I will spend this post sharing more than I am comfortable sharing, and half of you will start the reading thinking that I am crazy or cruel, or both. By the time I’m done, the weights will have shifted and the other half of you will be convinced that I’m crazy or cruel, or both. This is not a post in which many of you are going to applaud my maternal actions. Just know that I’m okay with that.
Also know that before I published this post, I let my son read it, and I got his express permission to share his story.
Oh, and this is a really long post, by the way. Consider yourself warned.
I had a single recurring nightmare when I was pregnant with Aaron, my firstborn. I would dream that I had birthed the baby and come home with him. Like, days ago. Suddenly I would realize that I had not yet fed the baby. And I would PANIC because I had no idea if he was going to survive since we had been home ten days or so and he had not been fed even once. I would wake up in a sweat, grateful that I was still pregnant and had not yet earned jail time as a new mother. I bet I had that dream six or so times during the pregnancy. It freaked me out every. single. time.
Contrary to my nightmare, Aaron ate well as an infant and a toddler. It wasn’t until he turned two and was off of “baby foods” that he started refusing normal table food. He drank milk. Lots and lots of milk. The dream was haunting me. So I did what any regular, worried, American mom would do: I talked to my pediatrician.
Here’s my disclaimer: I really, really love my pediatrician. I do. I think he is the most gentle and good-hearted man. When my children are sick and I can’t cure them, he is the only person I want to see. I wish, though, that I had already come to the realization that physicians are not demi-gods, and that they are not necessarily smarter than I am about me and my children – they just went to school longer and paid more tuition and can explain things about the human body that I cannot. But that’s about it. I still respect doctors and I mean none of them any slight. But now I listen to my own instincts first. Now, I think Conventional Wisdom may not be so wise. However, in 2002, I did not have this presence of mind. I took a doctor’s words as gospel.
My dear pediatrician explained to me that Aaron was getting practically all the nutrients he needed from the milk, and what was not in the milk, I could add as supplement via the miracle of (drum roll, please) Ovaltine.
And that, my friends, is how I addicted my son to a liquid diet of chocolate milk.
Aside from Bob the Builder fruit chews (which would not be allowed in my grocery cart today, much less my home) Aaron subsisted on Ovaltine and milk. And since the doc said that was all good, by golly who was I to question it?
Ten years later, I can say I really wish I had ignored my pediatrician.
I wish that I had instead listened to people like my dad who said, “The boy’s not gonna starve! Put the meat and veggies in front of him, tell him that’s dinner, and be done with it.” I thought my dad was so extreme!! (And now that I write this, I realize that’s twice I have ignored my father’s advice. Regretted it both times. Dammit!!)
When Aaron entered pre-school, the teachers told me that they were concerned because he flat would NOT eat lunch. They asked what he ate at home. By this time, our culinary tastes had expanded to include the all-holy Cheerio. The teachers suggested that I pack the cheerios in his lunchbox and they would make sure he was eating. For the rest of the year, I packed him cheerios and milk for lunch at school. He ate the same for dinner at home. We eventually expanded to PB&J sandwiches when he entered kindergarten. And puffy cheetos. Woo hoo! With five items on our son’s menu, we were making progress!!
All the while, our toddler daughter was eating everything Dom and I ate – up to and including crawfish etouffee. A teacher at my children’s school approached me one day and said, “You have night and day at your house, don’t you?” noting the unmistakable personality differences between my offspring, who otherwise look like twins. I dropped my shoulders and replied, “Ohhhhhhh, you have no idea!!”
For the next five years, Aaron continued to eat Cheerios and PB&J sandwiches. He outgrew the Ovaltine, going on a multi-year self-imposed hiatus from chocolate. (Is he really my son?!!) We flavored the milk with Strawberry Quik. (Yes, really. I gag just thinking about it!) Sugar, grains and milk were his steady diet. We managed to work in plain pasta, and he preferred the whole wheat versions, to my immense satisfaction. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, he fell in love with Whataburger chicken strips. Other chicken strips get snubbed; Whataburger’s chicken apparently rocks.
During this time we also had a few trips to the pediatrician for tummy troubles. He was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and we were told to add Benefiber to his milk and not worry that he only consumed pale-brown and white foods. The symptoms came and went, the Benefiber brought hit-or-miss results, but for the most part he seemed to do okay. He was growing, after all, and aside from random tummy issues wasn’t ever sick, so what did I really have to worry about??
But then in 2010, I went down the rabbit hole and dragged everyone with me. It has taken two years to secure foods and snacks that are “Lori-approved.” Ingredient lists have to be practically virginal before I will buy a food. Allowing no petrochemicals or partially-hydrogenated oils in my pantry meant many of my kids’ favorite cereals and snacks got the boot. Cheerios remained, for their lack of the preservative BHT (where other cereals failed us). Only a few brands of bread survived my inquisition, and as you know I started baking much of my own.
I considered bread to be foundational not only on my dinner plate, but in life around me. I naturally therefore considered grains to be wholesome, pure and body beneficial. “Living on Cheerios, crackers and bread is not completely awful,” I would protest. “At least he gets plenty of fiber!”
This is the point where many of you have already been shaking your head, and you are now chastising me because I feed my child such poorly chosen foods. No veggies, no greens. Chicken, of all animals, and not even the eggs!! Yes, I have heard it all before… “make him eat different foods. He won’t starve! You have to force it on him. Be strong!” Folks, I tried. I got all mean and big and bad and threatened to not let him leave the table until he had tried whatever I had cooked. You know where that put us? Back at the doctor’s office with chronic upset stomachs (“brought on by stress”) where I was told his dietary preference was simply not that big a deal. I clung to that and convinced myself that he was going to be just fine, despite all the personal stories I knew of people who had lived on a similar diet and suffered digestive distress as adults.
My choices have never been perfect. They never will be. I am still learning. I am still reading…a lot. And I am still making changes that affect my whole family. We are still in the rabbit hole; we just found another tunnel within it.
I’ve been talking to my kids about the things that we don’t need to eat, a list which has very recently expanded to include grains, sugars and starches – the very basis of the foods they love. Dom and I have switched to a new food lifestyle where we eat primarily meats and veggies. I say primarily because I still incorporate fruit, coffee and occasional wine into the lifestyle. And a tiny bit of soft cheese and bittersweet dark chocolate. (If I ever give those things up I will be totally surprised.) But here’s where most of you will revolt…I’m making my kids do it too. My kids who eat sandwiches, cereal and everything sugary are about to go paleo with us. Oh-Em-to-the-double-Gee, right?
I realize you can’t quite agree with me yet because you have not yet wrapped your mind around why in the heck I would promote and follow something so quirky. So I will explain…
In my reading and research I have learned that our bodies are not really meant to digest grains and use them for the body’s benefit. Go figure. If you have seen Food, Inc, think of the grain-fed cows and the vet/scientist guy who was explaining that cows are not meant to digest grains, so when factory farms feed them grains instead of grass, their digestive systems get all whacked out. Their bodies still function, but not as efficiently, and certainly not as they are meant to. This is one of the many reasons to buy grass-fed beef. It’s better for the animal’s health, better for the quality of meat, and that in turn is better for the person eating it.
In my opinion, the same principle works for humans. Our bodies were not meant to digest grains because, as Mark explains so well on Mark’s Daily Apple, grains are meant to be planted. Grain’s natural defense when eaten is to pass right on through so that it can eventually land in fertile soil and grow. So on its way through our body, it wreaks havoc on our digestive system, leaving virtually no nutritional value in its wake, filling us only with cheap and empty calories. We cope and we medicate and we deal with all the symptoms that our minds don’t automatically connect to our consumption of things like dinner rolls and oatmeal, but there we are anyway with aches and pains, reflux and gastrointestinal issues. (These are not to all be totally blamed on grains, by the way. That’s why we avoid sugars, dairy and starches as well.)
An overwhelming number of Mark’s readers chimed in with testimony to their own health benefits after giving up grains. All I could think of was my son, destined for a life of tummy troubles if I did not intervene. Suddenly every doubt and wonder that had crossed my mind over the last decade – What if I’ve been doing it all wrong? What if I don’t listen to the doctor? – came crashing back down on me as escapees from their prison of my own insecurity and self-doubt. Every what if suddenly had an answer. And the answer was: I’ve got to change it and I’ve got to change it NOW!!!
The gist of it is that I am taking away all the cereals, breads, pastas – GRAINS – from my children’s diets. Dom and I have already removed them from our own food choices, so it’s not like I’m forcing something on my kids that I’m not willing to do myself. They are not insanely giddy over the idea, don’t get me wrong. But as I started this journey back in 2010 I shared with them everything that I learned and explained the reasons behind the changes I was making. It is no different now. I have shared the reasons and the potential benefits I expect to see. If we do this for a month and the kids don’t notice positive changes in their own bodies, then I will concede to the food pyramid and take back all the nasty things I have said about grains and the FDA. I can say that because I totally doubt it will come to pass. My biggest battle will be the attitudes and the wills of my children. But because I believe so strongly in their health, I will not be deterred until we have clear results – and answers that do not exist only in my head.
Ironically, you know who was freaking out the most when I told them of my plan? Victoria. (I’m ruining EVERYTHING, you know!!) Aaron, on the other hand, asked if he could try some scrambled eggs for the first time. He said he wanted to eat better and feel better and, even though it was scary, he understood what I was doing.
I love that boy. I love him so very, very much.