Parenting and Nutrition: I hate being the bad guy, Part 2

So I observe that even very overweight, ill people who overindulge, still pass up lots of junk food! You could have a year or two of depression where you ate everything in sight, and then, because it takes shockingly few calories to sustain fat cells, bam, you’re seriously overweight. And you could be more vigilant about your diet for years afterward, and remain obese. Losing weight is MUCH more difficult than maintaining a healthy weight is.

So it comes down to, are you willing to say no to MORE of it? 99% instead of 95%. That 4% is deadly. You know where that line is, between eating too much junk and eating just a reasonably sized treat now and then. You’ve been living in your body for a good while now so you know where that “fine line” is. (Lots of people haven’t discovered how much MORE food you can eat when you eat whole-food treats only!)

So what does this have to do with kids? Everything. THEY WILL GET THIS, the idea that their fuel impacts their life in absolutely every way. They need to understand it. We need to have lots of conversations with them about it. Taking different angles, not defaulting into mindless mantras.

Notice I said conversations. Not lectures. The difference being, we might ask a question, and then listen patiently, in between saying anything instructive. (In a minute, I’ll explain how you have to put 5 positives in the bank for every 1 instructional comment.)

What does your child think about things? One of my daughters gave me a huge compliment recently, saying (in so many words) that the reason she comes to me, rather than other people close to her, with a difficult or controversial subject, is that I listen and don’t judge her thinking and her developmental stage.

It’s not a problem to have high standards, or to talk to kids about choices, or to say NO to them. By not stocking the house with junk, by drawing a line at a party. (Even better, by modeling what WE do every day, which is pass up the vast majority of bad food in our path.)

Instead, it may be a matter of WHEN we talk about it.

Let me explain. When I was training to be a marriage therapist, I studied how one of the most well documented research findings is that stable marriages have 5 positives for every 1 negative. In other words, if you’re going to give your spouse (or child) some “tough love,” you darn well better have some currency in the bank. Your last five interactions should have been rife with love, praise, and tolerance. If you’ve done your time, you have credibility and influence.

I used to walk in my house and immediately take stock of the messes, the uncompleted chores, the people breaking well-documented rules. And I’d start verbally setting the place straight:

“Emma, why are these wet towels STILL on the kitchen floor? Pretty sure this is the fourth time I’ve asked you to take care of them! Kincade, did you pick the apples out of the tree? I don’t see them. Tennyson, turn the TV off and get out of the living room with the bowl of food, you know better!”

Sometimes just for good measure, I’d tie it all together and make myself seriously popular with a martyr trip. Something like, “When I leave, this place just goes to heck! Can’t you guys take a little pride in your own rabbit hole?”

A period of tension would follow. Usually the wet towels would still be on the floor and my oldest would be in his room instead of outside picking the apples. And we’d all be grumpy and avoiding each other.

Then I made a goal for myself: to not say ONE word of negative to anyone unless I’ve come in and first ENJOYED my children for five minutes. I’d ask them about their day, give them a hug, and listen to whatever they had to say. (I’m super lucky that way: all four of my kids talk to me a lot. But if your kid ISN’T a talker, all that much more important to not walk in barking orders, I’m thinking?)

An amazing thing happened. When I DID point out the wet towels or the bowl and spoon in the TV room, even just five minutes later, the kids were happy to get the job done or apologetic about breaking a rule.

So, it’s important to you to have your kids drink a glass of green juice every day. You are happy to make it if he’ll just drink it. After one of my Texas classes, a mom of adults told me she takes a green smoothie to her son when she wakes him up in the morning. He’s trapped there in bed, she said, and he’s happy he didn’t have to make it! LOL!

What if you were super careful about WHEN you talk to your child about good food choices? Do it only after giving him tons of love and attention about some things he’s doing well? Do it when you have lots of capital in his emotional bank account.

Don’t leave it at that. If your child’s nutrition isn’t what it should be, think what point you want to discuss next. But don’t just blurt it out, any old time.

Time it for a period you’ve got five positives on the balance sheet. And as I always say, make it relevant to your child’s interests. Will what you want her to do make her a better student, a better athlete? I’m not above pointing out how raw green food makes hair and skin prettier.

Nutrition and single parents….part 3 of 3

Thank you, single parents who commented on my two-part blog series a couple of weeks ago.

I’m quoting Amanda from that blog series because what she said merits front-and-center attention:

“Robyn, I know what you’re going through, and thanks so much for writing on this critical topic! There’s very little information online about how to handle this problem.

Due to school and distance issues, my 11-year-old boy lives with his dad during the week and is with me on the weekends. One of the reasons we divorced is over the issue of nutrition. The dad is one of those poor folks who believes the ketchup on a Big Mac counts as a vegetable, and he’s not interested in learning anything different. If the FDA says it’s OK for us, then where’s the problem, right?

I recently heard from my son that he’s being made to take fluoride pills at night because their RO water treatment filters it out of the tap water. I asked, why do you think your system does that??? But dad heard from the dentist that if you don’t get “enough” fluoride, all your teeth will decay and fall out. If a doctor says it’s true, that’s all the proof he needs. Never mind the evidence I present to the contrary. I’m not a doctor, so my information can’t be valid, apparently.

So Robyn, I look forward to your entry tomorrow on how you deal with this emotionally. All I can do (without bad-talking his dad, which I understand is detrimental to my son’s emotional health) is present alternative information while he’s here, and hope that it somehow sinks in.

One ray of hope is this: I was raised by a hippie health food mom who shopped at co-ops and knew way ahead of time how important whole-food nutrition is. In fact, I was the only kid in my neighborhood who had a whole-wheat birthday cake every year. (OK, I have some trauma around that. :) When I finally “got free” from her influence and went off to college, I narrowed my nutritional plan to two food groups: beer and pizza, in that order. I gained 25 pounds and developed some weird blood pressure problem that had me passing out after a flight of stairs. Man, I felt and looked like crap.

Here’s the good news: now, 25 years later, I’m a natural health researcher and a passionate and committed servant of anyone who asks for my input on nutritional or health issues. My mom’s lessons stayed with me through those turbulent years, and although I got off track now and then, her love and persistence paid off.

So will ours as we continue to deliver this important information to our children in a compassionate and loving way. Stay strong! My suggestion: don’t meet resistance with more resistance, but trust that your message will get through. Children are very sensitive creatures, and instinctively lean toward messages delivered with love and a high vibration. Encourage them to feel the contrast in themselves between different foods and ideas, and they’ll often correct course naturally.

Much love to Robyn and all you GSG readers! Keep up the good work!”

From Robyn:

Believe it or not, we had no conflict over diet or how to raise the kids, when I was married!

Nothing has honed my communication skills more than being divorced! Trying to inoculate your child against bad information without criticizing the source of that information…..that’s the tightrope single parents walk.

I have my hat off in great respect for all the divorced parents who try very hard to show respect to the other parent. After all, the child knows he is HALF his father. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of saying or doing something for the cheap grab at “favorite parent” status. It’s just a bad thing to do on every level.

I love what Amanda says: to just trust that the message is getting through, even if a period of beer-and-pizza might take place. Me, too: my entire sophomore year of college was spent eating almost nothing but Top Ramen and bananas. The year I was pregnant with my first son, right before I bottomed out and turned it around, I ate mostly burgers and fries, Ben ‘N Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, 7-11 Nachos, and I drank all the liquid out of pickle jars. But eventually my mom’s good teachings and example kicked in, with a vengeance!

Nutrition and single moms, part 2 of 2

Even though I am doing the very best I can for my kids’ health, even though I run a health-oriented web site and write books and speak all over the U.S., full time……even though there is no junk food in my house….I cannot control everything my children eat.

“Controlling” what the kids eat is a really great idea when kids are young. It is a word mostly excised from your vocabulary, as the kids get older. I control the food that I purchase and make, still. I don’t buy junk food. But “control” what teenagers eat away from home? No can do.

I certainly will not compete for “Most Favored Parent Status” (ask any divorced parent about that game, which I refuse to play) by turning into Pop-Tart Mom.

These are ways I remain happy despite the fact that I sometimes have to watch my children being fed a meal of Skittles and hamburgers. Despite that fact that I can’t influence their father and his wife to stop feeding them harmful chemicals.

I remind myself that I have done the best I could, and I have educated my kids about what I know. This dramatically increases the likelihood that they’ll have a healthy lifestyle for life despite living in a polarized “food schizophrenia” now. My one child who does not live with me comes home while she’s at athletic camps or tryouts, so I can feed her well, for energy and peak performance. This is initiated by her, not me.

I take some satisfaction in knowing that, while they tell me they often don’t have healthy options when they’re not with me, and I know not all their choices are good ones, on the other hand, they know what’s good and bad and they make better choices than the rest of America. All four of my kids love salad. They all love fruit. They are not afraid of green food.

(That said? Last night a friend brought us his “raw soup.” It was pea pods, red peppers, cucumbers, and avocado blended smooth. I thought it was fine. The kids didn’t like it but the oldest two just ate it. The third gave me some grief.

The fourth? He wailed and sobbed, he gagged, choked, begged, pretended to puke, rolled his eyes back in his head, claimed he was going to die, begged for salt, then cycled through all those tactics again. Ridiculous. I told him to get up and walk away, several times, but he wanted the whole-wheat zucchini bread his sister was making, so he stuck it out. And he curled up in my lap, after, and cried as if he was made to eat a bowl of wiggling termites on Fear Factor.

I tell you this so you’re reminded that I’m a Mom In the Trenches, too. Makes for some good laughs later, though! The drama could win an Oscar. This boy of mine is officially the most emotional human I’ve ever known.)

The point is, the rewards aren’t all being achieved right now.   It pays off over a lifetime, to teach our kids while they’re in our home, what good nutrition is. And then practice it right in front of them, making good choices ourselves.

After all, I had wonderful examples in my parents and my maternal grandparents. And yet I spent the entire decade of my 20’s eating mostly junk.

I have observed that my friends who are the most open minded to what I feed them when they come over (sprouted, living, raw stuff) always tell me how their moms baked homemade whole-wheat everything, and juiced carrots and celery or made green drinks, and shopped at a health food store.

And my friends who won’t try anything and make funny faces because they say “I have a strong gag reflex!” or whatever? They’re universally the ones who were raised on the Standard American Diet.

Some of the benefits of my children having a good example, a lot of childhood education, and far better nutrition than other kids in America transcend the nutrition they get today. They will be adults who aren’t squeamish and avoidant of natural colors (like green!) and textures and new foods.   Flax crackers and baby-turnip stir-fry and edamame for a snack and raw-vegetable soup will seem like home, instead of crazy-people food.

These are ways, mostly self-talk, that I find helps me not hyperventilate about things I cannot do anything about related to my kids’ nutrition. Gone are the days that I can take alternative treats to the pre-school teacher and ask the children’s organization at church not to feed my kids candy. My kids will make their own way and make their own choices. Moving more gracefully, rather than less so, into that space of parenting teens and young adults, helps me let go and allows them to learn from experience.

If you have tips, I’m sure some single moms would appreciate more of them!

Nutrition and single moms, part 1 of 2

Today I’m going to tell some personal things about my divorce and raising children with a divorced co-parent who has radically different nutrition opinions than a GSG does.

This topic is something I normally don’t talk about. If it has the potential to offend you, please don’t read it. I write about it today because we get a lot of emails from people whose spouses sabotage their nutrition efforts. We also get a lot of email from parents who are divorced and concerned about what happens at the other parent’s house.

I am living in that “real world” too.

First, let me ask this: who are the people most open-minded about eating healthy?

Answer: Usually they’re the people whose mamas fed them healthy food when they were little. This should give you comfort if you’re doing pretty well, but you’re raising kids and you can’t control everything they eat.

Last year, I went into mediation with my ex-husband. I had my $250/hr. attorney, he had his, and a $250/hr. mediator’s bill was split down the middle. I thought it was stupid. I wanted to just sit down and talk it out ourselves. But he didn’t want to. So, several thousand dollars later…..

I lost big on just one issue.

I’d begged him to eliminate monosodium glutamate from my son’s diet because my son starting having occasional headaches accompanied by vision problems when we got divorced and he went to his dad’s one night a week and every other weekend. Generally I don’t ask what they’re fed there, because I don’t want to know. (There’s not a darn thing I can do about it.) Stepmom gives Tennyson Tylenol for the headache, and feeds my older son Ibuprofen for his shoulder after pitching a long game.

But even with my “don’t ask” policy, sometimes I see these things, and it’s painful. At ball games, I see my children fed snack-shack hamburgers and Skittles as a meal. It makes me feel like all my hard work is being undone. It makes me feel like I’ve failed to protect my children. I’ve educated myself far past the ability to stick my head in the sand about the consequences of that diet, even for the 15% of the time they spend eating it. Some of the consequences of eating that way are plain to the naked eye. My children’s father has gained about 50 lbs. since our divorce less than 3 years ago. I cannot help but worry about the effect on my kids of the fast food and junk food.

I have to wall it off and think about the fact that I’m blessed to have full custody and therefore I get to provide the food 85% of the time. I have a litany of other positives I go through in my mind, to survive it. I’ll tell you those tomorrow.

My daughters will sometimes walk over to my house from their dad and his wife’s house (they live five minutes away on foot) and ask for a green smoothie, or Hot Pink, some fruit, or veggies and hummus, or whatever I have on hand. A few of the kids have reported that there often aren’t healthy options to eat at their dad’s. At first he did green smoothies, homemade kefir, and a salad as the biggest thing on the plate. But six months post-divorce, especially after he remarried, those habits were gone for good.

You get the picture: our values and habits in the areas of nutrition and how to deal with health issues are very different.

I had learned that the kids were being fed MSG in Top Ramen and other foods.

In mediation, my children’s father refused to consider eliminating that deadly neurotoxin from his home–or even from Tennyson’s diet.

I had brought a letter to mediation from a pediatrician recommending elimination of MSG from Tennyson’s diet. The letter was accompanied by a half-inch-thick stack of that doctor’s research on the harm that can result from eating foods with MSG. Including headaches.

I won, in mediation, in almost all the issues I had brought, all of which were about my children’s welfare and best interests. But my children’s father was intractable about eliminating MSG, even under pressure from a skilled mediator.

To this day, I don’t know why feeding my son monosodium glutamate was and is important to him. I have had to wall it off in my mind because it’s so painful to me. Painful that I have no choice, every other weekend, about my kids being fed boxed mac-n-cheese, hot dogs, and/or neurotoxins that I feel are deadly — but which he feels are necessary to make them “normal.”

My point? How to survive it? That’s tomorrow.

(But p.s. My son has not complained of a headache in the 8 months since our mediation. I hope that even though he was not legally compelled to, my son’s father may have cut MSG out. Sometimes in the situation single moms are in, prayer is the only thing left! And even research bears out that it can be effective!)

Home from AZ

Kristin and I are back from our trip to Arizona, and soon, I’ll share with you a video or two of interviews with a couple of readers. The drive is long and boring. We stopped and toured the spectacular Glen Canyon Dam. We prowled around Orderville, UT, gawking at polygamists and whispering about our little fantasy to kidnap their daughters. We busted up the 11-hour drive with my iPod. I yell, “ARE YOU READY?!” and Kristin yells back, “I’M READY!” and I blast a Poison, Heart, Van Halen, or Aerosmith song from her speakers.

I named my senior thesis, in college, after a line from an Aerosmith song: “Live and Learn from Fools and Sages.” (We learn from the wise people in our lives–but we miss out on learning opportunities if we don’t learn from the people doing stupid things, too.)

A beautiful blonde physical therapist about my age talked to me after the Glendale class. Her eyes brimmed up with tears when she said, “Thank you for giving me my lungs back.” I didn’t give her back her capacity to train and run races without tightness in her lungs, of course. Eating whole foods did. (When I made the shift, my autoimmune problems reversed themselves, too–no more seasonal allergies, eczema, or occasional asthma attacks!)

She told me her problem is her kids: after some initial successes, they’re currently resisting the new healthy menus. I suggested that she not panic, consider that they probably don’t want her to suddenly turn into a Little Caesars mom, regardless of the way kids overstate their opinions. (They aren’t geniuses at communication. And remember, even junk-food moms’ kids complain if they don’t get the food they want.) This mom abandoning her principles would be inconsistent and confusing for the kids. They’re probably fine with her being the health-nut mom, just need to know she can let her hair down, be a little flexible.

Every once in a while I invite all the friends of one of my kids over, for a pizza party. This is so my kids know I can lighten up, even if the rest of the time we are really very consistent. (On those rare instances, I am also very nervous that a GSG reader will see me at Costco buying things I normally never would–any remainder of which will go in the garbage after the party.)

I don’t, however, EVER have junk food in my house for the kids to snack on. (Kristin says people always talk to her after my classes to find out if I’m the “real deal.” She assures them that she spends about 60 hours a week with me, with our work-from-home, and travels, and our “social life,” what there is of it. Feel free to grill her. She says, “I’ve never once seen her have junk food in the house for the kids.”)

My kids know what the snacks are, and I find that if someone is complaining, it’s because I need to pay a little more attention to having things on hand that they like. (When moms talk to me about their “picky” and “resistant” kids, they also always name for me the nutritious foods the child WILL eat.)

To that end, it’s helpful to have a list of the food foods that each child seeks out. Making a list on paper will help you realize there are more things than you think, and it’ll motivate you to discover new ones to add to the list. Put it on the inside of a cupboard.

Paying attention to that may go a long way toward helping them eat right. Add to the list when your child discovers another healthy food she likes–praise her when she does.

This is part of a list I have that helps my kids feel there’s enough to eat, and something to look forward to, at home:

Tennyson, Libby, Emma: fresh blueberries

Libby: raw sweet potatoes, cucumbers, raw chocolate in her green smoothie, nori sheets, prunes

Tennyson: Naked juice, wheat grass juice, sprouted “candied” almonds

Cade: pink apples, Raw Melissa spring rolls, bell peppers eaten like an apple

Emma: carrots dipped in hummus

Cade, Libby, Ten: cases of Costco mangoes

I find any complaining at my house stops, as long as I tune into what the kids want that is good for them and make sure I stock those foods. And as long as on a rare occasion, I “lighten up” for a party.

Sorry if you’ve read this before, but my grandmother told me: “It’s not what you do 5% of the time that’s going to kill you. It’s what you do 95% of the time that’s going to save you.”

Educate your kids about nutrition!

Here’s my video showing Tennyson why food matters in his life, and why he

should make good decisions about food.

He’s no different than you and me. He needs REASONS. And praise.

Here are my tips for teaching your kids–some I mention on the video, and

some you’ll just see me DOING:

1. Make it relevant to their lives. (In Ten’s case, link it to sports

performance.)

2. Keep it short. (I didn’t do a good job of this in the video. This

was for your benefit to tell you a bunch of things you can say to YOUR

kids.)

3. Make it interesting.

4. Make it visual.

5. Involve them. Ask them questions.

6. Avoid clichés like “eat your greens.” Tell them WHY eat greens.

7. Use car time. We spend a lot of time in the car. They’re trapped

there. So talk to them about things that matter when they can’t roll their

eyes and run away.

8. Ask them what they notice, when they eat right, and praise their

good choices!