Feeding our kids, ourselves

One of the most common questions that we hear from people who learn about Nora’s diet, or who have known that we have been doing this for 20 months, is this: Do you eat like Nora too? How has your diet changed?

Simple beautiful keto meal. In the cup is a little poached egg (one of the first from our own chickens!) swimming in heavy cream. Nora also had fish oil and her cytra jello on the side.

Simple beautiful keto meal. In the cup is a little poached egg (one of the first from our own chickens!) swimming in heavy cream. Nora also had fish oil and her cytra jello on the side.

This simple answer is this: Yes, we eat like Nora because we eat the same foods. Cheese, avocado, nuts, red pepper, berries, meats, eggs, cream, butter. But we don’t measure our food or eat in the same proportions as Nora does. We can have a fresh and simple family meal from mostly the same foods, but Nora has less fruit and a side of heavy cream. I’ve included several keto meals from this summer that were so pretty I took a picture.

I’ve noticed that as we have been so intensely focused on feeding Nora for her health, we have migrated to healthier eating patterns ourselves. Most people recoil at the fat-laden ketogenic diet and have an automatic association that fat is unhealthy. But there is more to the ketogenic diet than adding fat, and fat is not inherently unhealthy. It is an essential macronutrient that we all need. Our bodies’ interaction with food is much more complicated than fat = bad or carbs = bad…or any other such simplistic notion.

Lovely keto meal at the coast: 1/2 hard boiled egg (white only), baby shrimp in the egg, cucumber, pepper, kalamata olives and bleu cheese dip (recipe to follow).

Lovely keto meal at the coast: 1/2 hard boiled egg (white only), baby shrimp in the egg, cucumber, pepper, kalamata olives and bleu cheese dip (recipe to follow).

I was deeply impressed by the latest pamphlet released by the Charlie Foundation called “Does what I eat affect my epilepsy?” about how diet affects epilepsy even for people not on the ketogenic diet. I was struck by their simple 2-step prescription:

1. Eliminate simple sugars
2. Eat a natural, whole foods diet

These two simple rules are good for every body, not just for controlling seizures. This is what the ketogenic diet has shown us, almost by trial and error. It is impossible to eat simple sugars on the diet. There aren’t enough carbs to give. And that’s been one major shift in our diet too. We rarely eat sweets or sweet drinks. I rarely eat bread anymore.

But it’s not about deprivation. It’s about shifting to step 2, natural whole foods. Now we eat a ton of fruit. It’s a good thing that Anders was already our little fruit bat, with a personal record of eating 7 apples in a day! He loves sweets, but does not expect them daily. A special dessert will be cobbler made with berries, no added sugar, and an oatmal-flax-butter topping with a touch of brown sugar. Of course, Nora has her own separate serving to her specs.

Improvised zucchini torta. I had the same meal! Pan-fried zucchini, cut up leftover pork chop, cheddar, avocado, red pepper, iced tea and cream.

Improvised zucchini torta. I had the same meal! Pan-fried zucchini, cut up leftover pork chop, cheddar, avocado, red pepper, iced tea and cream.

When I started learning the carb content of various foods and giving Nora the best bang for her 10 to 11 carbs per day, I focused on how to load her up on berries and red peppers rather than wasting carbs on empty foods. Sure, she gets 3 or 4 grams of 85% dark chocolate in several of her snack recipes, but I consider those carbs well-spent on pure pleasure, not an empty food. This is not a deprivation diet. And squares of that chocolate bar are my go-to snack when I want something sweet. One or two squares is enough when it is high-quality. For me it’s not about no carb or low carb, but lower carb.

Now get ready, here comes the self-help-infomercial part. I have been reluctant to write this because I don’t want to sound all “rah rah! here’s the secret! you can too!” But it’s the truth, so here it is: In these last 20 months, I have lost 15+ pounds, and so has Ted. We never had a weight loss goal, but found it as a surprising natural consequence of shifting our diets subtly toward Nora’s. We exercise the same, eat the same number of calories (we aren’t counting, but don’t feel hungry), we just eat slightly differently. I put heavy cream in my coffee in the morning because it’s available, and I finally stopped putting in a teaspoon of sugar. It’s been a slow change all around. And I think that’s partially why people ask. They notice that we have slimmed down, we have energy, we feel young and healthy, my last lab work is great despite a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Now that I’ve transitioned to eating this way, I notice the difference when I stray. If I’m at a party and I have a piece of cake, I feel cruddy for several hours. I had a donut at the farmers’ market one day and just wanted to sleep all afternoon. Beer makes me feel bloated and crappy, so I’m sticking to wine and cocktails (that’s right). It takes time to put together those associations and you can only really feel them once you have been away from simple sugars for awhile.

I have to consciously remind myself that I will feel like crap if I eat some cake and it’s not worth it. If Nora is with me it is easy to say “no” to sweets for myself because it is not fair to eat them in front of her and I want to be a good model for her. If she is not with me, it is much harder and I’m learning to just take a few bites or make another choice. But Nora doesn’t get “just a bite.” She has been and must continue to be the strong one. I am teaching her, and she is teaching me.

I met many amazing parents when I was at the Charlie Foundation conference a year ago. We were all wading through the same problems of managing our child’s epilepsy using diet, which is wonderful because it works but introduces so many social and behavioral issues as well. And it is so much daily work for the parents. While at the conference I heard tired parents talking about how they make a meal for their kid, then eat a bowl of cereal or a TV dinner to feed themselves. That made me so sad. They were sad for themselves; they felt deprived.

Parents, it is just as important to feed yourselves healthfully as it is for your kids. You can persevere through this if you keep yourself healthy and strong, and good food is as important to your health as your child’s. Even your kid on the ketogenic diet. And even if your kid is not on the ketogenic diet. Parenting is hard work. You are equally important. When you weigh out a meal, you can make yourself a plate of the same foods, just hold the heavy cream and give yourself an extra serving of veggies and a few crackers or a tortilla. You deserve it. No one should be deprived of good food, least of all such dedicated parents. And it’s really as easy as those 2 simple steps. Start slow but be consistent. Most of all, be kind to yourself.

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About Christy Anderson Brekken

In no particular order... Instructor and Researcher, Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University. Educational background: University of MN Law School, 2005. MS in Ag and Resource Economics, Oregon State University, 2011. Teaches: Agricultural Law, Environmental Law. Mother: brilliant 9 year old boy; brilliant 6 year old girl with benign myoclonic epilepsy on a modified ketogenic diet therapy. Married to: Ted Brekken, OSU Department of Electrical Engineering. Ride: Xtra-cycle Edgerunner with kid seat; 400-pound cargo capacity. Grew up: Devils Lake, ND. Lived in: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Pohang, South Korea, Trondheim, Norway, Corvallis, OR. Interests: Cooking, knitting, eating, yoga, laughing, hiking, traveling, staying sane.

4 thoughts on “Feeding our kids, ourselves

  1. This is an excellent and poignant post, Christy. This is the direction we’re going in as a family (of 4 now, soon to be 5) — everyone “eating like Asa” (except hold the cream and add more fruits/veggies) — and so it’s very encouraging to see that your family has stuck to this for 20+ months. We are three weeks in. Thanks!

  2. Excellent post, and I have to say I read some of your posts and some comments while trying not to cry: I feel so blessed for having 2 healthy girls when other kids and other parents struggle with such overwhelming issues. However, I am choosing to eat ketogenic whole foods because my blood sugar was borderline diabetic, plus I desperately need to lose weight and nothing else works. But ketogenic works and I lose weight efortlessly with no hunger and my blood sugar is stellar. I don’t need to measure everything I eat so accurately, but the principles are basically the same: lots of healthy fats, moderate protein, very little carbs. Thank you for the good ideas I could pick from your blog and for directing me to ketocook.com – more wonderful ideas. Good luck to Nora in school!

  3. I am starting my two children on keto. They are 10 and 12. They are very fussy eaters, we just started to transition them to real whole foods this week. I would love some advice on some simple ideas on food for keto kids. Both my children are allergic to peanuts, cashews, pistachios and walnuts, but they can have almonds and hazelnuts, so some recipes are a little tricky for us as a family if they include nuts. Also the school is nut free zone.
    I would be grateful for your advice.

    • Hi Kristy, the transition is always the hardest, but you will find foods that they like and that work. It’s also tough if their school is a nut-free zone. We have dealt with that some in the past too.
      There are a few other blog posts here that might give you some ideas of general food categories that work well: Foods by Ratio and Nora’s Top 15 Foods (just look in the search box for those titles, I can’t seem to link from here).
      My first thought for you is dairy if they tolerate it. We did a lot of heavy cream, cheddar cheese, and cream cheese with the diet. Nora still drinks half and half with her breakfast granola because she likes it, and some of her friends who have stayed over ask their parents for it too!
      You didn’t mention macadamia nuts, which are an amazing choice for all things keto if they are not allergic. They can be ground up to make cheddar crackers (mentioned in one of those links above). That doesn’t work well for school, but definitely works for other snacks. We also made pancakes out of them and other yummy baked goods. Most of my baked goods are made from almond flour and hazelnut flour (and Bob’s Red Mill makes them pre-ground, found in grocery stores or can be ordered online), so those should be nice recipes to try out (although also not school friendly for you).
      I hope that gives you some starting points. Give yourself and your kids a lot of breaks in the transition period, because it is really the toughest time. If the diet helps, then everyone will feel more motivated to stick with it, and if you put some work into finding foods that they like then you can also maintain it. Stay strong, and our good thoughts to you!
      Christy

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