Monday, October 3, 2016
Chapter 1, Sarah's Story: I Hate Cooking
I’m literally the last person that should be writing about nutrition, let alone food in general. For 90% of my life, I was a pathetic eater. In my twenties, when I was supposed to be fueling my body for optimum performance while training for the Olympics, I often ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I was truly inspired, I’d whip up a box of mac and cheese. I raced in multiple World Cups and World Championships existing off of processed grains unfit for rats and low-fat crap that probably had more sugar than a can of soda pop. It’s a miracle I didn’t pass out daily from having absolutely nothing nutritious in my poor body.
Flash forward to my thirties when I became a mother of a tiny little blond bundle named Wyatt. When it came time to introduce real food into his diet, I swear I tried to feed him only healthy stuff, but he spit out the broccoli, he threw the peas, he screamed at the sight of an innocent black bean. However Wyatt guzzled thick white milk. He devoured cheese. He loved anything to do with a cow. His car seat was even cowmooflauge and he happily mooed every time I put him in it. Soon dairy became his only food group. And honestly, if you were to have asked me at the time to rank my family’s nutrition on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best), I’d have told you we were a 6. We ate healthy enough—mac and cheese is a balanced meal as long as it’s organic, right?
But then it got bad, real bad.
At 18-months-old Wyatt had blood in his stool. He had an open-wound-lesion-like-rash that consumed his body. Extreme joint pain would wake him at night, leaving him a crumbled heap in his crib while he clung to his ankles and knees screaming, “Hurt Mama, hurt.” He had huge black circles under his eyes. He had multiple ear infections that led to rounds and rounds of antibiotics. Cold after cold. Coughs so deep and so painful. A shortness of breath that would leave him in a pile on the ground whenever he tried to run. Wyatt was sick, real sick.
I’m not going to bore you with a detailed account of his medical records, but here’s a quick recap: in the first two years of Wyatt’s life, we saw five different doctors and was on as many as five different allergy medicines and steroid inhalers. For over a year would line up the vials of the leading pharmaceutical drugs every night and Wyatt, all 20 pounds, would toddle over and take pills after syrups after inhalers after more pills every night. And he barely improved.
Modern medicine was not working. I had to get creative. I’d heard from a friend about Dr. Erin Martin with True Med Institute and how she used nutrition to help her patients. I was willing to try anything, so I made an appointment.
Wyatt, who was now three-years-old followed me into Dr. Martin’s office, where a tiny toy poodle named Fran sat under her desk. After about two hours of reviewing Wyatt’s medical records and lab work, Dr. Martin prescribed a diet that eliminated refined sugar, dairy, wheat, corn, soy, yeast, peanuts and eggs.
I looked at her like she was insane—insane. In fact, I think I laughed in her face. She, however, did not even crack a smile. Well, I said I was willing to try anything. Off to the grocery store I went to figure out how to feed the whole family. Yup the whole family, including my husband Ryan and our youngest son, Finnegan. I promised Wyatt that the whole family would starve, I mean cleanse, with him.
I put the kids to bed first and then went to the store at night so I could hunker down in the aisles and read every single label. As I grabbed my cart, I thought for sure the hardest thing to eliminate would be dairy or wheat, but oh I was wrong. Can you guess what the hardest thing to take out was? Refined sugar.
Refined sugar had been added to everything—milk, almond milk, soymilk, rice milk, peanut butter, almond butter, bread. The dried fruit I’d been feeding the boys that I thought was so healthy, laced with f-ing sugar! Even though my boys had never had a Snickers bar in their life—literally never consumed a Mars product—they were eating an insane amount of sugar.
If you feed your kid even the most harmless cereal (the kind they most likely hate because it’s not dripping with sugar) for breakfast, eight grams of sugar are slipping down their throats and into their belly first thing in the morning. Throw in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, packet of fruit snacks, granola bar and mac and cheese for dinner, your child is consuming about 50 grams of sugar in one day. Can you say ADHD, diabetes, obesity and possibly cancer (it’s all been linked to sugar but that’s for some other author to write about)? Here’s one fact for you, The American Heart Association recommends only 12 grams of added sugar in a toddler’s diet per day. Let me point out that the basic menu I just detailed above of 50 grams of sugar a day, didn’t include one cookie, kid yogurt or bowl of ice cream.
Wyatt was eating more sugar than vegetables. Even I, someone who lived off of mac and cheese her whole life, knew that was crazy.
I packed my cart full of vegetables, nuts, fruits, lentils (of which I had no idea how to cook), beans and meat and I left the store determined to help my child become a nutrition powerhouse. Within three short weeks, not only did we not starve, Wyatt’s health improved dramatically. He no longer screamed over bad joint pains at night, his skin wasn’t a mashup of red wounds, his nose was clear and his lungs full of air. I’m not kidding. Before the diet, Wyatt couldn’t run to the playground without pausing for a deep cough attack. Now, he not only sprinted to the playground, he didn’t stop running for an hour—no hacking.
After about two months, we slowly added food back in and were able to see that certain types of refined sugar—mainly high fructose corn syrup—were the extreme triggers in Wyatt’s diet. For me, without refined sugar, I felt 10 years younger! The achy joints I’d chalked up to aging, constant headaches I’d had my whole life, insane cravings and low blood sugar crashes—all gone, gone, gone. Bottom line, it was obvious that refined sugar was one of the worst things we ate.
Honestly, it made me sad thinking back to the years I tried to make the Olympic Team. If my nutrition had been better, could I have trained harder, suffered from fewer injuries, had better results and possibly made the Olympic Team? Knowing how much better I feel without refined sugar in my life, absolutely.
Despite happily welcoming back most of the other food groups, going forward I did not want anyone in my family to ever consume that much sugar again. I needed some rules, easy rules that my family could realistically follow indefinitely that would not only keep our sugar intake low, but also our vegetable consumption high. Hence the original toddler cleanse was born, Less Sugar - More Veggies.
The cleanse has two simple goals: (1) inspire parents to feed children less sugar and more vegetables and (2) make it as easy as possible for parents to implement goal 1. After the cleanse is completed, parents can easily turn this program into long-term dietary habits, or simply re-do the cleanse when you think your family’s nutrition is slipping (it happens to all of us).
When you first read through this blog, you might think I’m nuts. I get it. I promise, any change to anyone’s diet can be mind-blowing to think about. Remember I had to eliminate seven main food groups from my three-year-olds diet, including diary, the food group he primarily lived off of. If I can live by my doctor’s insane orders, you can implement and hopefully have fun with this much more basic cleanse.
In chapter 2, you will see the actual cleanse so you can get started immediately. Chapters 3-6 are not essential to the cleanse, but you might find are helpful to improving mealtime behavior and the quality of food you eat.
Good Luck! (Pretend I am slapping you on the back to psych you up!)