Earlier this week, I shared my answer to the common problem of whether or not to allow our children to have “junk food” when we try so hard so hard to feed them well at home.
Although my post had nine points to it, I still had more to say. Plus, through all of the (great!) comments, I realized I should clarify a few things as well. This is an important enough of an issue, that I think it should be talked through thoroughly, so I hope you don’t mind me taking another post to discuss it.
What the 80/20 rule looks like for us
I shared the thought of using the 80/20 rule in my first post. I believe I got that idea from an article in the Wise Traditions journal. But, as many of you know, this “rule” isn’t an option for many. It’s not always been an option for me, and it’s certainly not an option for my five-year old right now. In fact, in a post I wrote a couple of years ago when I really had to be on a strict-as-strict-can-be diet, I wrote this:
I used to take a little pride in not being too “extreme” in my “nourishing” food pursuit. While I tried to cook very healthy at home, I wasn’t against a white sugar/white flour dessert here and there, and I would be willing to have “compromise” food often enough, if out and about. Although overall our diet was quite healthy (and way above par compared to most), I was willing to “fudge” depending on our schedule and where I was. I didn’t want to be one of those extreme “health nuts” who turned their noses up on birthday cakes at parties, and couldn’t get together with other families if they cooked the meal. This was the most gracious pursuit, but not always the safest. While I don’t want to encourage anyone to be an ungracious guest, I do want to point out how the matter lies in our culture today.
When my health starting getting really poor (not necessarily caused by how I ate, but from other sources, such as long term stressful situations for a few years), I really had to swallow my pride and become “extreme”. Birthday cakes were definitely out and I always tried to host get togethers so I wouldn’t stress anyone out, making dairy, sugar free meals for me. Although, I have a few wonderful friends who have graciously been more than willing to cook a special meal for me. There are just a few places that my husband and I can go out to eat now as well (and even there, I feel I am compromising).
Think about it. Refined Sugar cane has only been made widely available for a few hundred years. And in those few hundred years, it has only been more recently where we have started using it in everything. When it was first “widely available”, it was still a rare treat for the common man.
But what do we have now? An extreme overuse of sugar. It’s not only in all of the desserts we consider normal, rather than special fare, but it’s in everything else as well! It’s even hard to find “health food products” that aren’t loaded with some type of sugar cane product.
As I have had to cut out all sugar cane products and realized how” extreme” I had to become to completely eliminate it , I realized I was not the extreme one. Our food culture is extreme….” Who is the extreme one?
Just cutting back our diets to be a whole food, nourishing, diet without certain ingredients, can make us seem extreme solely because our food culture is extreme.
Cane sugar is just one of many examples. Let’s say you are inclined to let your child have a small slice of birthday cake at a party, as you feel they won’t be bothered by a sugar-y treat every once in a while. But when you get to the party, you realize that the cake is brightly dyed, and one of your absolute “never” items is food dye. Even when trying to be less strict, you can find yourself in the same position as before.
All to say, while many of us even should feel more freedom to eat less than stellar food items every once in a while, it’s not always going to be possible.
So what does this actually look like in our family?
Well, for me I went through a period of having to be extremely careful about my diet. If I got even a smidgen of dairy, I would get extremely bad stomach aches. I remember a time when I ate one bite of rice with butter on it, and that alone gave me a lot of pain. So, my diet was 100% dairy-free and strict and extremely nourishing. And it paid off. I healed and now I can eat dairy without it bothering me (though I really shouldn’t, as over time it will start to stress my body again).
Now, my husband and I can go on dates and I can enjoy a crusty piece of baguette smeared with butter while we wait for our main meal. We try to eat at restaurants that serve good food, though perhaps not quite the same standards at home. There are many amazing restaurants in our area that use higher quality, pure ingredients that I feel great about eating. But when I was on my 100% diet, it was hard to eat at any of them.
My daughter has been on a fruit and sweetener-free diet for quite a while now. It’s not been very fun for her, in all truthfulness. We recently started going to a new doctor who ordered a bunch of tests for her (I will write about this experience soon), and found out that she doesn’t need to stay on the absolutely sweet-free diet anymore. We were very grateful. But the point is, she was on a 100% sweet free diet, and there was no 20% leeway for her.
She still continues to be on a gluten-free, and dairy-free diet, and is now egg-free as well (I will also talk about why soon). So she doesn’t have the freedom to have cake and cookies at a birthday party.
All to say, know that you are not alone if you have to be absolutely strict in your diet, despite the restrictions it can place on your social life.
But, I do think that it’s valid to point out that it being absolutely necessary to stay on a 100% strict diet is not the goal. My goal for my daughter is the same as it is for me. I want her to heal so that she can have an occasional unhealthy treat without it having consequences to her health.
In an interview, Donna Gates and Dr. Campbell-McBride share that the the goal of their gut healing diets (the Body Ecology Diet and the GAPS diet) is to heal the gut, so that a child could have birthday cake at a party without bad results. (That interview starts with this video. It’s specifically about autistic children, but really can be related to any gut issues). This thought has lead us to take further steps in working to heal our daughter’s complaints. We realized that ill-health shouldn’t be kept in check by a strict diet, but rather that true health is when one has a bit of freedom without fear of adverse consequences. While many of us may not find the path to 100% healing (I know that many of you readers deal with very severe health issues), I think that our hope and goal should be to have such robust health, we can splurge on occasion.
However, for those of you who are already in good health, you may find that if you give yourself too much freedom with the 20% rule, that you end up not feeling as well, or it could lead you down the path of eating too many sweets at other times. I’ve found that it is the easiest to stay away from junk food by being strict about not eating it often.
But, the good news is, if you eat really well most of the time, you will most often stop cravings. While I have found good sleep needed to prevent me craving sweet things (something that can be hard to get with young children), most often I find that if I am doing a good job avoiding excess sweeteners, and really filling up with plenty of quality foods, I don’t crave or even desire junk food at all. It’s easy to avoid eating compromise foods because I don’t really care whether I have it or not.
That’s what I want to pass on to my children. I can definitely see that in my daughter Elena. When she first started eating, she was attracted to really nourishing, healthy food. Recently, she has been able to eat fruit and naturally sweetened things again. But she really doesn’t like them to be too sweet. Joel made us a smoothie the other day that had enough banana in it to make it pretty sweet. She wasn’t able to even finish it! Often, if you eat really well, you won’t really like junk food. I don’t know what she will want to eat when she is a teenager, but I do hope to help develop a palate that appreciates good, healthy food.
I don’t want her to feel that junk food is a forbidden pleasure, rather, I want her to just not be that interested in it.
While the desire to eat like everyone else is a common desire for any child, I hope that my children can also desire to feel good. It’s obvious with our oldest that she realizes that what she eats affects how she feels. I hope that that lesson holds her closer to the diet she has grown up eating as she gets older.
Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts!