Thoughts on Strict Diets

There are several diet books and websites that will tell you how and what to eat and more often what not to eat in order to achieve better health.  I have tried some of these very strict diets myself, though my personal belief is that as omnivores, our goal should always be to eat more variety rather than less.  Still, if your health is failing and the medical approach of treating symptoms is not addressing the underlying cause, I highly recommend that you look at what you are eating.  If you are already consuming healthy food in its natural state and you continue to have weight problems, allergies, autoimmune diseases and other chronic health issues, then you have to look at your digestion. You may have to temporarily eliminate certain foods that are not digesting properly or are contributing to health problems.  You may even find that you have allergies or food sensitivities to otherwise healthy foods.

It could be said that Americans enjoy very good health, considering that we have a longer life expectancy and fewer deaths from infectious diseases and lack of sanitation.  We cannot deny, however, that chronic illnesses related to diet and digestion are dramatically on the rise.  We have more celiac disease, food allergies, asthma, eczema, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, mental illness and cancer than ever before in human history.  Many scientists predict that the current generation of children will be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

What does this mean for today’s parents who are trying to help their children have a healthy start in the world?  The suggestion that we only have to eat less and move more does work for some families.  There is plenty of evidence, however, that the kind of food we eat has an enormous impact on overall health and even behavior in children. Following the Southampton Study, which showed that artificial colors and sodium benzoate had a negative effect on behavior in children, many food manufacturers in the UK reformulated their products.  Products that still contain artificial colors must carry a warning label.  We have no such warning labels in the US.  We have to read ingredient labels closely and be vigilant if we want to eat clean, wholesome food.

I have read two eye-opening books in the past few weeks that address the correlation between our childrens’ diets and their health.  The first book is The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brian. As the mother of children with food allergies, she makes a strong case against GMO foods.  Her meticulous research and writing explains the link between GM foods and the increase in childhood food allergies.  She also details the intricate web of power, money and influence that has kept the general public in the dark about GM foods.  She offers practical tips for parents who wish to understand and avoid GMO’s and other allergenic foods.  She also started the website Allergy Kids to help all kids with food allergies.

The other helpful book I found is Cure Your Child With Food by Kelly Dorfman.  Dorfman provides an easy-to-use manual for parents who are trying to help their children with chronic conditions, including ear infections, anxiety, stomachaches, picky eating, rashes, ADHD, behavior problems, difficulty sleeping and more.  It’s a great book for any parent, but especially someone who is trying to find a cure rather than merely treating symptoms.  She offers help with food detective work and describes the underlying mechanisms that would make certain foods or supplements effective or detrimental.

I still think the ultimate goal should be to have a child who can eat everything.  I also know more about our food supply and its effects on children than I did just a month ago.  Having recently discovered that my own daughter’s health issues may be helped by avoiding food additives and chemicals, I’m ready to do some detective work on my own.  I’m open to the possibility that we will have to use a strict diet for a short while.  I am also optimistic that after we get to the bottom of the issue and discover her sensitivities, we will be able to use moderation to keep her overall chemical load below her threshold.  This approach has worked well for my own allergies.  For example, I know that I have pollen allergies in the spring and late summer.  I haven’t used medication in years because I know how to take extra good care of myself during those few weeks of the year.  I take steps to reduce stress.  I cut down on or eliminate caffeine, wheat and dairy products.  Usually these steps and some nettle tea can keep my symptoms very low.  If I need an extra boost, I can take some vitamin C or a homeopathic remedy.

Obviously, I want my daughter to be well and to have a healthy social life.  I think that strict diets can be socially detrimental.  I also don’t want to spend every waking hour in the kitchen and bring our own foods everywhere we go.  We’ve started eliminating the foods that have the most salicylates, such as apples, almonds and watermelon.  In fact, we’ve reduced her fruit substantially.  I’m concerned that simply following the Failsafe diet will give her too much starch and sugar, but the reduction of fruits is probably a good thing.  I’m already noticing that she craves starch and sugar.  She gets this never-ending hunger and just wants to eat snacks all afternoon.  I’m hoping that if I can focus on fresh meats and small amounts of whole grains, like oats, with clarified butter, she will feel more satisfied.  Cashews are the only nut allowed on the Failsafe diet.  I plan to make cashew “milk” and cashew butter to replace her almond milk and peanut butter.  I can also make home-made rice milk.

I consider this to be a gradual transition.  Other parents might want to go “cold turkey” and clean out their kitchens of non-failsafe foods.  Maybe because I like moderation or maybe because I can’t afford to throw away foods, I’m going to reduce before I eliminate.  We are lucky because we already avoid artificial colors, added MSG and preservatives.  Making a switch to unscented soaps and other products is also easy for us.  I like that the FAILSAFE diet includes this important step in reducing our overall chemical load.  I think that if we were eating the standard American diet to begin with, I would definitely do a cupboard clean out.  I’d get rid of foods containing preservatives, food dye, GMO’s (any non-organic corn, soy or canola) and MSG (autolyzed yeast extract, spices, natural flavors, etc.).  Even if my child were perfectly healthy, I’d want to check ingredient labels and stay on the safe side with real foods.

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