I love food. And when I say, “I love food,” I mean I really love food. I love food so much I spent 500 hours officially studying it so I could earn a nutritional consulting certificate. And I completely loved, like geeked-out-loved, the nutrition portion of yoga teacher training (talking about food while we ate delicious, fresh, catered vegan meals every day??? I would take the training all over again just for the food.) I love planning food, love making food, love eating food. I love learning about it, reading about it and watching documentaries about it.
And even with all that love, society’s current obsession with food – with eating a certain way, with its tightly held controls and its attempts to shame everyone who doesn’t eat the “right” way – is freaking me the heck out.
And I get it. I was vegan for around 7 years. I’ve eaten Paleo. I’ve done the Zone diet. The South Beach diet. I’ve eating 90% raw. I’ve done juice fasts, and cleanses, and drank nothing but lemon water with cayenne pepper for 10 days. I could tell you all the science behind all of them, and I was proud, and I was self-righteous, and it makes me exhausted just thinking about it.
And now? This is the food philosophy that I want to pass on to my kids:
I want them to see me eat food that nourishes me… in body, mind, and spirit. I want them to see me eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I want them to recognize that food is a fuel, yes, but that it’s also fun and interesting and to be enjoyed. I want them to understand that the way an individual eats should be a fluid, changing thing, and that sometimes needs are best met with a yummy salad, and sometimes with a warm and gooey chocolate chip cookie.
I want them to know that the act and art of eating is also highly personal, and not something that should be controlled or micromanaged by another person, even if that person is a well-meaning parent. I watch again and again as parents create food struggles, force their kids to clean their plate, make rules like “no dessert unless they eat x number of bites of broccoli first”, or refuse to buy certain foods because they’re not “healthy” enough. I can’t imagine it’s a super good thing for your relationship with your child, but it’s also a pretty surefire way to guarantee they’ll have an unhealthy relationship with food in the future.
Food isn’t supposed to be a battle! It’s not supposed to be about control, or stress, or pressure, or categorizing things into “good foods” and “bad foods.”
In our house, if someone wants ice cream, we’ll go get some. If someone wants cookies, I’ll bake them. If someone wants chips, we’ll pick up a bag. If someone wants Milk Duds (cough::me::cough) or Hot Tamales or Red Vines or Dr Pepper, we’ll walk to the dollar store. None of those things are regular, everyday staples in our pantry though. They don’t need to be. The stores are there if someone has a craving. Every time we go to the grocery store, everyone is always welcome to add whatever request they’d like. Tegan, who loves her sweets, will often be the one to request ice cream, although it’s just as often berries or watermelon or some other sort of sweet fruit. Everett’s pick – every week – was dill pickles, so it finally became a standing order. Other than those few things? Their response when asked is “The normal stuff is fine” 99% of the time. For us, “normal” generally consists of whole foods, meals cooked from scratch, fresh fruits and veggies, and very little packaged stuff.
I used to say we ate “clean,” but that’s a phrase I just can’t get behind anymore. That one silly word, when used to describe food, has become so rife with judgment it makes me cringe. What does “clean” eating even mean? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. I asked it not too long ago on a Facebook group and someone responded: No processed food, no sugar, no white flour, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors. And sure, those are all things you probably don’t want to eat a ton of – for various reasons – but is it helpful to think of them, and/or the people who them, as dirty? I know many people who work hard to put food on the table for their kids, and their budgets (or taste buds) dictate that they round out the meal with inexpensive things like packaged ramen noodles. Do we sit, and point fingers, and say, “Ooooh, that’s… unclean!”?
It kind of makes me feel like we’re living in the Old Testament.
And unfortunately, sitting and pointing fingers is exactly what some people are doing. I had to hide someone on my Facebook feed because her version of advocating for “clean eating” included chastising parents for poisoning their kids by letting them have candy.
Yes, candy has sugar. And depending on what kind it is, it also likely has chemicals and coloring and preservatives. I’m pretty sure we all know that. Shaming parents and pointing fingers and using strong words like “poison” isn’t going to change it. The way we talk about food matters.
I saw a recipe the other day for a “sinless brownie”. Sinless. As opposed to the other brownies that go around stealing from people and cheating on their wives?
Even the word “healthy” is loaded. What does healthy mean? (Again, rhetorical) Ask a vegetarian, a Paleo advocate, and a person with celiac disease that question, and you’ll get three very different answers. Different people respond to food in different ways. Some people have allergies. Some people have sensitivities. Some people feel sick if they eat dairy. Some people can practically live on dairy. Information is a great thing! I love to learn about, and share about, nutrition. But the information is constantly changing. There are many many schools of thought. If one thing is true about nutrition it’s that you can’t approach it as if there were hard and fast rules. There’s not. There are no better teachers than our own bodies.
So I eat food that makes me feel good, whatever that may mean for that day, or that moment. Yes, I do buy simple foods, and many organic foods. Yes, I cook from scratch. Yes, I eat lots of whole foods, and fruits, and veggies, and nuts, and seeds.
And I say YES to cookies. And YES to baking. And YES to ice cream. And YES to chips.
Sometimes I miss the mark, and don’t feel so great physically (she says as she sips her peppermint tea to help settle a stomach that’s a little cranky about some Superbowl choices) but I absolutely refuse to give food the power to make me feel bad mentally or emotionally. It’s not “bad” to indulge in some heavy Mexican food or a cupcake or a margarita or three. Hate is bad. Prejudice is bad. This is just food. And if you listen to your body, and trust your body, it tells you everything you need to know, every time.
We’re missing the mark if we wrap food up with shame. Food should be enjoyed! And I whole-heartedly believe (as a person, as a nutritional consultant, and as a mother) that the stress, the fear, and the guilt you assign to certain foods is going to be far far more harmful to your bodies than whatever’s in the treat you deem so horrible.
I look at my kids, who have much healthier relationships with food than I ever had as a child (particularly as a teenager) and I see people who understand what food’s supposed to be. I see people who trust their bodies to tell them when they’re hungry, when they’re full, and what makes them feel nourished. I see people who enjoy a wide variety of food….. both in its simplest form, and its most complicated. I see people who love to try new foods, and aren’t afraid of something just because it’s different. I see people who accept food for what it is, and don’t feel the need to drench it in negative sounding labels.
Mostly I see people I can learn from. People who are strong and healthy…. people without any weird food hangups, without any weird body issues or any weird guilt issues. People who own and embrace their own food choices.
Even when they’re not “clean.”