Restricted diets are difficult. Raising teens is not for the faint at heart. Add a medical condition that causes the need for a restricted diet, and you are stuck in an endless struggle to juggle and balance these three challenges.
Can it be done?
Yes! Much like tight-rope walking is done; very carefully!
With a lot of preparation, constant adjustments, smart moves and good resilience, you and your teen can tread the path from their teen years to young adulthood in good health and emerge with your sanity intact.
Choose when and how to introduce the diet.
It is hard to decide what the ideal timing is to start the diet. Starting the diet during a flare may be motivating if the impulse to do anything for relief will help diet adherence. However, in some cases, the mental and physical exhaustion of a flare may hinder any acceptance of dietary restrictions. Sometimes, it can take several attempts to start the diet and stick to it before the diet becomes practiced regularly.
The recommended way to introduce a therapeutic diet is by starting with the most restricted stage of the diet, in order to achieve fast healing, then slowly incorporating more foods and expanding the diet. When the teen is in a flare, it may be practical to start the diet with broth, homemade jello, and other easily digestible foods, and gradually introduce more advanced foods over time.
However, if a teen is resisting the whole idea of diet, chicken broth is not the food that will help him change his mind. It may be better to start with grain-free tempting treats that are allowed on the diet, to demonstrate how delicious it can be. Then continue with gradual eliminations and small changes, until full adoption of the diet’s principles have been achieved.
Speak the teen language
Connect the diet to a current trend or to themes that attract your child. A teen that likes sports will identify with stories and news items about athletes that have the discipline to keep special performance enhancing diets. A teen that likes science may be happy to research and learn the scientific reasoning of the diet. A teen that follows celebrities may prefer to give his diet a trendy title and call it Paleo instead of SCD, or tell others it is “the (insert celebrity name here) diet”. They can name the diet however they wish, as long as they adhere to the allowed food list.
Our internal dialog is very convincing- we always believe ourselves… so one might as well teach and practice positive self-talk. Don’t let your teen focus and dwell on the restrictions. Convince them to focus on the freedom that the diet allows – freedom from symptoms. A dieting teen can see themself as part of the winners circle. High achievers always attribute self-discipline as key to success. Practicing a restricted diet enhances self-discipline and empowers body and mind. Liberation from symptoms and excellent life skills are the basis for a Win-Win!
Avoid hunger – it is the enemy of diet compliance
Whether the teen is in early stages of the diet, or can already include advanced foods, make sure they never have a chance to go hungry. Sometimes teens will get preoccupied and “forget” to eat until they are ravenous. In this situation they are more likely to get frustrated with the diet and to ‘cheat’. Plan several feeding points throughout the day, regardless of demand. Just place food in front of your teen, wherever they are sitting. It can be simple gelatin or apple sauce or a muffin or broiled hamburger… just create a habit of nourishing and hydrating throughout the day.
Teach your teen to always eat before living the house, and to pack and take snacks and drinks wherever they go. Whether they are heading to school, to sports, to a friend’s house, a party, or the mall and movies, snacks should be placed in their bag, pockets, car etc.
After the habit is established, you can transition these responsibilities to the teen. You will still have a lot of work to do, cooking and baking constantly. Make sure the freezer is always stocked with “grab and go” muffins, crackers and cookies, and that there is a healthy supply of proteins, vegetables, fruits and legumes in the house.
Have short mottos ready for your teen
There is no bigger punishment, in my son’s opinion, then a long preachy lecture from one or both of his parents. Instead of preaching, try to use short reminders when communicating with these sometimes delicate and moody creatures we call teens. They may absorb a short cue better than a long lecture.
Here are some good ones we enjoy: