Paleo. Vegan. Raw. Gluten-free. It seems as though some people have footnotes after their names, identifying the way in which they eat. Many of these folks are fanatical in asserting that their approach to food is the only way. They might have wonderful success stories of illnesses tamed through good nutrition or anecdotes of how much more energy they have now that they have given up a certain category of food.
All of this is well and good, and in many cases, wonderful. I have a few stories myself, and I am an ardent believer in good nutrition. But let’s remember that our kids are listening. They hear us talk about how we gave up whole grains and beans to go Paleo. Or how potatoes make us fat. They hear us talk about rigid food plans that convey a message that whole categories of foods can be bad for us, or how strict food control is the only path toward health. This part is neither well nor good.
Everyone is different. Some people thrive on a raw diet, while others would fade away without cooked food. Some people prosper without meat and others require it for optimal health. There is an old proverb: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” The technical name for this is bio-individuality, and it is an important factor to remember when deciding what to eat. We are each unique and have unique nutritional requirements. The foods that are best for you might not be best for your spouse, friend or child.
Active teenagers metabolize foods differently from, say, pregnant women or women in menopause. According to nutritional medicine expert William Walsh in his Web article “Biochemical Individuality and Nutrition,” “Men eat differently than women, children eat differently than adults, and we all have very different preferences. Our personal tastes and inclinations, natural shapes and sizes, blood types, metabolic rates and genetic backgrounds influence what foods will and won’t nourish us.”
So instead of talking about the stringency of going carb-free, talk about how you have listened to your body and are discovering what makes you feel good and not so good. Teach your children to listen to their bodies, too. Explain that they might thrive on different foods from the ones you love. Point out that a stomachache, difficulty going to the bathroom, fatigue after a meal and skin problems could all be related to what they eat.
Learning to listen to their bodies, not someone else’s dogma, is truly a life lesson for our children. It is a lesson much broader than food. Let’s hope our kids are in tune with their bodies when it comes to sex, drugs, peer pressure and all of the other daunting things they will one day have to face. The younger they learn to trust themselves, the better.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools,
a D.C.-based nutrition education company.