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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 29 2018

Dear Mark: Better Rest, and a Parent’s Nightmare: Tablets and Pickiness

By Mark Sisson
22 Comments

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions from readers. First, does “better rest” exist? I think it does, and I give the two “types” of rest I find to be the most effective. Second, a parent writes in with two common issues—pickiness at the dinner table and an obsession with tablets. What can a parent do to deal with a kid who only wants pasta and rice? And how to handle tablet obsession?

Let’s go:

Michael asked:

Great article Mark. Are there forms of rest that are “better” than others?

Certainly. Whenever I’m “resting,” I keep two concepts in mind.

Active rest: If you’re of sufficient fitness, as I think most of my longtime readers are by now, you should be able to stay active on your off days. Taking walks, going for hikes, playing with your kids, doing yard work, and other low-intensity activities that require physical movement should all be fair game, even after a hard training day. Or especially. I find the best way to recover from a grueling case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is to go for a long walk and get the blood flowing and the limbs moving.

Mental stimulation: Rest your body but keep your mind active. Use the downtime to dig into that backlog of books you’ve been accumulating. Try some writing, if only to get your thoughts down in tangible space.

Brionte asked:

I want more on parenting primally. Despite my best attempts, it seems my kid only wants to eat rice and pasta these days. We started her on lots of fruits and vegetables but she seems to have lost her taste for them. Maybe it’s a stage? Also, we got her a tablet and she’s glued to the thing. We have to hide it! I’m worried about her generation.

There’s more parenting posts coming down the pike, but let’s address your two main concerns.

Pickiness is definitely a stage. Don’t make it more than it is: annoying as hell, but something parents have been dealing with for centuries.

You can work with her cravings, but make the foods they promote more nutritious.

  • Slip ground meat and veggies in with the rice and pasta.
  • Make stir fries with rice and other, healthier stuff. Gradually adjust the rice:other stuff ratio.
  • Egg yolks blend seamlessly into pasta sauces.
  • Make rice with rich bone broth instead of water.
  • Pasta and rice can be made more nutrient dense. Think meat sauce and cacio e pepe instead of plain butter pasta. Think risotto instead of steamed rice.

Sometimes getting the kid involved in cooking makes them interested in eating the food. And I don’t just mean “picking out produce at the grocery store.” I mean, get a step stool, hand the kid a spatula, and let her stir the hot food cooking in the hot pan over the hot burner. This may take incredible patience (and maybe a little courage) on your part. Yes, she’ll spill food all over the place. Yes, she may touch something hot or fling sizzling rice onto your work clothes.

The hardest thing about parenting is to trust the child—and accept the fallout. A little momentary pain (or mess, or tears because hot stoves are hot) is worth the long-term rewards of having a kid who knows their way around a kitchen and actually agrees to eat food.

As for the tablet, get rid of it. I know, I know. It’s the 21st century. Technology is the future. I don’t disagree with that. Technology is what makes humans human, from stone axes to wheels to smartphones. It’s great stuff. And it’s here to stay. Get on the bus or get left behind.

Your four-year-old isn’t going to fall behind all the other kids because she’s running around outside, doing somersaults, learning to swim, climbing trees, reading books, finding bugs, scraping her knees, drawing and coloring instead of staring at a screen for several hours a day. Many parents have the illusion that plopping their kids in front of an iPad will magically produce the next Zuckerberg. That’s not how it works.

The Silicon Valley demigods didn’t grow up with smartphones and screens. They didn’t have an iPhone in the nursery. They certainly had access to technology, but it was rougher around the edges. Less curated and user-friendly. They paid their dues in suboptimal middle school computer labs, endured ridicule and bullying. They created social networks in dorm rooms, not whittled away their free time taking the perfect selfie. And as grownups, many of the biggest names actively prevent their children from using the technology they’ve foisted on us. In the past year, many of the people who engineered the addictiveness of social media have warned against their own creations.

Having access to this tech from infancy onward is a huge and unprecedented experiment. It’s never been tried. Maybe it works out great. I suspect we’ll manage as a society.

This may be the hardest part: Limiting your own use. They watch you. They do what you do. They “learn it from watching you.” Don’t forbid your kid from looking at her beloved tablet, only to devour yours  And when you do use it in front of them, make it “special.” Don’t just whip the phone out at the slightest hint of downtime. Don’t idly scroll through your social media feed just because the water’s about to boil and you have maybe 40 seconds before it does. Don’t check your phone at every stop light. Instead, state an intention—”I’m going to check my email, then be done” or something similar. Try to use it sparingly, and behind closed doors as much as possible.

Continue to use the thing for Facetime with grandparents, watching nature documentaries on sick days (Planet Earth 2 just came out on Netflix and is great—check out the penguin episode), stuff like that. But don’t let it be the default activity, the fallback.

Implicit in all this advice is the fact that you’ll probably have to endure some whining and tantrumming. That’s okay. It’s not that bad. Just wait it out, maintain composure, don’t give in.

Good luck. It’s not an easy thing, parenting. But you’ll do it!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and be sure to leave your own input down below. I know we’ve got a lot of great parents who read this blog. Kids, too, feel free to chime in if you’re out there.

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22 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Better Rest, and a Parent’s Nightmare: Tablets and Pickiness”

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  1. I started collecting devices from my teens at bedtime very recently. In solidarity, I decided that I would not use my tablet if I woke in the middle of the night. I am surprised at how much better I am sleeping. I don’t know why that would be. They are waking much earlier. I limit screen time, but not as much as I think I should.

    1. Esmerelda,
      I did the same thing for myself…my phone is no longer allowed in bed with me. I am sleeping soooo much better. Even if I wake up in the middle of the night I don’t allow myself to look at it to check the time. That blue light from screens really messes with you. It’s hard to believe such a little change could make such a big difference!

      1. You can also turn on the night shift option on iphones. I have mine turned down to the warmest yellow glow.

        1. Use night shift, reduce the whitepoint and use the “super dim” you can set up with zoom on the accessibility screen. This article from lifehacker is old but the instructions are enough the same to figure that out easily. Pretty sure I got the link here to begin with. https://lifehacker.com/toggle-your-iphones-brightness-with-a-home-button-trip-1651329242

          Without my phone I’m up for hours instead of asleep within 15 minutes. Without my phone I wake up with nightmares instead of sleeping through the night. It’s just the latest way for me to occupy the monsters that live in my brain that don’t allow me to sleep otherwise. When I lived alone I could have a radio or music on all night, that keeps my husband awake, though. I’ve tried meditation, medication, exercise, cold rooms, hot showers, lucid dreaming, etc, etc, etc. You can take my phone out of my cold, dead hand.

      2. I have always powered down my phone at night. I have no kids and my family lives over 1000 miles away, so if anything happens, I can’t do anything for them anyway. We use a good old-fashioned alarm clock with a covering over the display to keep the bedroom super dark.

  2. Totally agree on the tablet thing.

    On little kids who only want to eat rice and pasta, I’m of two minds. Granted, in our society, picky eating has become extreme – too much wealth means too many choices, too many snacks, and too little honest-to-goodness hunger. It’s also worrisome how often kids these days fail to outgrow their pickiness by a reasonable age (or ever, in some cases, it seems…)

    On the other hand, it does seem that the kiddie preference for bland white carbs is so universal, it almost has to be natural. And whenever I’ve talked to friends from poorer places where grown-ups eat incredibly varied diets (e.g., the Philippines, India, China, West Africa), they report that little kids in their home countries basically subsist on plain white rice or porridge or whatever the local staple carb is. Is it possible that, horrible as such a diet would be for an adult, it might actually provide kids with just what they need at that stage?

    1. It seems reasonable, but I am sure that there are places that didn’t see or even know what a potato or rice was less than 75 years ago, such as our Northern brothers and sisters? so what did those picky little ones eat? plain ol’ seal blubber? Makes you wonder…

      1. It depends who you mean by “Northern brothers and sisters.” The vast majority of inhabited parts of the globe had either a staple grain or tuber. If, on the other hand, you mean the teeny-tiny number of people who managed to subsist in the Arctic circle, we know what their young children ate – human milk for as long as possible, followed by a several years of raw meat pre-chewed by their mothers and spit into their mouths. So go for it, if that’s your ancestry and you fancy trying it, but I think I’ll pass!

  3. In my own experience kids totally go through stages of pickiness. I always offered my kids what ever I was making and didn’t make them special stuff, but both went through stages were they didn’t like certain things. I was a vegetarian when they were young but always offered them meat and eggs…that’s how I first learned about pastured meats and eggs since I was looking for the best stuff for them. Cooking the rice in bone broth is a great idea…wish I knew about that back in the day. My kids are now 18 and 20 and both eat a wide variety of foods. One is vegan and an amazing cook…the other has zero interest in cooking but makes pretty good choices. I think the biggest thing is not to make a huge deal out of it…eating should be a pleasure, not a big drag.

  4. Steve Jobs did not allow his children to have tablets, i-phones etc.

  5. I definitely agree about getting rid of the tablet. A 4-year-old has plenty of time to join the technology rat race, and no doubt she eventually will. There’s no need to rush it.

    Plenty of adults would benefit from limiting screen time as well. I see numerous couples in restaurants who can’t even enjoy each other’s company over a pleasant meal without having their faces buried in a smart phone. Is this an addiction or the new normal? Either way, it’s kind of pathetic. People who are constantly glued to their devices are missing out on life.

  6. I have a very picky 4 year old. He even changes his mind about things he liked yesterday, but today he hates. The struggle has been real. But, we’ve always had a rule in our house that you do not leave the table until you’ve tasted everything on your plate. I reinforce that the food you hated today could become the food you love tomorrow, because it is true. Small kids in particular are simply learning to eat. They can’t really tell you what they like and don’t like yet, because they are still learning what their tastes are. Their taste buds are developing during this time. We do them a huge disservice if we don’t teach them to like a variety of foods.
    Even though my son is very picky, he still eats primal foods because this is his only choice. He doesn’t get to tell me what he wants me to serve him because it is my job to feed him and my job to make his food choices at this stage of life. I don’t get why we’ve let our kids tell us what they’re eating when we’re the ones buying it and cooking it. If you let them decide, of course they are going to tell you some processed junk food or something sold by using a cartoon character they like. So don’t let them pick!

    1. It’s always great to be reminded, as parents of young ones, that we’re not alone. My 3-year old is going through the phase you described, but my 4-year old is suddenly trying new things and saying “hey, I like this now!” We also enforce a “one bite to be polite” rule.

      I’m not too concerned about my children’s love of carbs. They are growing like weeds and running around with reckless abandon most of the day. In the context of a nutrient-dense diet, I feel ok letting them eat rice or GF pasta sometimes. It’s way better than the gummies and extruded cereals my kids’ peers subsist on.

  7. WildGrok simple, he groks it
    Tablets good : the clay or stone ones where you chisel wisdom. The wax ones started the decadence days
    The other ones : bad (unless you use them on top of the electric piano, which is good)
    WildGrok sure more people will find other exceptions …

  8. BRAVO on the tablet talk!!! So well said. As a former Waldorf School parent of a girl who went on to Environmental Studies at Vassar, Crossfit Coaching and Gym Management, and a burgeoning career in sustainable biotech, I can attest to the success of kids who don’t grow up with screens.

    1. Wow, she accomplished all of that without ever using a computer … impressive! 😉

      1. Wellll. Not EXACTLY but Waldorf education frowns on screens until children are older. My daughter started at around age 10 which was totally taboo at that time! Things have changed!

        1. Kidding aside sounds like you are a great parent and wonderful how well your daughter is doing.

  9. One thing to think about is what device or function the tablet/phone is replacing. We don’t have a stereo at home. If we want to listen to music, we use our phones. We don’t have photo albums. If we want to look through our old pictures, we look through our phones. We don’t have a camera – the phone camera is way better. We don’t have a videophone – so we use Skype on the phone to call the grandparents.

    I let my 2-year-old play with the phone for 10 minutes a day (I set a timer to go “quack” after 10 minutes), and she mostly uses it for either looking at photos or listening to music (and occasionally texts someone). I really don’t see the harm in doing either one. Grok listened to music, and I presume he looked at pictures (cave paintings of the family?).

  10. Never mind getting the kid involved in cooking, I found getting my son involved with growing veggies in the back garden (well planting them at least…) got him to eat stuff he wouldn’t have previously have eaten because they were “his” vegetables. 🙂

  11. Interesting post. My Granddaughter is 13 and still a picky eater.When I grew up there was no pasta. We came from England and meat and potatoes was the norm. Personally I think we cater to kids too much. Why is the food in the house to begin with? When I looked after my Granddaughter last weekend her parents sent cereal for breakfast. Sugar coated no less. If a child is hungry they will eat eventually. I read that the next generation will not live as long due to their lifestyles. We need to teach our Children from a young age to eat healthy food and show by example.