Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’m talking to a grandmother concerned about her grandkids’ participation in their family’s Whole30 program.
My son and wife have started your program with great results, and I am happy for them. But recently they decided their three children (ages 13, 12, and 4) should be on (the Whole30) too. Not one of these children are overweight in any area; they are all tall and slim.
I am really worried about (the Whole30) hurting them at their ages—for sure the 4-year-old. I understand not letting them eat a bag of chips or cookies a day but I got yelled at for giving them two Oreos after swimming in my pool all day. I really don’t remember my son saying (the kids) were on this diet too, but I probably would have given it to them anyway! Please advise, I am worried. –Carolyn, Milton FL
Thanks so much for writing with your concerns. I’ll do my best to help you understand a bit more about our program, and give you my best advice for talking to your son and daughter-in-law about their decision to do the Whole30 with their children. There are a few moving parts here, so I’ll take them one at a time.
Why Parents Put their Kids on the Whole30
First, it’s important that you understand that the Whole30 is not a weight loss diet. Your son and daughter-in-law may have begun the program overweight (I don’t know if this is true), but if you asked them why they took the program on, I’m certain you’ll hear they were hoping to have more energy, reduce cravings, sleep better, improve digestion, reduce aches and pains, and achieve any number of health benefits offered by the program.
Parents also put their children on the Whole30 for many reasons, but in most cases, they use the program to identify food sensitivities—foods that are having a negative impact on their kids’ health. (The Whole30 is, in part, an elimination diet.) These food sensitivities and their resulting health effects can manifest in children in any number of ways, including:
- Behavioral issues (attention deficit, tantrums, hyperactivity, anxiety, aggressiveness, etc.)
- Digestions issues (stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, spitting up, etc.)
- Sleep issues (trouble falling asleep/staying asleep/waking easily, restless sleep, fatigue)
- Specific health issues (asthma, allergies, eczema, acne, rashes, migraines, etc.)
- General health issues (trouble gaining weight, chronic colds or ear infections, etc.)
As your grandkids aren’t overweight, I seriously doubt weight loss was any consideration whatsoever in the decision to put their kids on the Whole30, but it would be really helpful for you to hear for yourself what those considerations were.
You may not be aware of all of the concerns your son and daughter-in-law may have for your grandchildren’s health, but it’s likely that their Whole30 results are prompting them to apply the same framework to dramatically improve their kids’ lives.
The Safety of the Whole30 Program
Once you better understand their motivations for putting their kids on the Whole30, you can then rest assured that the Whole30 is a nutrient-dense plan that will provide your grandkids with all of the calories, macronutrition, and micronutrition they need to thrive.
Of course, we are not doctors, and we always recommend that people consult their health care provider before making any dietary switch. That having been said, we (and the hundreds of doctors and Registered Dietitians who use our program with their patients) would be hard-pressed to find fault with a 30-day diet that consisted of nothing but nutrient-dense, whole, real foods, including lots and lots of vegetables! Plus, the kids eat as much healthy food as they want, as often as they need to, as we don’t restrict calories like a traditional “diet.”
In fact, we’ve done several micronutrient comparisons (the first in It Starts With Food, the second still under review by our panel of experts), and find that the Whole30 program actually provides even more vitamins and minerals than even a “healthy” diet based on whole grains and low-fat dairy, across nearly every micronutrient category, while providing far less sodium, added sugar, and “empty calories.”
But even if you’re still concerned, remember that our program is only 30 days—a scientific experiment designed to help people figure out how the food they’ve been eating is actually affecting their health. Your grandkids are free to go back to eating cereal or drinking milk after the Whole30 is over… if they discover through the program that these foods have no adverse effects on their health.*
*And if they do discover a link between some of these foods and health or behavioral issues, as a caring grandmother who only wants what is best for her grandkids, wouldn’t you want them to continue to avoid these problematic foods?
Respecting the Whole30 Decision
Finally, it’s time for a little tough love, for which we (the Whole30 and I) are famous. Your son and daughter-in-law are responsible for their children, and as such, get to set the rules for their kids. And in your role as grandparents, it is your duty to respect those rules, even if you disagree.
I know your initial question referenced concern for your grandkids’ health, but if you follow all of the action items above, those concerns should be largely, if not completely, put to rest. Which begs the question, why would you go against their parents’ wishes and feed them food which may interfere with this 30-day experiment? An experiment that your son and daughter-in-law feel is so important for their kids’ health that they are going through considerable time and effort to carry out the Whole30 as a family?
If your son and daughter-in-law advise you that their children are doing the Whole30 and provide you with very specific parameters of what they can and cannot have during this time period, it is your obligation as good parents and grandparents to respect their decision. Period.
This means no Oreos. Not even if your grandkids ask for them. Not even if you feel the need to show them love by feeding them treats. (That’s your issue, not theirs.) Not even if you think the Whole30 is silly, and kids should just be kids, and your son and daughter-in-law are depriving them of a normal childhood. No. Oreos.
While your first impression of the Whole30 may not have been overwhelmingly positive, the program can actually bring families closer together. By supporting your son and daughter-in-law; opening up productive, authentic conversations; and showing your grandkids love by helping them get healthier from the inside out, you’ll observe firsthand the benefits of the Whole30 that go far beyond weight loss.
I wish you and your family the best in health,
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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom; and the upcoming Food Freedom Forever. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography