Often when I suggest to a family that a change in diet will likely help their child’s health concerns, the family feels worried that the child will feel deprived or upset about avoiding those foods – usually considered treats.
Of course it depends on the kid, but honestly, I think that parents are more traumatized about diet changes than the kids are.
Kids are smart. Kids feel what’s going on in their own bodies and minds. They know when something feels good and they know when something feels wrong. That said, they’re not very effective with articulating these feelings.
Unless, that is, you consider screaming uncontrollably or viciously biting to be clear articulations. Personally, I think something like this would be so much easier: “Mother, dear, that drink of orange pop has just messed up all of my neurotransmitters and I can no longer control my thoughts or actions. Perhaps next time I could have some sparkling water with blueberries instead.” Certainly less dramatic.
I find that most often, kids are happy to take charge and make good decisions about what foods and drinks they put into their bodies. Usually when offending foods are taken out of the diet, the child has some trouble in the first few days. Changes can be difficult. But then when the kid feels better, I like to encourage them to do a food challenge and make clear notes about how they feel.
Here are some responses: “It felt like there were ants in my brain.” “My ears got so itchy inside I wanted to stick my fork in to scratch.” “My eczema got worse. Waaaaaaaaaay worse.” “I felt like I had to throw up.” “I felt so angry I couldn’t see.” “I was all busy buzzy inside.”
And my standard question: “So, what do you think?”
Usually the kid is quite emphatic in choosing to stay away from the offending food. No one wants to feel yucky.
That said, I think it is important for children, and grown ups, to give themselves a break from excellent choices now and then. If parents and children can discuss the consequences and feel okay about them, perhaps it’s not so bad to have a taste here and there. For example, when my daughter eats processed corn products or cow’s dairy, she gets itchy and inevitably eczema pops up. If there is a food she really wants that has dairy or corn, we talk about the fact that she’ll be itchy if she eats it. Usually she thinks better of it but sometimes she decides to go for it. Not such a big deal and she heals up quickly within a day or 2 when we’re back to our usual routine.
BUT, both of my children have a very hard time with food dyes so we avoid them altogether. My 5 year old clearly remembers the feelings of humiliation and fury following a major tantrum on Queen’s Quay when she was 3. We finally understood that it was the red dye in the popsicle she’d eaten that interfered with her ability to listen and process information effectively. Don’t get me wrong… she had plenty of tantrums but the ones after a dye-filled “treat” were different. We decided as a family to stop having dye altogether. No dye. Period. Ever. Absolutely not worth it.
I recall when a mom spoke to me about her son not being able to have treats with the diet changes I recommended. Her son said this: “But Mom, it’s not a treat if it makes me feel bad. Can I have a game for my DS instead?” Wow. Exactly.