It was one of those perfect summer days. After a cool, breezy morning, the sun made a strong showing. The breeze carried around the smells of barbecued yumminess, sweet fruit, and other tempting dishes. Co-workers and their families cut the work day short to gather for food, laze around the boss’s pond, watch kiddos play in the sand and catch crawdads, and defy age on the rope swing and diving board. Overall, it was a pleasant day, one of the more relaxing days we have had in a while. But this did happen . . .
I found myself in another situation trying to explain why I don’t eat or offer our two-year-old certain foods.
Here is a brief view of what happened today:
After hearing what can sound like a heartbreaking cry from out two-year-old who wanted to go back on on the surf board with her papa, another person at the party wanted to help her feel better by offering her a treat. The person grabbed her hand and said “come on, let’s go get a cookie, you can go pick out a cookie.” I paused and tried not to appear as if I was rushing over to interject. I knew the cookie option on the table included those unnaturally sweet Safeway frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles, fudgy brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. Before I was able to get to the table, my daughter had pointed at the most colorful, frosted sugar cookie. I instantly thought, “Crap, I have to be the bad mom and explain myself and possibly see her cry more.”
Here’s part of the story. My daughter has had nasty reactions to wheat in the past. When she first ate solids, we discovered wheat and refined sugar was linked to excema bumps on her belly and yeast infections. No wheat and refined sugar: no rashes. So, in these situations (and in this case), I usually resort to simply saying “she has an allergy to wheat,” even though that is not the whole story behind why those cookies are not offered. So why do I give this or any explanation?
Because in most cases people look at me for one. Today the person, who was initially surprised when asked not to give her those cookies, politely said “I’m sorry, I should have asked you first. I just figured kids like candy and cookies and stuff.” That’s true. Most people like sweet stuff. I don’t judge. Seriously. I do not judge what others choose to eat or feed their families. There is not need to explain, feel guilty, or hide anything. So why do I and others sometimes feel this way when trying to explain certain choice restrictions?
This means that, yes while my daughter and I do have certain sensitivities to foods, I also make a conscious choice not to include certain foods in our regular diet. I say regular because from time to time we try something that isn’t normally on the menu. We experiment, mix it up, and try to avoid getting cornered into one way of eating. However, wellness is obviously important to me and good food is a part of that. It is also important for me to share that with my daughter. I talk about food with her. Occasionally she “helps” in the kitchen and the garden and we talk about the process of making food. Today I explained to her why I offered her the homemade no-bake cookies we made at home in place of the Safeway sugar cookies. I try to help her understand as much as a two year old can. As she gets older, the conversations will hopefully expand, become more complex and she will pose her own questions and even experiment with certain types of foods on her own. Right now she is two. She doesn’t tell strangers about her reactions to wheat. She likes colorful things and that pretty cookie looked like a good option. I want to do all this without feeling like the big bad mom and that food crazy lady at the party. There are a many other reasons behind my seriousness about what our daughter eats. I know the health problems I experienced as a child, the horrible sleepless nights, the times in the hospital, and the endless medicine. Her young immune and digestive systems are still developing and I still feel uneasy about loading her with unnatural ingredients at such a young age. I also knew that she ate a very small lunch and that amount of sugar and refined flour in that small, empty belly not used to those ingredients would be enough to send her into a sugar-crazy frenzy leading to one wild and then grumpy toddler.
And again I find myself explaining myself while my point is that we should not have to explain or feel guilty for making certain food choices. However, every time I’m asked to give reasons for why we avoid refined sugar, most processed foods, dyes, artificial ingredients, refined flour, etc., I feel like that crazy person. Is it really so counterculture to choose to avoid these foods? Is it counterculture to say being a kid does not mean you have to have candy, cookies, cake, Smores, or other sugar fixes? I’m not judging those foods. I ate them as a kid, and of course had my health issues, but I ate them and enjoyed them. So, I do not judge the food or the people who enjoy them to this day. But I also knew very little about food. I never paid attention to or knew the origins of most ingredients. When I finally became more aware, my world and health dramatically changed for the better. I started to enjoy cooking, I began gardening, I found ways to recreate yummy desserts with more healthful ingredients, and I get to share the full experience of growing, preparing, and sharing food with my kids. I like this choice, it works for our family. Should I feel the need to explain at every social event?
When someone feels uncomfortable having to explain their food choices, it may deter them from seeing it through. For example, imagine someone has decided to try something new with food. They have some health issue they want to change, perhaps allergies or extra weight. They have heard a lot of great things about how eliminating some foods can lead to drastic changes. They decide to go for it. The beginning is the most difficult. The body adjusts to the loss of certain foods and sometimes the addition of more whole foods. While getting used to this new way of eating, the person goes to a social gathering full of every tempting food imaginable. In an attempt to politely decline certain foods, that person discovers that he or she expends more energy explaining why than actually eating. It may take only a few raised eyebrows or remarks from others to plant seeds of doubt. This person may have a hard time, without the support, of following through to even find out if his or her health with benefit in the long run.
Of course, having to explain isn’t all bad. Most people are polite and many people are interested. Sometimes hearing from someone why they eat a certain way may be enough to convince a few people to play their own food experiments. Or, it might inspire them to do something new for their personal wellness. And this is wonderful. In these cases, questions are wonderful. However, there are still the raised eyebrows and even concern groups who wonder “well what do you eat?,” or “what does your kids get to eat then?” It does put a person on the defense from time to time. But you have the right to feel good about making choices for your or your family’s wellness. You should always feel good, never feel guilt, and never feel the need to justify your choice.