Oh, food….I have learned so much about you in the last couple of years. I have been riveted by the documentary Food, Inc., I have been educated by Michael Pollen's books The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules, and also by Kathy Freston's Quantum Wellness. And our whole family fell in love with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Even the girls loved watching him run around dressed up as a big pea pod.
Jamie and the others are getting the nation's attention because they have a big message to share. The food we eat is harming us and it's harming our children. It's hard to hear, but it's time that we hear it.
Honestly, the food topic is so vast; I don't even know where to begin. There are so many issues when it comes to what we eat, from government subsidies to family traditions; it's a tough subject to wrap up in one blog post. And I am struggling while writing this because I know there is a lot of guilt around food, a lot of blame and a lot baggage that we carry.
But guilt is time consuming, not helpful and it's a literal waste of energy - why focus on what happened yesterday when you have today and the rest of your life to make changes? Instead, let's move forward with food rather than staying stuck, and let's be honest about why feeding ourselves and our children is so challenging.
Our society tends to view food only from a place of weight loss and body image, and that makes food an obstacle to overcome instead of something to appreciate and enjoy. Children need information so they can use food in a healthy way, not in a way that makes them feel bad about themselves. Eating is often used as an opportunity to demonstrate control or more often lack of control. That process has burden and guilt written all over it.
We need to teach our children to eat from a place of balance and connection to their bodies, so they realize what food can do for their body, how eating well can give them energy, and how eating poorly can diminish their energy. We need to help our children create a positive relationship with food - a relationship that will last the rest of their lives.
Just for the record, I am not a doctor, I am not a health food freak and I don't believe in diets. I definitely enjoy my occasional order of french fries and chocolate cake (people who know me well are nodding right now), but I also attempt to be thoughtful about my daily choices. I don't restrict or count calories; I just try to eat real food. Food that's not processed (or at least not processed too much). Food that my body can use and food that tastes good.
I have plenty of vegetables and fruits during the day, but I also eat kettle chips at lunch just because they are ridiculously good (Buffalo Bleu, yum). I am in no way a perfect eater, nor do I try to be. But I have found that if I balance the really good stuff with a few splurges here and there, I feel really good most of the time.
I want my children to view food in a balanced way, too. Yes, they have an occasional Portillo's hot dog and french fries, they love birthday cake, and at least once a week they get a sucker from my next door neighbor. But instead of telling them how bad a food is or how certain foods will "make them fat" (guilt, guilt, guilt), I want them to notice how they feel.
They are usually sugar-buzzed and then crash after a birthday party, if they eat too many pieces of pizza they end up lying down with a stomachache, and they tend to feel "funky" after eating a tri-colored fruit roll up. I gently help them realize (again, no guilt trips) that their body does not know what to do with that unhealthy food and that it can cause them to feel yucky.
If I really have their attention I shift my focus to how "real food" (instead of "healthy food"….healthy food tends to sound like a carrot stick) helps their brain do homework, run faster in soccer, and it allows their body to sleep well at night. These are the messages I want them to integrate.
As their mom my job is to make good foods accessible. Unfortunately I do not find the kitchen relaxing nor do I take pleasure in cooking a meal. BUT, I am committed to buying and preparing healthy foods in my house. I am willing to pay a little more for organic fruit and vegetables and I am willing to cut it up and have it ready to eat when my kids are hungry.
There is no perfection to this process, you will still find crackers in the pantry and frozen pizzas in my freezer, but again, I am not looking for perfection. I just want my children to realize that food is an ally and it's meant to be enjoyable and even medicinal. The food we eat is our first line of defense in being healthy people, emotionally and physically.
This is not easy, I have a daughter who won't eat much, a daughter who will try anything, and one that falls somewhere in the middle. Trying to change everything overnight is not realistic and it can lead to feelings of failure. Our first big choice a few years ago was having organic milk delivered to the house. Then after some time we made another little change, and then another, and so on.
Our newest change is introducing a "vegetable of the week" at family dinner. We cook the vegetable (olive oil and salt do wonders) and also try it raw. We talk about how the vegetable can help our body and mind. By the way, did you know that asparagus can detoxify the system, protect against cancer, reduce pain and inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, and it has anti-aging properties?
While I am committed to the health lessons, I am not committed to becoming fanatical. We still have pizza and ice cream every Friday night because it's our family tradition, and because it makes having dessert a once-a-week special occasion.
Above all I am most committed to viewing food in a positive way. I don't want my girls to view food from a place of lack or as something forced on them (I can't have this, I have to have this). I am searching for that place in the middle - a place where they can enjoy what food has to offer while being educated about its effect on the body. I want them to eat for pleasure, but not use food to fill a need for pleasure.
Am I asking too much? Maybe, but I have no immediate goal or milestone that I need to reach. This is a work in progress, a re-shaping of old patterns and a life long educational process - for me, my children, and for the entire nation.
Any thoughts about food and eating? Feel free to comment.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.