When my oldest son was about 2 1/2 years old we were struggling to keep his weight up. He does not like milk, which is a huge chunk of calories to account for. I tracked his food for a week and found that he was only getting about 800 calories per day, instead of the recommended 1200-1400 for active children (he was extremely active!).
My husband and I just thought about what would put weight on us–Bread? Chips? Twinkies? The doctor was also monitoring his weight and suggested Carnation Instant Breakfast in his milk. So we started adding what my Mom called “empty calories” into his diet. After he ate his lunch he would have chips or a twinkie.
What resulted was an emotional wreck of a child! He would be fine one minute and defiant and melting down the next. My husband would come home from work and I would be exhausted telling him it’s like we had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde child. He was so sweet and loving one minute, the next he was throwing food on the floor and crying for 40 minutes if I asked him to pick it up. It really seemed like he would just flip a switch and become irrational. The worst part was he did not gain any weight!
After reading way too many parenting books and articles about behavior, and thinking I was the worst Mom because my child was out of control (usually in public), a friend of mine asked me if I knew about Red Dye 40. I did not know about Red Dye 40 or any other dyes for that matter and did not pursue her question at the time. I grew up eating chips, Twinkies and drinking Gatorade and I turned out just fine, right? (See “Newsflash: We are not “just fine” for a great article about that statement!).
My son got to the point where he was “blurting out.” He would be sitting quietly and just yelp loudly at random intervals. It was fraying my nerves! Finally, my brother-in-law asked if he had Tourette’s Syndrome. I wondered if maybe he did and when I started researching it, that is when I found many posts and articles about artificial dyes, high fructose corn syrup and other additives that were affecting children’s moods and abilities to focus and I was reminded of my friend’s question. I decided to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes from his diet to see what would happen. We saw results immediately. The blurting stopped as well as much of the irrational behavior.
I have to say, I was more than a little shocked when I started reading labels for the dyes and the corn syrup. It turned out it was in so many of our food products and I had no idea. Our whole wheat bread had the corn syrup, the whole wheat “Uncrustables” I gave him for lunch had the dyes and the corn syrup, and Nutrigrain bars were a poor choice. The healthy choices I thought I was making were as bad as the unhealthy ones like the Twinkies. Even foods that had no trace of color like some vanilla ice-creams had the dyes. I used to stand overwhelmed in the grocery store wondering what I could buy. Thankfully, it has gotten much easier. I pretty much stick to the perimeter of the grocery store, with fresh produce and rarely go down the aisles.
This journey to change what he was eating is what led us to “Real Food.” I discovered that we were eating so many chemicals and dyes for no real reason. The fact that other countries require a warning label or ban the same dyes and ingredients we eat should tell us something (see 8 Foods We Eat That Other Countries Ban). We went back to the basics–nothing lowfat, no prepackaged seasoning mixes and marinades, and eating “the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food” (Michael Pollan). As a family we seem to feel better and function better. My cholesterol is the lowest it has ever been even though I followed the traditional low-fat diets for years. I don’t seem to have the random five pound weight fluctuation anymore either. The best part is that I think our food tastes better and we seem to have more energy.
Has anyone else made the switch to “Real Food?” If you have I would love to hear about your experience and what led you to the change in the comments section.
Here are some resources that are a great start if you would like to find out more information about eliminating processed foods:
- REAL FOOD DEFINED (THE RULES) – 100DaysofRealFood.com
- Why This Family Will Never Make This Popular Staple Ever Again (the video is a little corny but a great way to get information about reading labels quickly)
- The Truth about 7 Common Food Additives – WebMd
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto book by Michael Pollan (affiliate link).