Molly de-pudges by eating fewer carbs

Juliana’s younger sister, Molly, has never been overweight.  She has always had a smaller appetite and more energy than her sister.  She did get grumpy if she didn’t eat, but often felt no hunger even when she needed food.

Molly’s height and weight always tracked girls’ clothing sizes.  When the size 6s got too snug, they were also too short, then 8s, then 10s.  A few months before Juliana and I started eating really low carb, Molly’s size 12 pants got too tight, but the size 14s were much too long.  I also noticed she had a bit of a double chin developing.

Although Molly didn’t adopt low carb eating when Juliana and I did, she now eats many fewer carbs because I’ve totally changed the food I prepare.  Now she has eggs and bacon for breakfast, but there’s no toast.  There’s no French toast, no pancakes, no bagels.  The daily bag of popcorn in her lunch has been replaced by cashews.  Her peanut butter or ham sandwich by a “fried rice” mix that has mostly sausage and egg, and a little rice and carrots.   She rarely eats pasta, and if she does, it’s usually because she’s not feeling well and has some asian style soup with a few rice noodles–not a big plate of spaghetti.  We still eat what we call “pizza chicken,” but the chicken is no longer breaded.  Yesterday I made meat balls without bread crumbs in them, and cauliflower on the side instead of pasta.  The most carbs she eats in a day come from gluten-free breaded chicken nuggets, or an ice cream bar.  She is not as sensitive as Juliana is to carbohydrates, and not as sensitive as Teddy is to gluten, so she sometimes eats a pumpkin muffin from my favorite coffee store, Peet’s.  We don’t tell Teddy, who really likes pumpkin muffins. This flexibility helps to keep her on board with following the eating plans for the other two the rest of the time.

And what’s happened?  Molly has slimmed right down.  Her size 12 jeans fit fine again, and her double chin has receded.  In Molly’s case, eating “less carb,” rather than “low carb” doesn’t create craving problems or excessive hunger, and returned her to her longstanding height/weight ratio.  But for an overweight, probably insulin-resistant child, less carb has a lot of potential pitfalls.



Low carb affects the whole family, and in surprising ways

Discovering Juliana’s intolerance for carbohydrates is like a string I pulled on in our family and all sorts of other interesting developments have followed.  I bought a cookbook/personal story called Eat Like a Dinosaur for the recipes.  In the prologue, the authors mention that their very young son’s marked ADD symptoms disappeared when they began to eat a Paleo diet.

My son Teddy, who is 8, does not have ADD, but he has something related called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which some people think should be called “Brain Processing Disorder.”  His brain can’t make efficient use of some of the information from his senses.  So although he has 20/20 vision, he can’t “see” a soccer ball rolling toward him well enough to be able to kick it.  His condition is qualitatively different from a kid who is “uncoordinated,” or “not very athletic;” we had to pull him out of non-competitive soccer because he just couldn’t participate in the practices or games even when he was the oldest on the team.  Now he does sports without moving objects, like Tae Kwon Do and swimming.

Teddy had other traits typical of kids with SPD, particularly being very clingy for his age and difficulty with emotional regulation.  The smallest upset could lead to a 45 minute meltdown, and he was at best grumpy in the morning, usually worse.

I wondered whether a Paleo diet would be helpful for him.  Unfortunately, my attempt at a Paleo diet for him failed utterly.  He didn’t eat much to begin with, and most of what he liked was carbohydrate.  He likes meat, but only with bread or something else starchy.  He likes chicken nuggets, but hated the paleo chicken nuggets recipe that used coconut flour.  The only vegetable he’ll eat is mini carrots–he says regular carrots make him choke, and that seems to be literally true.  He has lots of temperature and textural sensitivities.  Trying to get him to eat without any starch was a disaster.

You know the line about if they’re hungry enough they’ll eat it?  I’m sure that’s right, but I challenge you to last through several days of screaming to find out.  Teddy, in particular, can’t regulate his mood if he doesn’t eat, and the whole family pays the price.

I retrenched.  I thought if he couldn’t go full-Paleo, maybe he could tolerate a gluten-free diet.

I had also just read Wheat Belly, a fantastic book by a preventive cardiologist who uses gluten-free diets in his practice.  It contains the first explanation I’ve ever seen of why a gluten-free diet often helps kids with ADD.  In brief, modern wheat, as opposed to ancient wheat, or even wheat from 50+ years ago, has many “rogue” particles that didn’t formerly exist–the result of hybridization.  Remember amber waves of grain?  Not anymore.  Think 18 inch high easy-to-harvest-and-transport stubby stalks.   Hybridization produces compounds that didn’t exist in either of the “parent” plants.  These particles are essentially floating around in our brains, and can wreak havoc in sensitive individuals.

The gluten-free diet has been a lot more successful.  Teddy eats lower carb than he used to–he eats gluten free chicken nuggets for breakfast instead of a giant bagel with butter–but not low-carb, and not paleo.  He eats more chicken nuggets or chicken chunks in broth for lunch.  He eats taco-type hamburger meat with corn chips.  I am flexible as long as it’s gluten-free: he eats fast-food hamburgers without the bun, and wraps the meat in french fries or potato chips instead.  He no longer gets German pretzels from the German baker at our school twice a week, but instead eats more chicken nuggets or chicken chunks as soon as I pick him up after school.

And what have I noticed?  His mood in the morning is completely transformed.  He wakes up happy and ready to face the day.  For years it’s been touch and go in the morning–would I get him out the door without a meltdown?  Something kids with SPD do called therapeutic listening (TL)–digitally altered music they listen to through special headphones– had already helped a lot with his morning mood.  He listened to a special piece meant to help with emotional regulation.  Every morning as soon as he woke up I would clap those headphones on his ears and hope.  But on the gluten-free diet, he doesn’t need the mood-regulating therapeutic listening.  Now he does his regular TL in the morning.  He can still have a meltdown if he doesn’t eat and suffers a disappointment, but in general overall I think his mood is better.

He seems to realize that he feels better too.  At least five times I’ve given him something to eat and he’s asked, “does this have gluten?” and sometimes it did but not as a major ingredient and I had not thought about it.  He is now more vigilant that I am, and refuses gluten food at school or parties even if I am not with him.

A few days after I posted this originally, I had a meeting with Teddy’s teachers at school.  They commented spontaneously that they thought his engagement and concentration had improved since the beginning of school.  Certainly he’s arriving at school in a better frame of mind, since his mornings now go smoothly.