How do you get a five-year-old to go without her cereal, cheese, and treats for thirty days?
The short answer: Bribe her with a trip to Disneyland
The longer answer: Find some new things she loves to eat.
This past spring, our daughter had a strange and unfortunate succession of events within a month’s time. First, she had a vaccine and a strong reaction to it, then two stomach bugs, one after another. After this, she experienced chronic, debilitating stomachaches and lots of missed school days, so many in fact, that we got a letter from the school principal.
After a few fruitless trips to the pediatrician, we finally took her to see an allergist. They did an extensive allergy panel for various foods and grass, pollen, etc., and found that she was ONLY allergic to dogs (go figure – she’s been around plenty of dogs and never experienced a reaction). The allergist explained that most likely our daughter had a food sensitivity, rather than an allergy, and sensitivities are best found by trying an elimination diet. This basically means you remove a specific food (like wheat or milk) for three weeks, and then try reintroducing it.
Around this same time, my husband and I wanted to do another Whole 30 (which is thirty days of no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar) for our own health reasons. The philosophy behind Whole 30 is that you remove foods from your diet for thirty days, and then systematically reintroduce them to determine if you react or have sensitivity to those foods. It was perfect timing for Ellianna to join us, since this is basically what her doctor was telling us to do for her.
I think the stomachaches were some motivation to our daughter to try the Whole 30. But she was VERY reluctant to give up some of her favorite foods. My husband and I have been wanting to take the kids to Disneyland, so we decided that if we all stuck with the Whole 30 for thirty days, we would go to Disneyland this fall. We explained to our daughter why it was important for her health to do the Whole 30 with us, and that it would have its challenges, but if she stayed the course, we would go to Disneyland.
Our Whole 30 adventure had some ups and downs, but we worked through it, one day at a time. Our daughter had a few frustrated meltdowns when she couldn’t have certain foods. I quickly found this happened mostly right before mealtimes when she was hungry (I noticed the same thing in myself at times!) Once we got some food in her, Whole 30 didn’t seem so bad anymore.
A few times, she was SORELY tempted to eat something off-plan. We asked her, “Is a eating that food worth giving up a trip to Disneyland?” We told her the story from the Bible where Esau gave up his birthright – his very inheritance – to his brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. How it can be so easy in the moment to throw away something great in exchange for something small and fleeting, but later, this only leads to big regrets. (If only we as adults could always remember this lesson!)While a happier tummy was the true goal, Disneyland was a more tangible reward for her, and it helped her to keep a bigger perspective on her choices.
Overall, she did an incredible job. She was willing to try new things and find foods she enjoyed. My mama heart swelled with pride when I would watch her respond to friends or family that offered her foods that weren’t on her plan. She would gently and kindly explain that she was “on Whole 30” to help her tummy, and she couldn’t have that food right then. I explained to her that at her young age, she was already displaying an important skill – the ability to kindly say no when someone offers something that isn’t in line with her own goals. What great life skills to exercise and learn as a five-year-old!
After thirty days, the day finally came when we reintroduced dairy, and later grains, and she was THRILLED. She never appreciated her favorite foods so much. But those days, she did notice that her tummy didn’t feel as good as it had before.
She is now back to eating grains and dairy, and her tummy is doing well. It’s possible that just giving her system a little break to heal brought it back to balance. She is now more self-aware when a food bothers her tummy, and more aware of limiting foods that have too much sugar. And she is really looking forward to that Disneyland trip she worked so hard to earn!
For me, I have new ideas for healthier snack options, and I’m more aware of the sugars that lurk in boxed foods – even the organic “healthy” foods from the health foods store.
Next up: The meals and snacks that helped our five-year-old get through Whole 30.