For the last fifteen years or so, on and off, the Wife and I have been eating according to a diet that is “a dangerous fad”, going to give us “bad breath and no energy” or “the best way to lose weight” – depending on who you listen to!
It all started when
I was chatting to a female friend of mine and it transpired that not only did she suffer the same reproductive-health problems as The Wife, but she had cured a lot of them with a low-carb diet. (If you cast your mind back to 1999/2000 this was radical stuff!) The Wife had been told she wouldn’t have children naturally and I was opposed to IVF so we were willing to try anything, including a fad diet. It wasn’t easy, I still remember this conversation trying to order a pub lunch in the early days.
“I’d like the mixed grill please, but without any chips.”
“Would you like rice instead?”
“How about a jacket potato?”
“I could do you some bread and butter?” the waitress was starting to get desperate here but the Wife stuck to her guns! Now, over ten years later, I’ve seen menus, admittedly in London restaurants, with a specified low-carb option.
Obviously, as this is a parenting blog, the diet worked and we now have three lovely boys. In hindsight, it was those periods of pregnancy that accounted for the on again, off again nature of the diet. It’s one thing to experiment on yourself, but if our children had been harmed because the Wife hadn’t eaten properly while pregnant or breastfeeding we would never have forgiven ourselves.
Anyway, over the years we have tried a variety of different diets. Atkins, for all the hype, was too extreme for us. A general low carb, high protein diet isn’t bad, and the Wife has even had good results on the Cambridge diet.
Eat like a caveman
What I like is not only the clear results – not feeling hungry and losing weight, plus increased health, but the logic. It’s a really simple theory – we’ve only been farming for 10,000 years (at most) and that’s not long enough to evolve to cope with farmed foods. The two biggest allergens in our diet are wheat and dairy, for example. It’s actually a bit more complicated than this, because after WWII farming was massively industrialised and the species of crops and animals were changed and restricted.
This leads us round the way we’re trying to eat now, which is called Paleo. At it’s most extreme, it will be eating as our prehistoric ancestors ate – grass fed meat, wild fruits, nuts, etc. but that’s a bit hard in this day and age. In truth it involves making sacrifices and compromises. But even simply eliminating wheat, potato, rice and other grains, together with dairy products is making a huge difference to us.
Won’t someone think of the children?!?
Well, yes, the Children. This is a parenting blog after all. Even without our weird diet, we’ve always tried to be neutral with the children and food. In my opinion, there are two big problems with children and food.
Firstly, the “make sure you clear your plate” attitude, often backed up with guilt. “Children are starving in Africa and you’re wasting food?” I’ve never quite got how eating some overcooked broccoli would help people elsewhere without enough to eat? And, last year, I had a huge revelation. Instead, ask this question – what would be more of a waste, tipping it into the compost bin, or eating calories you don’t need and making yourself fat? Obviously if you’re binning food frequently, you need to look at portion control, but you get the idea.
The other problem is the opposite attitude – “if you eat this, you will be fat” – way to program a young mind and instil guilt! Life should have treats in it, and they should be that – treats. I do impress on the boys that if they eat chocolate and crisps all the time then their health will suffer. But once a treat has been selected, then you might as well eat it whole-heartedly and enjoy it for what it is. If you eat it while feeling bad and hating yourself, you might as well start a therapy fund now, because you’re going to need it.
So, with the children, we try really hard to put three healthy meals a day in front of them, and leave it up to them how much they eat. Some days they’ll pick around the edges, other days they’ll clear plates and hoover up seconds. We try to meet both of these approaches without a value judgement. I accept the wastage because at their age they don’t know their own bodies. They can’t come to me two hours before meal-time and say “I don’t feel hungry today” or “I’m on a growth spurt”. What I hope we’re doing is training them to listen to their bodies and decide what they really need to eat. The only exception we have to this easy-going approach is a fairly strict, “try one proper mouthful before you say you don’t like it” rule.
Of course, they see Mum and Dad eating weird food – no rice or pasta for example, so they have more freedom than most. If they choose to eat a huge curry and leave the rice, fine! If they keep opening sandwiches to eat the filling, they’ll be sent to school with a box of salad and cold meat. One handy tip from a Paleo website that we do is to boil eggs in bulk, usually six or seven at a time and then keep them in the fridge. The boys love it and often go grab an egg for a snack. Or they make themselves ham sandwiches. But having a fridge full of cold meat and salad means they’ll often go and help themselves to salad as well – they all love cucumber, and the celery, lettuce and peppers are all popular too. But, they aren’t perfect little angels either, they still eat rice and bread and nag mercilessly for treats like jam sandwiches and chocolate. But on the whole, from what I’ve seen, they eat far less refined sugar than most of their peers and are hopefully more aware of what’s good for them and what’s not.
Being a caveman in the modern world
There is one big problem to this whole “listen to your body” approach – the rest of the world. I believe that our hunger and desires are at root very primal, still hunter-gatherer. And I also believe that primal part of our brains equates money to effort expended while hunting. So if you see “double cheese-burger meal for £1.99” with your conscious brain, your primal brain sees “lots of protein and fat for minimal effort” and there the problems start. Two trifles for the price of one? Instant energy boost for no outlay!
The more things are processed, the further they are from Paleo and the more they damage your body. So it’s a real struggle between the shiny advertising and tempting treats and what I know is good for me and my family. It is completely shocking to walk into a shop and realise most of what’s advertised and placed on my eye-line is so bad for me.
Luckily, I think we’re winning, because the younger two get excited over raspberries and blueberries and the eldest eats apples and oranges more than chocolate. But, there are times when it’s obvious that us, as a family, and the rest of the world simply don’t agree. Government advice and the ideal plate or Change 4 Life for example. And being in school, healthy diet is always on the agenda. We just have to tell them that we, personally, don’t believe that jacket potatoes and brown bread are healthy choices, whereas fried bacon and eggs is fine as a meal! We try to leave it up to them whether they challenge the orthodoxy or just (as they sensibly have done so far) sit at the back and keep quiet.
So… that’s us and food, in a (very Paleo) nutshell. Ever so slowly, the world is coming round to our way of thinking. More and more, animal fat and butter are being discovered as healthy. There are even reports (that haven’t yet reached front line doctors) that the “fat is bad” obsession doesn’t apply for risk of heart attack.
What do you think? How do you deal with food in your family?