(Our version of “Mounds” Candy bars….which I came up with to get more coconut oil into our diet. It’s made for a nice treat for those of us who don’t eat candy bars).
What do you do when you want your family to eat healthy food but everyone is offering them sweets and junk food all the time? This question was brought up in the comments on my last post.
It’s definitely a sensitive issue! Instead of leaving a really long reply in the comment section, I thought I would post a few of my thoughts here. This post is hardly addressing all of the many issues, but just talking through a few of my first thoughts on this issues.
Why is this such a sensitive issue?
One thing that I have observed is that it can hurt/offend people to refuse to eat their food, even when you have a really good reason such as a food intolerance.
Why is that?
I believe it is because it goes back to a very ingrained sense of hospitality and sharing. Historically, refusing to eat at some one’s table was very insulting, as was a host not providing food for a guest. While our culture in America is probably not as hospitable as it should be, I think we still have a sense that we should provide well for our guests…..and can be hurt when our guests reject our food.
Another reason people can take offense is because, even when graciously refused, people feel like you are giving the message that their food isn’t good enough for you and your family. Or that you are judging how they eat.
This can make it awkward for someone who really doesn’t want to offend anyone, but has health reasons for having to avoid certain foods or just plain convictions on what’s okay and what’s not okay to eat.
I don’t think I have any magic words of encouragement or advice, but here’s a few thoughts.
The 80/20 Rule
For some without particular health problems requiring particular diets, they have chosen to follow the 80/20 percent rule. 80 percent of the time they work at eating as well as they can at home. The other 20 percent is for eating out, parties, holidays, and when at other’s homes.
The advantage of this “rule” is that it gives you the freedom to not worry about the occasional splurge. The disadvantage is that 20 percent is actually a pretty high percentage and many people feel that eating well 80 percent of the time isn’t quite enough to have the benefits of health and well being.
If you are on a healing diet, such as GAPS or The Body Ecology diet, eating right 80 percent of the time won’t give you the results. And I will admit that there are just some foods that I hate ever eating ( Corn syrup, Soy oil, MSG) though I am sure I do occasionally. I would say that we are on the 90/10 rule most of the time, but there have been seasons where that has been thrown out the window.
I have found that most people will respect the way you eat when you explain why, especially if you are careful to center your reasons on your own family so that it doesn’t seem like you are judging the way they eat. You don’t have to give a lecture. Sometimes even a simple, “Oh, we’ve found that if we avoid certain foods we feel a lot better, so we aren’t eating white sugar right now.” or ” Our family has an allergy to milk” will do. Some people are really interested in how we eat and will ask a lot of questions. This is the best case scenario and has given me opportunity to explain more thoroughly the benefits we have seen in eating better.
For other friends, even ones that think I am crazy, explaining some of my health struggles and then explaining why I am eating a certain way has helped them to understand where I am coming from and be very supportive. They might not agree with me, but at least they know where I am coming from.
It goes the same with sugar and candy. Sometimes you may not have a huge “health issue”, but just don’t want your kids filling up on junk. Explaining in a nonjudgmental manner why you are helping your kids avoid certain foods can at least help some people understand your viewpoint.
And at some point it can just become silly. I am not sure why some relatives are convinced that your children need to be stuffed full of sweets to be happy, but they can be. Sometimes you just have to look out for your child’s best interest and lay down the law.
However, if we aren’t willing to eat whatever is set before us (like when we were on the GAPS diet), I always talk to friends or family before we get together. And I always offer to bring food that we can eat. I mean, it can be a little hard sometimes for even me to come up with food for us to eat, so why should I expect them to stress over it? It usually goes something like this, “I am so excited to get together with you guys next week! Thanks for inviting us. I just wanted to let you know that we are avoiding dairy right now because of an allergy. But I know it’s a pain to cook without dairy and I don’t want you to worry about cooking for our special needs, so, if you just want to tell me what you are serving, I can bring food to go along with it that we can eat.”
I generally find that my friends will insist on trying to cook for us anyways, even though I feel bad about them trying so hard and sometimes it works for me to bring along our own food. I also try to have people come to our house most often simply to avoid the awkwardness.
Have an Understanding with Your Children
I think the hardest thing is dealing with your own kids if they feel left out or resentful. While Elena is still too young to have experienced a lot of this, I have seen this with other families with older children.
But I have also been surprised at how “grown up” children can be about food. When Elena was three and under and we were on the GAPS diet, she wouldn’t throw a fit or cry, or anything like that when people were eating her very favorite foods in front of her. While as her mom, I would feel really bad if we were at some one’s house, such as my in-laws, and they were chowing down on rice (her favorite) and she couldn’t have any, she accepted that she was eating special food. And that was a point when she really did need to be on a special diet.
We have always tried to “talk through” things with Elena, even from a young age. It’s amazing what they can understand and comprehend. I think it’s really important that they know why we eat what we do. If they understand the love and nurture you are conveying through your food choices, it can make it easier for them.
And always talk to them before parties and holidays about what’s okay to eat and what’s not. “You can have one piece of candy from Grandma, but that’s all!”. That way you don’t have an awkward argument in front of others.
However, as your children grow, I think that at some point it has to be their own decision. I wouldn’t relish controlling what a teenager ate out, for example. My hope is that I can touch the palate of our children and give them excellent food to grow on. I, of course, hope that they will make wise choices as they get older, but I know that eventually it will become their own personal responsibility.
“Make it up” to Them
However, I do try to avoid turning our diet into a list of restrictions. I try to rejoice in what we can eat! Although it’s a lot more hard work, I do try to provide special foods for Elena when she can’t have the birthday cake or candy that other people are eating. It doesn’t always happen, but I do put an effort into not making her feel that her diet is all restriction.
This makes it better for adults too. When my husband and I were on a very strict Nourishing Traditions no compromise diet before we got pregnant with Elena, I would make special treats for my husband. For example he went to a weekly meeting where desserts were served. He agreed not to eat them, so I would always try to have a little snack for him when he got home. Even if it was a simple as homemade hot cocoa, it made it all the easier for him to avoid foods when he was out when he knew that he had good food to eat when he got home.
I know that this doesn’t answer all of the questions everyone had or take away the frustrations and awkwardness that happens when you are trying to eat a certain way despite unsupportive friends and family. But I do hope that some of this has been helpful, even in just knowing that this is something we also have had to work through. And I would love to hear your thoughts!