“My stomach is upset with me,” is what my daughter said the day after Halloween. Our version of Halloween this year, given the unusual circumstances (both with the pandemic and being in a hotel as we make our way toward Ecuador), was to get dressed up in costumes and go to Whole Foods to buy a few treats to enjoy back at the hotel while watching movies. When you’re eating clean most of the time (meaning no sugar/sweeteners, dairy, gluten/grains), you really feel it when you have all of that at once (except the gluten). Between the late hours and the junk food, we were all in kind of a stupor the next day.
But I was struck by what she said. She didn’t just say “My stomach is upset.” By adding “with me,” she was taking responsibility for her choices. I was tickled to hear this because it has been a journey over the years as a mom figuring out how to heal ourselves and eat well and still enjoy food and life. It has been a dance with limiting foods at times for the sake of healing and then opening up food choices in response to their (and my) need for fun and joy with food. And to add to the challenge, my youngest developed a passion for baking over the past couple years. More than anything, I have wanted my girls to ultimately feel aware and empowered about their body, health and food choices.
I was very much in charge of what they ate when they were younger but as they’ve grown I’ve experimented with allowing them to make their own choices more and more. At one point, a few years back, when we were going through an “allowed to make your own choices” phase, my youngest ate nothing but raw goat milk/banana shakes and pork roasts with mashed potatoes, apple sauce and peas for a couple months (and pure honey lollipops when out with grandma). It hasn’t always been easy. At times, I’ve been too controlling or let frustration get the better of me. Eating socially almost always presented a challenge, even if just having to be different.
Even with family, I didn’t always get the support I would love to have had. I was so grateful that early on, when my girls were toddlers, a friend of my mother-in-law affirmed my choice for them not to have sugar, telling me how her parents had allowed her sister to have anything she wanted all of the time and ended up with a lifetime of health challenges. The story is out there that if you limit sugar or junk food for children, then when they grow up they will crave it. In moments of self-doubt, I would remember the story that my mother-in-law’s friend shared and feel encouraged. The early years are such an important time for setting up a foundation of health for the rest of their life. And I have known adults that were
allowed sugary treats as kids, especially after meals and have a hard time breaking that habit, despite weight-gain and health issues. My brother and I did not grow up eating much sugar and neither of us have sugar cravings. So, I also had that to go on.
All along, I have tried to pay attention to keeping the energy around food in our family and the connection between us positive, making sure to explain the reasons for our food choices and how it impacts our body (like the sugar high and crash that you get even from “healthy” juice or gluten-free processed foods), encouraging them to notice how they feel in their body when they eat. And I’ve always tried to listen to their experience and hear their opinions and ask for their participation in cooking and just figuring the whole healthy food thing out together.
Two things that have never been brought into our kitchen, though, has been wheat/gluten and sugar. Well, I shouldn’t say “never.” It was in the year after my younger daughter was born with gut dysbiosis (due to my own situation of systemic candida at her birth) that I learned how harmful gluten and sugar can be for our guts and health.
My girls are now 12 and 15 and we’ve had our share of health challenges as a family over the years but I believe we’ve come out stronger and wiser for it. And what makes me the most happy is knowing that my girls are empowered in listening to their own bodies and making their own choices around food.