Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Change is not always easy. Think about it. You're going from doing something that you typically do to something that you typically don't do. Several factors come into play when attempting to stop habits and start new ones. I'm learning a lot through my own family's journey through a major lifestyle change. In this series of blogs, I will document what I'm learning from each member of my family. Every person is having a different experience, thus something different to offer in terms of lessons. I want to start with my oldest son, a teenager. Raising a child during teenage years is a challenge in itself. Then introduce life change, and a whole new layer is added. All teenage woes aside, our oldest is a really great kid. He does well in school, wants to please his parents, is nice to his siblings, and is kind-hearted. I can't really get too upset with him for too long, even when he makes me crazy. Let's get into it.
About a year or so into our diet change to eat healthier, I'd had enough of this kid's whining about it. He complained any time he couldn't get candy at the checkout line, fast food, of a bag of chips. It seemed as if he just didn't get it. I understand. He's a kid. He won't fully understand, but what happened to the old "do it because I said so" just being enough to get him straight. I mean that's pretty much where we were. I'd explained to him what we were doing and why. Several times. Blue in the face. That many times. His typical response, "But mom, NOBODY eats this way. Nobody." Ok, really. Nobody. Got it. Enough already. This day, I'd had it. It was a weekday and after work, I was running around trying to get one of the kids to soccer practice.
It was a spring evening, and the oldest two were with me. We were headed to drop off my oldest daughter to soccer practice. It was a beautiful sunny day. She'd lost her soccer ball earlier in the week, so we were stopping at a department store to replace it prior to practice. In our true fashion, we were running late. Which is actually a huge pet peeve of mine, but that's for another story. It's tough getting everything done on weeknights. That's my legit excuse. Nevertheless, we hurried in the store that was just down the street from practice. She picked out a bright pink replacement, and we headed to the checkout. While waiting to checkout, I hear it. Ugh! Not again. Yes again. My oldest was asking me for a candy bar. Why? We've had the conversation, the conversationS about why it's not good for us. We talked about why we are making changes as a family. We talked about why eating less processed food is better for all of us. So why? Why is he asking me this right now, especially when his sister, the reason we even gained knowledge to start this journey, is standing right next him. "No," I said abruptly. He sighed in frustration, probably thinking he never gets what he wants.
We get my oldest daughter to soccer practice, late, of course. I, then, decide to have another conversation with my oldest son about why we're eating the way we're eating. I explained to him that she has Crohn's disease, and her disease process causes inflammation. I elaborated further, explaining there are foods that cause inflammation and foods that reduce inflammation. The foods that cause inflammation are the ones that we needed to avoid in diets, not only for her Crohn's disease but for all of our well being. I continued, telling him that several of the chronic diseases that are considered "a normal part of the aging process," it seems, like high blood pressure and diabetes are largely preventable. This day, I decided to inform him that the medicine that she was taking to reduce her inflammation was not without risks, some life-threatening. I wanted to hit home that this is nothing to take lightly. He cried once he realized the gravity. We hugged, he voiced understanding, and he promised to do better. We made some head way. Or so I thought.
In true teenage fashion, the issue came up again and again. I get it. Having food is something that he's never, ever had to worry about. He was used to having access to food, and it was food that he wanted. I mean to the point that he does not even know what it means to actually open the fridge or pantry and get creative about what you're going to eat. He'll look at shelves full of food and complain there's nothing to eat because there's nothing he wants. My husband and I have explained to him and all of the kids that there are kids who do not eat some days because they literally have no access to food. There's kids without clean water to drink. I feel they hear us, and they feel sad about those situations. However, there is a lack of ability to understand the full scope of what it means to be hungry and thirsty if you've never had to do it or see someone suffer through it. Nevertheless, we stress that having access to food is a blessing.
But why doesn't he get this? Then it dawned on me, it wasn't his fault. It was mine. I made a lot of changes at once for everyone. Sure, I explained why, but I learned that's not enough. My oldest son taught me that it's not enough to tell someone why they should change. That person has to want to change and for that they have to find their own motivation. With that, I backed off. I realized that I had to loosen the reins and let everyone come on their terms. I let go of some of the food restrictions. I allowed him to make some of his own decisions about what he was eating. He was able to make his school lunch decision everyday. He started choosing foods that weren't in his best interest, but eventually his choices evolved. His attitude evolved. He went from trying dinner at first, to not eating dinner some nights, to eating dinner with a better attitude. He started making reference to nutrition facts and foods he found to be unhealthy. He was discovering for himself why he should eat healthier and having the liberty to figure it out on his own motivated him further. Is it all rainbows and unicorns all the time here during meals, uh no? However, I can say that the tune has changed immensely.
I recently asked my oldest how he felt about eating healthier and his thoughts in regards to what we eat. I summarized the interview for reading purposes.
When asked what's been most difficult about changing his diet, he told me it's been the change itself. Going from what he was used to eating to something new. The tougher restrictions on sweets and decreased chicken intake were tough for him as well. He told me, however, the food has not been bad. He went on to say that when we substitute meat with food seasoned like meat, it tastes like meat. It"s not bad. His favorite food is a homemade pizza of his own creation recently. It was a whole wheat crust topped with peppers, chicken, cheese, and jalapeños. He was so happy with his work. I was happy to see how far he'd come. He thinks the way we eat is good because now he is understanding that we're doing it out of love and that his best interest is part of our motivation. He understands that we changed our diets to be healthy and avoid the health issues we can in the future. I asked him what he felt like we eat. His answer was we eat fruits and vegetables, with little meat and minimal processed food. He told me that he's learned through this to try new foods because they could become some of your favorites as he found with the pizza he made.
My biggest takeaway from observing my oldest son through this change, is when someone is old enough to understand that a change is occurring, it's best to allow that person the space to make the change on their terms. Explain why it needs to occur, and be clear about what needs to change. Nevertheless, don't make the change for him. It terms of an age-appropriate child, don't make the whole change for him all at once. He has to be able to do some of it on his own, on his terms. People do not like to feel as if they have no control of their environment. It's important to give some. I don't eat meat or dairy (except occasional chocolate, cookies, or cake); however, I found that it's not fair to do that to someone who is capable of choosing for himself. I had to back off and let him make some choices on his own. There will not be snack cakes, potato chips, or toaster pastries here, but if you want a little cheese, have at it. You want some chicken occasionally, go for it. I learned to not be too restrictive because it only causes frustration and shuts down meaningful conversation and growth. When making changes as a family, allow each member to move at his or her own pace. It made a noticeable difference for us.
Always striving to help,