This is a guest post by Heidi of Frantically Simple.
Early this year, ago I had an opportunity to attend a workshop put on by a well-known healthy-foods author and blogger. As she spoke about her journey to healthy eating, I found myself nodding in agreement. She talked about the stress and uncertainty of having a child with asthma and reoccurring ear infections…
…the frustration of looking to her pediatrician to fix her sick child and being told, “I have no answers, but here’s a prescription…”
…the worry about what damage multiple rounds of steroids might be doing to her child’s body…
It’s terrifying, but they have to breathe. You feel so helpless.
So much of her story sounded like mine. I could even relate when she talked about the whirlwind changes she made in her family’s diet, and how her family did not always respond with enthusiasm. That actually made me laugh a little because just the night before, my previously meat-at-every-meal family had not been exactly thrilled with a dinner of quinoa-stuffed peppers and salad. I was still smiling when she mentioned that all of the “weird dinners” had made her husband pretty grumpy.
And then she said, “Many people wonder if all the dietary changes are what led to our recent divorce.” She didn’t elaborate further; she just left that statement hanging there for a minute before moving on to talk more about healthy meal preparation. I’m not sure if she had even intended to say that at all…
Here I am many months later, and it is that statement that has stuck with me. When I first started changing my diet, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I had energy! I was sleeping better! I was losing weight! Naturally, I wanted to share what I was feeling with my husband.
Here – drink this smoothie! It has pineapple, coconut, apple cider and kale in it! I know it looks like the lawn bin, but it tastes good! Drink it! Drink more!
He was actually pretty good natured about it, at first. When I started making a salad to go with our dinner every night, he heaped up his plate. But he still drank soda every day. He still ate fast food for lunch, even when I offered to pack something better for him. And when I went through a phase where I was flirting with veganism, he started hoarding meat. We joked about the way he seemed to wait until I was out of the house and then he would raid the freezer cooking several steaks, chicken breasts and pork chops. We laughed at it, but uneasily.
Underneath, I was frustrated. I love this man with all my heart. I had found something that would improve his health. Not only that, but I was concerned about the example he was setting for our daughter. Why wouldn’t he just do what I wanted? I’m sure he was wondering why he had to change all of the sudden. The way he ate had been good enough for years. Why was I trying to control him?
The battle lines were drawn and tensions were high. Our dinner table had become the Bay of Pigs (or if I was cooking, the Bay of Spaghetti Squash).
One day I was talking to a friend. She asked me what it was that made me want to change the way my family ate. Was it my daughter’s health? A desire to lose weight and feel better? New information? I told her that all of those things had certainly had a place in my journey, but none was really the thing that turned it all around for me. There was no one thing; it was just time. None of those reasons were enough to make me change until I was ready.
As I spoke those words, something loosened in my heart. I realized that I had been trying to force a change upon my husband that he was not ready for. And that while it was within my power to make choices regarding what our daughter eats, it was not in my power to make those same choices for my husband. The more I pushed, the more he would resist.
Since then, I feel that we have come to a truce in our food wars.
Here are some things I know now that I wish I had known to begin with:
It’s Not “Just Food”
Food is so much more than calories and nutrients. Food is the medium through which we express love, offer comfort or condolences, celebrate and reminisce. We, as humans, have very strong emotional attachments to what we eat. If someone threatens those things, we will often react in equally strong ways. This can make it difficult to improve your family’s diet.
Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice any sacred cows. If you always have cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, don’t think for a second that soaked oats will be a fine substitute. Look for ways to tweak your favorite recipes, without throwing them out completely.
Go slow – this does not have to be an extreme diet makeover, completed in a week or less. First, look for easy changes, like ditching margarine and vegetable oil and replacing them with butter, olive and coconut oils. (Or even lard rendered from pastured pork.) This is one change that may go largely unnoticed.
Put your focus on adding good things, rather than on eliminating bad. Have a salad with dinner every night. Stock your pantry and fridge with an assortment of fruits, veggies, nuts, and yes – even good meats (I changed my mind about veganism when my hair started falling out).
At our house, we have adopted a “veggies and fruit are free” policy. Anyone can have them, anytime (even right before dinner), no questions asked.
Try making your own versions of store bought staples. My family has discovered that they love my homemade yogurt , tortillas, baked goods and salad dressings. We don’t miss the store stuff.
On the other hand, my husband hates real maple syrup. Pancakes are just not pancakes without the corn-syrup laden Mrs. What’s-Her-Name on the table. That brings me to my next point.
Sometimes compromise is the only right answer.
I’m right and you’re wrong! No, I’m right! You’re wrong!
The next time you are so bent on being the winner, ask yourself, “Do I really want the other person to be the loser?
My husband has agreed to not bring soda into the house, though he will have some if we go to a restaurant. He eats quinoa with a smile. He even lets me put beet greens in his smoothies (sometimes).
And I… Well, I grit my teeth and buy him the pancake syrup he likes. I could refuse, and trust me, I’d like to. But forcing the issue like that is just as damaging to our relationship as that syrup is to his health. Maybe even more so. So I console myself with the fact that he is pouring it over a homemade sourdough and whole wheat waffle, instead of Eggo or Krust-ease.
And I keep making healthier alternatives. Last week, he pronounced a concoction made with melted butter, real maple syrup and cinnamon “pretty good”. I’d call that a victory for both of us.
Stay together for the sake of the kids.
No, I’m not talking about divorce. I ‘m talking about presenting a united front. Make a pact not to belittle each other’s food choices. Talk about your differences in a respectful way. When tough questions come up, like “Why is ok for Daddy to have soda and I can’t?” answer them honestly, but without demeaning the other person. And if at all possible, let that person answer for themselves.
Never underestimate the power of a positive example
Keep trying new things. Talk about how good you feel, but don’t be manipulative about it. Just share. The other day, I noticed my daughter taking a spoonful of bee-pollen from the fridge because she had heard me talking about how minor my allergies have been this year. A positive example works on other adults too. There are times where fast food is a must.
We get in a rush. I have a meeting; he has a work thing; our daughter has a class. There is simply no time for me to cook dinner. That’s where fast food comes in. Nope, I’m not talking about the dr
ive-thru. I’m talking about quick meals that you can pull from your bag of tricks. Occasionally, I’ll make a no kneed bread dough and keep it in the fridge for quick pizza dough. Paired with a homemade and frozen pizza sauce and some high-quality toppings, it makes a great meal – fast. Other good ideas are freezer meals and/or thinking ahead and using the crock pot.
A sense of humor soothes a lot of ruffled feathers.
I am well aware that many people might think I am crazy for the things that I do. I started washing my face with honey. I make my own translucent powder out of eggshells. I stopped using deodorant, opting for a coconut oil instead. I sprout; I soak; I ferment. I realize that the things that I do are outside the norm. That’s what makes me special. I don’t mind poking a bit of fun at myself.
Then there was that time I decided to do a 7-day detox where I could eat only raw fruits and vegetables. My husband generously offered to show his support and do it along side me. When he broke down and had a Big-Mac on day two, instead of being hurt, I thought it was pretty darn funny. And touching that he was willing to go along with me for even two days.
I realize that some of the things that I have said might not be acceptable in some families. There may be some that wouldn’t be willing or able to compromise in the ways that we choose to. I respect that. I believe that each family and each individual is unique. We all must search out and decide what is right for us. I’m glad I’ve found something that works for my family.
But if any of you have ideas on how to get that Mrs. CornSyrup off my table, I’m all ears.
Bio: Heidi is a stay-at-homeschooling mama to her daughter “Newt” and partner, best friend and wife to Walt. Nothing else she does will ever be quite as important. She blogs at FranticallySimple.com.