Updated: Apr 6, 2020
My oldest daughter was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at seven years old. Her diagnosis sparked a knowledge-gaining frenzy for me. I gained a strong interest in diet-related health. With the knowledge, came the desire to change. With the desire to change, came the moans and groans of getting it started. Once started, came the reality that change is not easy. The journey comes with highs and lows, successes and failures. It's a rollercoaster ride. Our oldest daughter is now ten years old. Her attitude about how we eat can be all over the place at times. At times, she's happy about it and takes pride in it. Other times, she's frustrated and crying about it. All I can say to that is she's ten years old. If it wasn't our diet that she was all over the place about, it would be something else. Nonetheless, aside from her age, we all ride some version of waves when we're making changes.
It's mid afternoon, our oldest daughter recently returned home from school. We stand in front of an open door. The bright light shines upon our faces and the cool air moves over us. I stand fidgeting and slightly tapping my foot, waiting impatiently for an answer. My daughter stands next me with a look of frantic decision-making over her face. Frustration in her voice, she exclaims to me, "I don't know what to eat." I suggest an option. "I don't want that," she quickly answers. I make a different suggestion. "I don't want that either," she answers again. Ugh! We close the fridge doors and move over to pantry. More of the same there. No to this. No to that.Oh my gosh! Please cut me some slack, kid! What is the purpose of this exercise. You know what we have. You know what you want. You know we don't have what you want to eat because I've told you eighty times before that it upsets your stomach. Come on now. This attitude is from the same kid that is usually the most open about trying new food.
Despite my frustration with her in these moments, I completely understand her position. Here she is on this journey that she didn't ask to be on. She didn't ask to have Crohn's disease. It's of no fault of hers. She's lived a life without Crohn's disease. Although still a child, she has experienced a life she remembers without Crohn's disease. She's experienced a life she remembers without pain. She's experienced a life she remembers without restrictions. She understands that change is happening, but doesn't understand fully what exactly it means. How could she? As adults, it's difficult for us to navigate major life changes. How could one expect a child accept tremendous change without grief. She has condition that necessitates limitations. However, as a family, we have never been ones to wallow in our woes. I tell the kids we all have things in life that we go through. You have a choice in how you deal with those things. You can choose to wallow and be sad, but what comes from that? Or you can choose to find the positive. Sure, it's normal to have some sadness at times when your life feels out of your control. Those feelings are normal; however, choosing to harp on those feelings is not productive. This diagnosis is still relatively new for all of this. We are still adjusting. It takes time, and we have to be patient with each other.
I expressed to my daughter that her diagnosis has been in blessing in that now that our family has changed the way we eat, we all benefit. In my information gathering, I learned that we have way more control over our health than what's promoted. It's always vaguely encouraged to "eat healthy" and "get active," but details are often vague or jumbled in mixed information. This diet, that diet. This trend, that trend. There's a lot of noise out if you're trying to figure out how to get healthy or improve your health. I wanted to keep healthy simple for my family. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low in meat in take are associated with decreased risk of several chronic diseases. Upon learning this, I decided to eat healthier by eating much less highly processed foods and eating more fruits and vegetables. We made the change to eat more whole food, which is food as close to its natural state as possible. At the time, we already were not eating much red meat (only an occasional burger) and eating mostly whole grains. We decreased our meat intake to just occasional, and I decided to stop eating meat. The goal was to get more fruits and veggies in. Several changes occurred literally overnight, so it was difficult for several members of the household. Our oldest daughter was on board, however.
She started off open and excited to try new foods. However, with time, she actually grew to be less excited and more just tolerant. I think it starts to wear on you. Being different is tough. Being the only kid eating a "healthy lunch" or one of a few. It's hard at her age when most kids are eating a school lunch of fried chicken tenders and fries while she's eating bell peppers, celery, and strawberries. Even as a adult, it's different to have a healthy lunch. People will often look at a lunch like that and comment, "You eat healthy." When really we would all benefit from eating more whole food. I mean whole food is the way food was intended to be eaten anyways. The problem comes in because it is not convenient to eat that way. It requires starting new habits like cooking regularly and shopping a little more frequently since most of your food is fresh. When making changes, there's times when you feel motivated and eager but those times are interspersed with periods of feeling defeated and overwhelmed. The key is to remember why you're doing what you're doing and keep at it. No big transformations happen overnight, so one has to be ready and willing to ride the rollercoaster.
I recently asked my oldest daughter how she felt about the way we eat. I summarized her answers for reading purposes.
I asked her what's been most difficult about changing the way we eat. She told me that it's hard when we are outside of the house and other people are eating things that she cannot have, and she's forced to eat something different than others. She also stated that it's hard for her right now to try new things. When asked what hasn't been so bad, she answered vegetables. She said vegetables haven't been that bad. She informed that pizza is her favorite dish. She tops homemade almond flour crust (we used Simple Mills Artisan Bread Mix) with gobs of pizza sauce with a few sparse veggies. She thinks the way we eat is good and said that sometimes she feels bad for other people. When asked why we changed our diets. She answered to prevent conditions and becoming overweight, as well as to be healthy. When asked what we eat. She says we eat fruits, veggies, and those mixed with a main dish like stir fry or spaghetti. Her only closing statement that she wanted people to know and I quote, "I'm famous!!!" as she's giggles uncontrollably.
So we decided to change our diets, and it's going perfectly. No. No. No. No. Is there a such thing? We push forward with the goal of continuously improving. I don't want anyone reading this to get the impression that we ride some high horse snacking on carrots looking down on everyone snacking on cookies below us. Far from it. We eat cookies, too! Our focus is stressing that the cookies are an occasional treat and ensuring they are not any significant portion of our diets. So our kids hear no a lot when it comes to stuff like that, but when they hear yes it's that much more of an exciting experience. Our oldest daughter is young, but she realizes the challenges ahead. I believe when she thinks about her diagnosis and how life is different than what she remembers to be normal, she becomes overwhelmed. Understandingly so. What she's going through would be difficult for any of us. I tell her all the time that she's one of the strongest people I know. Major transformations in life are an obstacle course with hurdles to climb and nets under which to crawl. There's highs and lows. It requires perseverance, patience, and strength. We are all capable of change. The challenge is determining what tools and resources you need to be successful. My advice is to stay on the rollercoaster. Stay committed. You will figure out your path to success.
Always striving to help,
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