Ask a Health Coach: Getting Your Parents and Kids to Go Primal
Hi folks! This week, Erin is here to help you get the non-primal eaters in your life onboard with your way of eating. From carb-crazed kids to aging parents, she’ll be sharing her own personal strategies for finding balance, while transitioning away from the Standard American Diet. Got more questions? Post them in the comments section below or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“My kids love bread. Is there any bread that is good for you? As they were eating their 3rd slice at dinner last night, I read aloud the long list of ingredients shaking my head. Any suggestions?”
I hear from a lot of my clients that, now that they know the ills of grain-based foods (among other things, grains contain lectins, a toxic substance that can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients), they’d love to get their kids off of them too.
The young, resilient bodies of kids don’t often suffer the consequences of eating grains as immediately or as noticeably as we grownups do. In a sense, they don’t have as much skin in the game; they have less immediate incentive to make a healthier choice. They may not develop IBS, eczema, or PCOS ‘til they’re in their twenties or thirties which, for a kid, is a lifetime away.
That said, if you really want to steer them in a different metabolic direction (and it sounds like you do), the time to start is now.
How to Help your Kids Stop Eating Bread
My guess is that you are the one buying the groceries. That means you’re in control of the foods you bring into your home and put on your table. A lot of my clients have serious guilt around “forcing” their kids to eat the way they do, depriving them of childhood staples like sandwiches, sugared cereal, and goldfish crackers.
…but most parents would also feel terrible if their kids developed a chronic health condition or contributed to the fact that nearly 20% of today’s youth are classified as overweight or obese — simply because they couldn’t bring themselves to stop adding bread to the weekly shopping list.1 Feel empowered to make a bold leadership decision for your family that will keep them safe from the scourge of chronic illness when they’re older.
The Science Behind Kids’ Cravings
Understanding your kids’ preference for carby foods like bread is a key factor in helping them develop a healthy relationship with food. Researchers from Northwestern University studied the energy requirements of the brain from birth to adulthood and found that during the slow period of growth between toddlerhood and puberty, kids’ metabolic needs shift to optimizing brain-glucose levels, with half of their daily energy intake going to their developing their brains.2
Their hungry, growing brains seem to call out for more carbohydrate foods. So when the bread basket appears on the table, well, it’s almost not the kids’ fault that they reach for it. They’re wired to!
Anyone who’s transitioned to a Primal way of eating — or just ditched bread from the cabinets — will tell you that it’s not the easiest thing in the world. That’s why the best thing you can do is make gradual and manageable changes.
Progress Over Perfection
Give your kids free rein in the kitchen and you could be contributing to health issues. Restrict too much and you run the risk of, what researchers call, eating in the absence of hunger, which is basically a form of mindless eating.3 I prefer to opt for a sort of co-feeding approach, where you as the parent lead by example, getting your kids involved with the shopping, preparing, and eating.
Get cooking. Forgo the store-bought loaf and make one at home using paleo-friendly ingredients. (We live in exciting times; 12 years ago when I went Primal, there were no grain free bread recipes. We just stopped eating bread!)
Time it right. When kids (and frankly adults) are starving and grumpy, they’re less receptive to trying new things. Keep your family well fed and satiated with delicious Primal foods and they’ll be biologically more receptive to ditching the bread from their plate.
Avoid labeling. Diet culture bombards us with messages about foods being “good” or “bad.” Do what you can to explain the consequences of eating certain foods vs labeling them (I share a few suggestions a little further down the page).
Remember the big picture. While a lifelong habit of reaching for the bread basket might derail their health, a slice here or there isn’t terribly egregious in the grand scheme of things.
It doesn’t help that store-bought breads (and other carb-centric foods) are hyper-palatable, however, understanding your kids’ biology, cravings, and preferences — and making a smart plan of action — can help put your family on a healthier path. It’s a process, and eventually, when you’re consistent, it clicks!
“I recently persuaded my mom to give up dairy, bread, pasta, etc., so her diet is basically Primal. It has been 8 weeks and she’s feeling great, but she is losing weight and does not want to (she looks great already). I have been telling her to eat more carb-dense foods like bananas and squash and to just eat more food, but she complains that she does not feel like eating. What’s the best way to get her to eat more?”
The fact you got your mom to transition away from SAD foods is a huge win! Having said that, if she’s losing weight (which may be muscle loss, since it sounds like she didn’t have a lot of fat to lose in the first place) there are some factors to be addressed.4
First off, know that muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is common in aging adults. After age 30, you can lose up to 5% per decade, so I’d love to know: is your mom doing anything to increase strength? Many of my female clients in this age group have simply never lifted weights or strength trained in their entire lives. They came of age during a time when women were worried about getting too “bulky,” which — in case you (or your mom) weren’t aware — is nothing to worry about.
The Truth about Muscle Loss
A strength training or resistance regimen in conjunction with a Primal eating plan can help prevent any further muscle loss. Some research shows that it can even lead to a gain in muscle.5 This includes everything from bodyweight exercises like squats and planks to lifting heavy.
Another thing I’d mention here is that older adults often aren’t as in tune with their hunger levels. Same goes for their thirst levels as one commenter noted on my recent post on hydration. The reasons for this are because they:6
Typically have a lower metabolic rate
Are usually less active
Can have changes to their sense of smell and taste, which makes food less appealing
May be struggling with a chronic illness that reduces their appetite
Amplify Your Primal Eating Plan
As your mom adapts to using protein and fat as fuel, she’ll naturally have steadier blood sugar levels — and less hunger. The body burns through starchy breads and pastas extremely fast and if she’s getting satiated on Primal-focused foods, she naturally won’t be as hungry.
I’m all for honouring the body’s hunger cues, but in this case, it’s smarter to supplement with additional sources of protein (chicken, fish, eggs, beef), healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, and carb-dense foods like starchy veggies, sweet potatoes, and fruit to help keep her muscle tone and energy in check.
“I’ve been Primal since the first of January and my wife is starting to pick up on it as well. The problem is the kids. We have shared custody of my two daughters. When they’re with us, they eat very well. When at their mom’s they go out to eat and have constant candy. We have thought about improving their diet more when they are with us, but we considered if it would do any good since they eat so poorly at their mom’s.”
Anytime you have a split household, it can cause challenges — with food rules and regular rules. But take comfort in the fact that you’re on the right track with what you’re currently doing. Honestly, “you’re doing the best you can” is my mantra when I hear parents struggling with situations like this. You really are.
When your girls are at your place, they’re not only eating healthier, they’re learning why that’s important. They’re seeing that food doesn’t always have to come from a box and that home cooked meals can be just as tasty as take out. They’re watching you and your wife live vibrant, healthy lives. They may also be noticing what happens when they eat a steady stream of candy and processed foods versus eating nutrient-dense whole-food-based options.7
Because they go back and forth between the two houses, they might even pick up on those nuances more easily. Maybe they feel crankier at their mom’s. Or more sluggish.
Don’t Force Food Rules
I actually think you’re better off NOT making a big deal out of it. The more you force food rules, the more kids, and really anyone, will resist. Instead, continue to lead by example, preparing and eating the Primal foods you enjoy. And share the benefits of eating those foods in a way your kids can understand. For instance, swap phrases like, “blueberries have antioxidants in them,” and “veggies are healthy” for “blue foods boost your brain power” and “green foods keep you from getting sick.” Even though it feels like you’re oversimplifying things, it will start to resonate. And the beauty of this language, is that it’s informative without being instructional. Your kids get to figure out for themselves how they want to eat to support their vibrant health — and this sort of “health autonomy” is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
I know I may be making this out to seem a lot simpler than it really is, but to reiterate: you’re doing the best you can, and every little attempt you make to encourage healthy food habits and a healthy relationship with food will pay big dividends later.
I’m not saying that info is the magic bullet that will make them pass up fast food or candy at every turn – at least not right away — but they’ll start to notice that there are two very different ways to eat. Whether it’s heading off to their mom’s house for a week or going to a friend’s birthday party or eating the junk that seems to creep up into school lunches, the education (and feel-good nutrient-dense food) you and your wife are providing make a huge difference. You may not get to see the benefits of your efforts ‘til they’re grown adults and raising kids of their own, but if you keep sending the message, I believe they’ll hear it.
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