offered. And my daughter loved the cooking techniques and ideas that Christina presented. So the three of us, my children and I, would watch this show and come up with great ideas for meals and create them! My daughter preferred making the desserts but did help with other things too.
My son became my instant label reader(as did my husband). He was instantaneously intrigued by what was in his foods and what he didn't want in his foods! He would help me read labels of our old favorites in the grocery store and point out the things we couldn't have. He would also help me compare these items to the items in the 'natural' section of the grocery store or health food store, assisting in finding easy or sometimes not so easy replacements for things like salad dressings, mayonnaise, ketchup, cereals, etc. He would also express his dismay when he found that a past favorite was off-limits, especially if it were because of only one or two unnecessary ingredients!
So that is ,essentially, how we approached incorporating the new foods into our healthy diet plan. But this doesn't exactly address restricting them from foods they normally ate out or socially, does it?
My son was easier with this. Oh, he still wanted things laden in white flour and sugar. But he did want to avoid anything that contained an obvious artificial ingredient that he knew would cause an immediate reaction (other than a little hyperactivity) or was a known carcinogen as we were learning (You'd be amazed at how many food additives are known carcinogens but are still labeled by the FDA as GRAS/Generally Regarded as Safe in our processed food products...but that's another story for another day). Since most of those things laden in white flour and sugar also contained such ingredients, most were easy to avoid. But not all. As I said in the previous food post, life is hard and we're not perfect. So yes, there were (and are) things we give into to make life easier for our kids (and ourselves). We know that pizza is not healthy... but if we can find a kind that does not have an artificial ingredient that will cause instant chemical changes in our brain and thus cause an allergic type reaction, we will, on occasion, eat it. The same with a glazed donut or, often, you could find my daughter baking up some yummy concoction in our very own oven.
Over the years we took this decision a little too liberally in my opinion...but that led also led us to learning more which is what has us experimenting with the Paleo/Primal diets which eliminates those processed foods even more. Actually, if we followed the Paleo diet 100% it would totally eliminate the unhealthy (yes even the organic ones!) processed foods from our diet. But again, we do not do this 100%... more like 90%.... and we do allow our older son to choose one processed snack a week... because he's a kid... and this transition is hard. Some (from the Paleo world) may fault me for letting him have the processed food ... but this is my family and this is the choice I'm making for him (while secretly hoping that in time his cravings for this will lessen) at this time. My choice could change...next week, next year or possibly never. (Of course he didn't like reading this part when I asked him to read it over and see if I left anything important out of the post!)
When our daughter is away at college, we know that, at least for the most part, she follows what we have taught her. A family member once said to her that since she was going away she wouldn't have to follow our food rules anymore... and no, she doesn't... if she wants to go back to having bipolar disorder. She does not want that. She knows what can befall her if she strays. She wants her college education. She wants her independence. She wants her health. She's already been the one to experiment here and there with things in previous years and saw the results... yes, sometimes natural flavors CAN make you feel awful.... No, that one candy bar was NOT a good idea. So while she may be ingesting way too much processed grains, she is, I believe, at least staying away from the obviously toxic stuff that her peers are practically inhaling all around her and would cause her horrible consequences. So she says, 'no thank you', picks up her coffee and plain bagel and away she goes.
My son, still at home, tells me what he wants to take with him on his camping trips, sleep-overs and the like. Our close friends totally understand what we do and why we do it. We've had no problems there and they let us know if he'll need his own snacks when he visits or if they have enough available for him. He doesn't seem to care either way. I probably worry more about the impact of him being 'different' than he does! That is what he tells me.
My younger son is only 3. He doesn't know anything different. And he loves practically anything that we put in front of him. Sure, he goes through a day here or there where he says he doesn't like something. All kids do. That doesn't mean they won't ever eat it. I know that it's normal for tastes and moods for certain foods to change. I shrug it off and a few days later, what do you know, he loves it again. Being away from home is a little more difficult now. He sees the treats on the coffee hour table at church and wants cake...or a cookie...or 'that'... And what does one say to a 3-year-old? I've been known to say , "No, that's yuck" to him but walk away wondering, 'Hmmm....he sees other people eating this stuff... so what is he thinking? When will he either not believe me or tell someone else what their eating is yuck?" I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to handle that one yet. I believe though, I have seen such discussions held on other blogs I've followed in the past... time to do some research on some ideas for that!
In closing, I would say that for my older kids, being part of the elimination diet at the ages they were and seeing the results for themselves played a key role in how they have adapted to what others would call a restricted diet. My youngest will have an easier time simply because he doesn't have the cravings established for Doritos, KFC or McDonald's. I think sometimes, parents don't give their children enough credit... that given enough information and time to adapt... kids can come to the decisions to make these healthy choices for themselves even surrounded by a world still eating the chemicals that are heavily laden in the Standard American Diet.