I got an email from a reader last night that sparked an interest in me and I immediately decided to do a blog about it...the kind where hopefully readers with far more experience than I chime in.
My problem is with my kids. I handle the cravings pretty well, and the kids are compliant with my decision to eliminate grains, sugar and legumes...However, they are constantly hungry (or think they are). We are very fit and genetically thin and muscular. I am 41, 5'10 and 130 lbs. of cavewoman-style muscle, and a certified Yoga instructor. My kids, 11, 10 and 6 have started showing increased muscle definition—not from "leaning out" or losing what little fat they had to start with—but they are hungry! They are having increased athletic performance, and clothes are getting tighter in places like thighs, biceps and calves. For "skinny kids" they look absolutely ripped; and so do I, unlike most people in my rural area in "flyover country."
This is not simply "craving" the junk they were accustomed to...they feel hungry (Paleo, three months now). Is it just a matter of time? We practice about an 80/20 diet, and I allow dairy in addition to meat, veggies, and fruit. What can I do to help them lessen the "hungry" feeling?
...It seems that many are paleo for the weight loss benefits, and we are because I wanted to avoid GMO foods; but we were already healthy and not "grain-dependent" so this is an unexpected complication.
In a subsequent exchange I asked her to clarify a few things.
They eat three meals per day; they only eat non-paleo at school and even then they avoid grain if they possibly can (They peel the breading off the corn-dogs, etc.). So I say 80/20 because I am not able to control all they eat. They eat snacks at home that are Paleoish (i.e., cheese sometimes). Very few "starchy vegies" like potatoes (sweet or white) or corn.
They EAT a lot at home. I have adjusted my schedule to cook breakfast for them and we eat well, and paleo compliant. They're just hungry all the time now, but I am not even sure if they are only missing the sugar load/grain "rush."
Thanks for your help, skinny people apparently react to the transition differently (?)
OK, here's my thoughts, for what they're worth, and then I hope commenters with real world experience can chime in with helpful thoughts and suggestions, keeping in mind that others might encounter this obstacle as well.
- First and foremost, hunger is a normal evolutionary adaptation to motivate us to source more food, because in the wild, nothing is certain. The problem arises when that survival adaptation is put into a context where we have unlimited supply, and we know it. In the wild, depending on the environment, it's reasonable to assume that where food was relatively accessible, people might choose to tolerate the hunger longer because it's not severe enough to motivate them to go out of their way—kinda like when you delay cooking a meal because it's a chore that's worse than your current level of hunger.
- Particularly in the last few decades, we've established as part of our culture the notion that if you're hungry and don't immediately feed, something's wrong, or it's unhealthy, bad for you, etc. Of course, this is the doing of the food conglomerates and their marketing and promotions. We have a food culture that conditions us to never go hungry and never go thirsty, so when you're feeling hungry, go ahead and have that Snickers bar and sugar drink. You'll be hungry again soon enough...
- Looking back to my own childhood in the 60s and 70s, I recall how different the food culture was. We had breakfast as a family every morning before anyone left for school or work, and 8-9 times out of 10 it was bacon, eggs, & toast (hash browns were for Sunday breakfast). Rarely did we have oatmeal or boxed cereal. My mom packed a lunch everyday—a sandwich with meat on it, fruit, and usually some carrot sticks or something. A bag of chips was a rare treat and I always envied the other kids who always had them. But what I remember the very most is coming home from school, playing outside (we lived in wide open spaces with huge fields and a river, not a suburban development) for a few hours, coming in an asking mom, "when is dinner; I'm hungry." I can recall the hunger being almost unbearable at times, but having anything to eat was out of the question ("you'll spoil your dinner"). Mom was always a great cook, so I always dug into dinner with gusto. In later years, I recall us being allowed one or two slices of toast with peanut butter in the afternoon. In retrospect, I wish we hadn't been.
- Kid hunger is an entirely different animal. Hunger is based on metabolic demands for everyone (in the context of a healthy metabolism); but for kids, this is a moving target on an upward slope. "Eat your food so you can grow up big and strong" is only partially right and implies that it's the food that causes growth. In fact, it's growth hormone that causes growth and hunger and subsequent higher intakes of food is in response to that growth and bigger mass to feed. So, just as growth is not uniform across the life of a child (spurts), so we would expect spurts in severity of hunger and total food intake. Normal.
- Speculative, but I'll mention it anyway. Could be that as they are growing and have huge and increasing demands for nutrients, the past eating of kid junk may have left them with some mild to moderate nutritional deficiencies (likely)...and now that they are providing those nutrients, the body is playing catch up (speculative). The three months on paleo may not have been enough time yet for everything to settle out
Alright, with the above thoughts in mind, here's how I might construct some experimentation.
- If you can pack them a really hearty Paleo lunch that they can have in leu of the cafeteria food, I'd do that as absolute step number one. Maybe include an indulgence once per week as motivation. Another motivation, if you have the means, is to sometimes give them plenty to share with friends (make it good). If the friends love it and envy them, they're more likely to develop a healthy elitist attitude—because, of course, they are the elite. That they already demonstrate increased athletic performance at school ties the whole bow on the package.
- If milk is part of the dairy they consume, I'd eliminate that and replace it with meat, veggies, fruits, nuts (butter, cream and cheese should be fine). Just total wild-ass speculation, but because milk is designed for early growth, it's conceivable that the milk protein insulin growth factors mess with a growing kid's hormonal balance which could cause unnatural hunger.
- Involve them in preparation, cooking and cleanup as much as possible. Teach them to begin preparing their own simple dishes (see sweet potato, below). I learned to make simple 2-egg omelets as a kid (plain, or with cheese), I think by about age 9. This will have the effect of putting their hunger into a context: "Hungry means you have to work. Now, how hungry did you say you were?"
- Paleo is NOT low carb, regardless of what you may have learned. Paleo includes zero carb to very high carb, depending upon what's available in any given environment. So, don't be afraid of carbs and most particularly so, with kids whose metabolisms should be fine if they're lean and have always been lean. So, get some white sweet potatoes, pierce & pop 'em in the nuker for 5 minutes or so, slit 'em open, spread butter on them and sprinkle with cinnamon. Eat with a spoon. For added delight, toast & caramelize them under the broiler after the butter and cinnamon are added. This could go with a meal, be dessert, or an afternoon snack.
- Cook plenty at dinner so that there's more than they can possibly eat (and for really good meals, plenty for that lunch to share with friends). Remind them of the hunger they experience and suggest they really make it count. Then if they do get hungry later, let them partake in as much leftovers as they want. Have them get used to eating cold leftovers from the fridge or, make another plate and let it sit out for 30 minutes to get nearer room temperature. This also teaches delayed gratification and, don't be surprised that if they do put the plate out and wait 30 minutes, their appetite might sometimes be gone in the interim and the plate goes back in the fridge (happens to me sometimes).
- Nothing ever to eat or snack on once dinner is done (this should be near absolute with everyone). This gets their bodies used to going 12 hours per day with nothing but water. I often remark that my intermittent fasting 1-2 times per week for 24-30 hours reset my hunger mechanism to a more normal one, but it's just as likely that a more profound cause is that virtually every day I go about 12 hours minimum without any food or snack. Also, if they complain of hunger a few hours after dinner, before bedtime, have them take note of it and then take note of how hungry they are immediately upon waking. Sleep moderates hunger.
So to summarize, I'd first realize that hunger is normal, and particularly in the context of growing kids where hunger is in part a means of motivating the consumption of more food than they have been accustomed to eating, as they grow. Since they're lean and ripped, they have well functioning metabolisms, and now have an opportunity to live their whole lives without ever messing them up. Point out to them all the people who have damaged themselves. You probably have family members like that, where you could show them pictures of what the person looked like in their youth.
So given that they have well functioning metabolisms, let them eat Paleo as much as they want. Just not after dinner. Here's the principle tradeoffs:
- You get to eat as much Paleo as you want between breakfast and dinner, no limits. In return, nothing between dinner and breakfast.
- You get to eat Paleo snacks between meals, but you have to do it yourself (leftovers, sweet potato, fruit, etc.) and you have to clean up any mess. (Allowing them such snacks has the added benefit of likely resulting in additional leftovers from dinner that can be used in lunches.)
- No more cafeteria food at school, but you get an indulgence once per week, and when I have leftovers from a great dinner, you can have enough to share with friends so they'll envy you, and you can explain how this is why you're so lean & muscular and do better in sports, etc.
Alright, anything else from anyone? Discussion? Experience?
Update: See the follow-up to this post, motivated by going's on in the comment thread: Why ‘Low-Carb For Everyone’ Advocate Kevin Geary Got Himself Banned.