Sunday, April 18

Teenage Low-Carb, Part 1

Most people have a fairly difficult time getting, and staying, on an eating plan that is significantly different than what they grew up with. Or, an eating plan that requires major changes to the lifestyle they hold. Even for adults, those "in control of" the money and food and cooking, there are many issues.

And then there's having a teenager!  gah!

The way I see it, the issues fall into different categories. For example:

1. Planning. I used to eat when I was hungry which meant, "I'm hungry, let's buy some food somewhere." Now that I eat whole-foods, low-sugar, gluten-free, that isn't an option anymore. I actually have to think about it, well in advance usually, not only to shop so we have food on hand, but to defrost or otherwise plan ahead.

2. Shopping. My grocery shopping used to be a matter of walking through the store, choosing all the things that sounded good. Lots of pasta, lots of things in boxes and cans and frozen packages. Now the shopping is different and follows the 'borders' of the store. Fresh produce, then meat, then cheese, cream, eggs, then a very brief spot-check in the middle where we might pick up things such as canned olives or tomato paste. Everything we buy requires cooking, outside salads.

3. Prepping. Sometimes the seemingly simple foods take more time than the big things. I can spend 5 minutes throwing a roast and some details into the crockpot, and 4.5-6 hours later have dinner. But it can take us an hour to prepare a salad and dressing with some stir-fry chicken to dump into it. Cleaning and slicing and dicing simply takes time, and some foods require a linear process. My food prep used to consist of, "get in the car" or "take it out of the box". Now my food prep requires a decently clean kitchen, some counter space, and that both the above factors are already in place.

4. Cooking. I didn't start learning to cook until I was 40 and went low-carb. At 44 I am just starting to feel marginally competent. I can now make a steak and a roast that I love enough to rave about, after years of tough dry results. I now have enough recipes in my head to stand in the kitchen and "come up with something," whether familiar or new. We "experiment" regularly. The results are sometimes great, sometimes laughably bad, but usually edible and ok.

5. Cleaning. Being able to operate in my small kitchen requires it not be too messy. Cooking everything means that you've got a lot of dishes -- for every stage of prep, for the cooking itself, and for the eating usually. We do sometimes use paper plates and plastic spoons/forks, but most "real" food actually requires "real" dishes and silverware. My kitchen can go from immaculate to armageddon in the space of a couple meals. This is very time consuming, at the least. I have a housekeeping helper but I am gradually working on getting a good handle on keeping things clean as I go, and as we eat, so that it doesn't get to the point where I haven't got any dishes left by the time she arrives.

If you put all those things above together, what do they require? ENERGY. You have got to have energy to arrange any, let alone all, of those things. It is difficult enough for me to comfortably do all these things, but only when my protein is sufficiently high (>85g/day, preferably >100g/day) do I have the energy to do them. So my ability to pull off the eating plan is sometimes dependent on my ability to stay ON the eating plan -- and vice-versa of course. It's a cycle, and if I start to eat poorly, that cycle promptly becomes "a downward spiral," starting with my energy level.

In the middle of all this comes another complication, and a truly complicated complication to boot: my teenage daughter, R. She is 13 years old, and the greatest kid alive, but she has certainly had her own issues with eating well, and she has by proxy often done major damage to mine (it would be more appropriate to say, "I let myself be poorly affected"). Learning to adapt my healthy eating to something that she feels decently good on, she enjoys, she doesn't feel deprived with, as well as that she can help with, has added a Category Six to my eating plan:

6. Must suit the kid.

It has been a long road to getting us here. We have stumbled and tripped over every possible problem a mom and daughter can have with an eating plan, and stubborn behavior issues in both people. There is the frustration of a girl who wants to be fashionable and, just like all young women, has a lot of issues with body-related self-esteem, in our culture where anorexics are the representatives and fat people are made fun of. There is the horror of a mother who of all the things she wanted for her daughter, did NOT want her to have to deal with obesity, the most terrible challenge of her own life, but apparently figured it all out too late. By then, genetics plus womb-environ plus our food habits while she was a child, had already conspired to make her metabolically challenged, at best, at a young age.

It isn't fair, she has cried. It sucks!

Yeah, it does. But this is the way it is. Your friends can shovel unbelievable quantities of crapfood down their throats and still wear skinny jeans. You eat whole foods and almost no sugar and still struggle to eventually see the smallest bit of fat reduce. I agree that it's not fair. I agree that it sucks. But the one thing we have learned over time is that NOT doing anything about this only leads to a worse situation later.

Every time we were in denial. Every time we didn't want to deal with it. Every time I said oh fine then eat what your friends are eating. Every time it was so much easier to give in to a carb craving, only to end up eating 'whatever' for quite awhile before I got back to a strict whole-foods low-carb again... those times just added to the problem. Nobody got thinner during those times. And both of us got fatter. What started out a chubby issue became a fat issue.


When R was eight years old, she was getting a little chubby. I didn't worry about this, because I was chubby at age eight also. But it fell off me later as I grew. I have a picture of me at age 12 where I was clearly not fat at all. I got a little chubby again around 13, then it went away. I got a little chubby again around 15, then it went away. I didn't become morbidly obese until my early to mid 20s. So when I saw her getting chubby, I said, "Baby fat. She'll grow, and it will go away."

But I didn't have a morbidly obese mother with blood sugar issues. She didn't have the childhood that I did. She had a childhood filled with fast food and what was fast for a single working mom to make. She had a mother who weighed ~320 pounds when she gave birth, who had major blood sugar and blood pressure issues all through the pregnancy, and who blazed through pregnancy, nursing and the next dozen years of her life not realizing that she was constantly poisoning herself with gluten grains. She didn't have the same metabolism at age 8 as I did.

So she got chubby. Oh how cute. And then she got chubbiER. Wait a minute! And then she got mildly fat. Oh my gosh, should I "do" something? Will it make her feel bad about herself? She's beautiful, she's wonderful, I don't want her to think her mom of all people is judgemental about her! But they're making fun of her at school and she isn't fitting in the section of clothes she likes and she's unhappy and she doesn't have much energy. But I said little, waiting for her to make the decision she wanted to "do" something. I have friends whose moms put them on diets and it was horrible for them. I didn't want to be that mom.

Then for a brief miracle period, she decided: I want to be thinner! Back then I was eating very lowcarb, almost entirely meat. She ate with me. And she lost 5 pants sizes in record time. She was SO happy. Not thin, mind you. But back into jussssst barely 'normal' size.

But she went back to eating everything, and I didn't have the energy to make a big enough constant set of argument-fits to stop it. And she influences me, and I influence her, and the circle goes around. And time passed.

And she gained the weight back. She then went from mildly fat to basically just fat.

Ironically, by then, I had gotten nearly all the 'bad' food out of our house. I did not force her to eat low-carb though. I allowed her to have various treats. And to eat with friends. And to have carby things I didn't. And to have probably 'too much' of non-protein foods.

Of course, since she was still eating crappy food that sparks cravings and overconsumption, she just used my LC food to do it when at home. For example, cream cheese is pretty lowcarb. It's wonderful in many dishes and can be used to make a microwave muffin-ish-thing with an egg that is pretty decent if you're hungry. But I'd get up and discover a whole block (or two) of cream cheese gone. (Or worse yet, go to use it and find none, when I'd bought half a dozen not 10 days before.) You eat enough of anything that isn't meat and eventually it isn't lowcarb anymore, aside from which it has about a bazillion calories. There were other things but that was the big draw for her.

And she went from fat to morbidly obese. She weighed 235 pounds. She was 5 foot, 4 inches tall. She had no energy. And she was utterly miserable. She didn't want to leave the house lest she see someone she knew.

I knew that story too well myself. And I just wanted to separate into another body so I could beat the crap out of myself for letting it get to that point. I kept thinking it would be ok. She would GROW, dammit! Just like I did!! But she didn't. Oh sure, she grows taller. OK not much. But she just kept growing outward. I kept thinking that being a kid, her metabolism was mostly ok, and she would be fine, and she would grow out of it.

But her metabolism is not ok. It took about 8-10 years for her body to reach the same state of disaster metabolism that it took 24 years for my body to reach. And her reaction to gluten foods and milk sparks as much or more addictive eating in her as it ever did in me. There's a reason that Cheez-Its and Mac&Cheese were her favorite foods.

Her sweet little body has terrible stretch marks everywhere. She hadn't even had the chance to have 'a good body' before fat was scarring it for life. People were just horrible to her about her weight. She got depressed. She got mean sometimes. She just wanted to sleep sometimes. Life already sucked and she was only 12 years old.


So at that point, she "joined me" for fully healthy eating. And it sounds like that would be the end of the fairy tale, and fat would magically fall off her at lightspeed and all would be right with the world.

But that doesn't take into account slow metabolism. It doesn't take into account human nature. It doesn't take into account two people who have radically different tastes in foods. One of which has a palate shaped by almost nothing but carbfoods, and zero courage for or interest in trying new things. It doesn't take into account a kid who "can" cook but mysteriously insisted that mom be the one doing it.

It doesn't take into account a single working mom who doesn't always eat perfectly and has no energy during those periods, which affects categories 1-6 happening. It doesn't take into account every craving and frustration that two people with a different take on the same problem, different appetites, different food preferences, etc. can run into, rebound off and end up eating badly because it's so much easier, if I'm both busy and exhausted.


We are doing pretty decently now. She will be 14 in four months. She has lost many inches, more on her top half than bottom half, which is in accordance with our bottom-heavy fat storage.

She is over two inches taller than when we began and 'got serious'. I am nearly 5'6 and she is edging me out and her fingers are over half an inch longer than mine!

Everything seems like it's 10x harder when trying to do it for two people, one of whom is old enough to be autonomous, only likes the most fattening or carby foods, eats in the night no matter what I try to stuff her with in the day, and has radically different tastes so most the things I really like, I can't have, unless I have the energy to not only cook but cook two completely different meals, which is out of the question.

We're working on it though.


KMG said...

Reading 1-5 just made me hurt, since I know the all too well. Throwing in Category 6 made me wonder how you survive at all! You are doing *amazingly* well. Both of you are actually trying to find a balance that works, and that's fabulous. I know too many people who have diet-related health issues, whether it's obesity or something else, and they just give up, shrugging their shoulders and saying they'll just be fat or in pain for ever because they could never even consider giving up food X. You are teaching your daughter that she isn't helpless and a victim--she can influence her own well-being.

I wanted to share with you something that's working for me. I am not necessarily recommending it for you and the kid--mostly I just wanted to share because I'm excited that it's working. I have not had any significant carbs (no "cheating") in weeks! I was tempted just like normal to go off my eating plan, but I didn't. I have a little trick that is working wonders. I know it only works with certain personality types (my husband and friends flatly tell me it would never work for them), but fortunately I seem to be that kind of personality.

If I want to eat carbs, I decided that I have to pay my husband $10. There. That's it. I can have the cookies if I want them. I can have the sushi if I really want it. But I have to give him $10. Needless to say, he's very supportive of this new tactic :)

It works because a little part of me says, "But that's stupid! We're married! Why should he get any of my spending money?" Then I remember that there are far greater consequences of eating carbs than just losing $10. Bloating, water retention, clothes that don't fit, blood sugar crashes, digestive issues, weakness and exhaustion, frustration, etc.

So it's working. I'm happy. I am feeling much better than usual!

Orodemniades said...

Good to read. My son's only two, 36lbs, about 3f tall and already with the He's so big! and What a big boy! comments. He has ears, y'know? And a lot of muscle.

We mostly eat low carb, with plenty of fruit for him, and little crackers every so often. Plus milk, of course.

Anyway, thanks for writing this..I have a feeling I'll be needing it in a few years.

Holly H said...

i loved this article, its so informative and helpful to parents of young kids to help set up ground rules in the house! I was overweight just like your daughter, until i was 30. At thirty i hit a wall, hit 225, and started low carb. I've been on it now for 2.5 years, following the same ground rules as you have, and finally hit my goal weight of 135 last weekend (though i celebrated and am now at 138!)
I LOVE KMG's recommendation about paying to "cheat", as i get towards maintenance it's harder to test the carby waters without going overboard. I went out for sushi twice this weekend! Paying a fee for going off plan is a fantastic idea, i'm taking it! Thanks!

Carne said...

Hey there, great post! I hope you and your girl keep it up! I know it seems unfair, but she's very fortunate to have discovered this WOE (by proxy) so young! She's gonna do great. And F*** the haters. Those mean girls r gonna end up pumping her gas.

Tracey said...

What a wonderful and thoughtful post. I'm not a mom, but it is so encouraging to hear someone else point out how difficult it can be to sustain low carb, healthy eating in the face of challenges like different types of appetites within families and the dreaded cycle of shopping, cooking, and cleaning. When I fall "off the wagon," it's because I turn to "eating whatever" out of convenience and time-saving, and those foods make me completely lose the energy to get back on track.

Rather than kick myself later for how much I've gained, I hope I can stick with it.

Niki said...

I loved reading part 1 & 2! It helps so much to know there is someone else having the same issues. Serena will be 10 yrs old in July and is about 135 pounds =( My heart aches for her all the time. I've tried everything. She wants to eat all the time too. What is also hard is that her dad and I have joint custody so when she's at my house she'll lose weight, then go to his house and put it right back on again. He wont listen to anything I have to say. I even had her Dr. write him a letter and he just got mad at me. He also has a weight problem. I look at her and I see myself. It kills me. I wish I could say "I hope she's like me", but MY GOD I pray all the time that she isn't =( I worry about her so much. She wants jeans so bad (like the other kids), but I can't find any. They're all too long cause I have to get bigger ones to fit her tummy. God, it breaks my heart to even write it =(

Her and I have been doing really well lately! I changed my whole WOE around in hopes it will help her. I, like you, will do what ever it takes to help my daughter. Good luck to both of you PJ! I think you're a wonderful mother. You both are very lucky to have each other xoxoxox

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Crystal said...

I can't thank you enough for posting this. I have struggled with my weight for most of my adult life with it mainly getting out of control with my pregnancies. I am now at my goal weight finally which I am ecstatic about! However, yesterday my 12 year old basically begged me to help him lose weight he is 5'3" and weighs 150 pounds, gaining almost 20 of that in the last few months. He is considered obese by the bmi for kids. I don't have a clue how I could have been so blind and failed him so terribly. Every single thing he eats are foods bought and prepared for him by his father and I and I view it as 100% our fault and told him as much. I was doing an internet search on whether or not low carb lifestyles are considered safe for 12 year olds and came accross this story. THANK YOU! The journey to save him all of the struggle that I, his father and most of our extended family has suffered with weight begins now.

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