Tracey Haider-Sprague, a home-schooling mother of two, is also the Training Director for Small Beginnings, a Lay Ministry Training Organization in Seattle, Washington where she researches, writes, teaches and counsels. She, along with her entire family, began their low-carb lifestyle in April 2003.
"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders,
but they have never failed to imitate them."
— James Baldwin
Before induction, my twelve-year-old son Andrew's typical day was one of
constant hunger and cravings. Every time I turned around, he was literally
begging me for food. His typical breakfast was a sugar-filled cereal (that
I thought was healthy because it had the least sugar of the cereals on the
grocery shelf) and orange juice. For lunch, he always wanted macaroni and
cheese. He liked the quick kind, that can be stirred up and cooked in the
microwave. It made him feel independent. For dinner he ate a good meal, but
I was using rice, starchy vegetables and potatoes to stretch my food budget.
He would also have treats several times a day. I look back now and wonder
how his brain ever was able to work! He was chubby beginning at the age of
Jonathan, my seven year old, loved bread from the moment he could get solid
food into his mouth. I would bake bread every week, and he could barely
contain his glee when it would be ripped apart, fresh from the oven and
steaming hot. The whole table would erupt in laughter as this toddler greedily
stuffed his cheeks like a chipmunk. There were times when he would barely eat
anything else, and even refuse dessert; his love for bread was total. Even
though Jonathan ate very similarly to his older brother Andrew, he rarely
experienced cravings, and would choose to eat "real food" rather than dessert.
He was a lean, athletic child. We did notice, though, that we could clock his
reaction to sugar down to the nearest minute. The kid would nearly lose his
little mind after eating ice cream or a piece of cake. It would take him an
hour or more to calm down.
Looking at these two very different children, you would think I might decide
to have Andrew low carb, and let Jonathan do as he pleased. After all, Andrew
had the weight problem, Jonathan didn't. But I honestly wasn't prepared to
make separate meals for everyone, or have certain food items in the house that
could derail us — our family decided to do Atkins, and do it completely, as a
I sat the kids down and told them what the plan entailed, and explained that
while Andrew had agreed to do induction, Jonathan would have more freedom.
Neither, however, would be eating any more sugar, bread made from refined white
flour, or anything with trans fats or high fructose corn syrup.
Andrew speaks about his first reaction to learning of the plan: "At first I was
disappointed because I wouldn't be allowed to eat bread and sugar. But then I
liked it because I lost weight and I have more energy." In fact, Andrew dropped
thirteen pounds, and reached the maintenance phase within six months. Now he
can eat the full range of foods, just none of the ingredients we jokingly call
the "evil four". I asked him if he thought he could or would choose to stick
with this plan long-term. "I like maintenance because I can eat stuff like
apples, oranges, bananas, corn, peas and carrots and I can still have sweets,
just stuff not made with sugar. I want to do this when I'm a grown-up too." He
grins and tells me that someday he wants to be a low carb chef. I certainly
don't have a problem with that! Since I'm home-schooling him, it has been
quite easy to monitor his adherence to the plan; but when he goes to high
school, the whole issue of peer pressure will certainly come into play.
Like Andrew, Jonathan wasn't too pleased about losing his precious bread. "I
thought not getting to eat sugar was unfair. I really wanted your bread too,
mom. But then you made the new bread and I really like it." You see, I had
experimented and changed my bread recipe to a low carb version. I was nervous
that everyone would throw it down in disgust, but everyone at the table loved
it! When asked how he feels now that he is no longer eating like he used to,
Jonathan says with a silly grin, "Now I eat like a pig!" I guess he doesn't
feel he's missing anything!
This is not to say there were no pitfalls along the way. During the first
week, when the rest of us were doing induction, Jonathan became moody, and
lacked energy. He got so tired that he didn't want to talk. I thought he
might be coming down with something, and both my husband and I began to worry.
Numerous times I approached Jonathan and tried to cuddle him and get him to
tell me what was wrong, but he either didn't say anything or would shake his
head and say he just didn't know. He didn't feel good.
A few days into this, a light bulb went on in my husband's head. He came to
me and said, "You know, he usually eats an apple every day and has always
loved bread. Since we've been on induction, we didn't buy any fruit…and we
got rid of our regular bread. He's eating meat, and vegetables just fine and
looks physically healthy, but I wonder if he really needs the apple." I ran
out immediately and loaded up on apples and some low carb bread. I brought it
home and his face lit up. Within the day he was his normal self, and has been
fine ever since.
Andrew no longer asks for food every five minutes, and as he is hurtling into
adolescence, his moods have actually evened out. Now that he is on maintenance
(sure wish I was!) the boys' food intake closely resembles the food pyramid.
I have to search high and low for whole wheat bread that doesn't have "illegal"
ingredients, but it does exist — and if the stores are out, I can make it
myself (which is yummier anyway!) I can make them regular sandwiches for
lunch…and with stores carrying more and more low carb chocolates and desserts,
I will even be able to pack their lunches with the occasional goody!
As a parent who wishes to low carb, there is a big learning curve to overcome,
but the rewards are many. I used to be so worried that my son, Andrew, would
suffer the teasing and self-loathing that I endured for so many years due to
my unmovable weight problem. We are both relieved that this is no longer an
issue, and that there is a solution. Even if he goes off plan, he knows what
will work for him. He knows what he would need to do to regain control and
get back to a healthier lifestyle. I wish I had had this knowledge when I
was his age, already having struggled helplessly since the age of nine.
If your children aren't experiencing weight problems, then following the
weight reduction portion of any diet would be unnecessary. But removing the
"evil four" from their diets could help them stay healthy, and prepare them
for a lifetime of making better decisions. The maintenance portion of Atkins
is rich in everything that a person's body needs to be healthy and function
properly. So are the maintenance portions of other low carbohydrate plans.
Now that my children are stabilized — one in regards to weight, the other
with sugar — they can both eat any whole food they desire. Andrew may need
to keep a lid on his portions, but he can eat mashed potatoes, or even an
entire ear of corn! If it's natural and doesn't have a shelf life of 500
years, it's fair game.
I was thrilled when I found a plan that would work for me. I was relieved
and grateful that my children could benefit, too. They are so dependent on
us for everything, and if I hadn't implemented this new way of living,
Andrew would only be getting bigger and more disappointed in himself,
loathing the day he'd have to dress for gym in high school. Jonathan
would still be twirling like a tornado through our house, unable to
concentrate on his schoolwork. I'd still be worried for the both of them.
It's nice to leave the worry behind and look ahead with hope for my
Copyright © January 2004 Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury