Raising Paleo

Hawaiian Libertarian recently chronicled his thoughts about raising a Paleo baby, and most of us in the community will not be surprised by his observations.

My own daughter is 20 months old and I wish I had known about this WOE before I became pregnant. I actually feel slightly bad that she had to put up with my SAD in utero and through her first year. In retrospect, I think I actually skewed naturally toward a more real food diet while pregnant, in particular a ton of bacon. I think I ate bacon everyday. And whenever seasonal fruit became available locally, I went bonkers: strawberries in spring and cherries, peaches, and blueberries in summer. But there was also plenty of ice cream, pizza, and cereal.

My daughter is now a very natural Paleo toddler. She happily eats many meats, eggs, nuts, and fruit. She chomps avocado and tomatoes by the fistful. True to her in utero experience, she LOVES bacon. I’m glad I discovered this way of eating before she got accustomed to anything else. And of course, I hope it results in long term health gains for her. May she never struggle with her weight, acne, or anxiety the way her mother did.

I am in complete agreement with Hawaiian Libertarian on most counts. My daughter is very well-behaved—doesn’t cry unnecessarily, sleeps great, and eats like a champ. But my experience differs in many ways, and in ways that can’t be explained by the fact that my daughter hasn’t been raised exclusively Paleo from conception. But I’ve found that to be true of Paleo in general. For example, many eczema sufferers find relief from this WOE, and my husband still suffers from chronic eczema and I recently had my first outbreak in years.

My note of caution to Hawaiian Libertarian, if I can be so bold, is that this is obviously his first child. There could be a great stroke of luck involved here. While there is no denying that our diet is complementary, I think we’ve been remarkably lucky with our daughter’s temperament. I also think about how much first children benefit from being first, they have first dibs on all those resources that mom has built up over her lifetime. Indigenous cultures knew that child spacing was important, and many instituted cultural taboos to prevent children from being born any closer together than three years. Why? Because mom’s body needs to replenish itself. It wasn’t until the advent of agriculture and a more sedentary lifestyle that we began having children with so few years between them. There’s an Irish saying, “Lose a tooth with each child.” Yeah, because minerals are being sucked out of mom each time and if you don’t replace them, your body will suffer. I’m very curious about how our society will be affected by the trend toward having children later in life and as a result spaced so closely together.

From my observations, different children are just that—different. I’m not saying that this diet isn’t for everyone, I absolutely believe it is. But I’m saying that different babies have different inherent issues and express those issues differently. If Hawaiian Libertarian and his wife have another child, they could have the same experience or a wildly different one. Basing observations on one study subject is risky indeed. Trust me, the minute you begin to congratulate yourself for something, kids have an uncanny ability of proving you wrong.

It’s also dangerous to step into this parental boxing ring. When you become a parent, it’s suddenly obvious how much people base their hard-and-fast opinions of parenting in general on their own experience. I’ve witnessed such embarrassingly blatant sanctimony and judgment from other parents, and I’ll admit to feeling it myself on occasion. But in general, I think being a parent has opened my eyes to the struggles we all face as parents. I’m truly humbled before the task of raising a little human being in this complicated, noisy, and sometimes-scary world. There are parents out there struggling and they hear from a million different sources about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I think all of us parents can benefit from a large dose of compassion toward one another, Paleo or not.

On the topic of resistance from others, I feel lucky that this hasn’t been a huge deal for us. We live in Hippieville, Oregon, and everyone here has their own crazy ideas of what constitutes healthy eating, so we fit right in. I think a really good question to ask people when they express shock at feeding your child this way is: “What exactly is my child missing by not eating grains, processed foods, and sugar?” There’s nothing they can tell you that isn’t found in better and more abundant sources in meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts. In addition, my husband is on board with this WOE, and I can’t imagine how it works in families where one partner is Paleo and the other isn’t. I worry a little about how she eats when she’s with her grandparents or when she’ll be at school, but take comfort in knowing that she’ll eat mostly Paleo with us. I’m not interested in tackling her to prevent her from eating a cupcake at a birthday party.

My daughter is quite petite—75% for height and 5% for weight. My doctor quizzed me recently on her diet, and I had to laugh for two reasons: 1) She eats like a horse; and 2) The foods she eats are the same ones that have slimmed her parents down! I don’t worry because she appears to be tracking my development exactly: I was 17 pounds at one year and 22 pounds at two years. I expect when my daughter reaches her second birthday her weight will be similar. I can’t help but wonder if the SAD is skewing the stats for what’s normal in this country.

So I’m glad to hear Hawaiian Libertarian’s parenting experience so far has been so wonderful. I agree that our WOE should share some of the credit. I’m especially curious about how different my daughter will seem in the future from other kids who have a steady stream of processed foods and sugar. But let’s wait until they’re at least out of the house before we get too self-congratulatory.

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