What does it mean to eat healthy? Eating local? Vegetarian? Low fat? No carbs? Less sugar? Nothing processed? No fast food? Counting calories? The list could go on and each definition has had it’s 15 minutes of fame, most followed by their day in court.
I’ve struggled for years, and especially since having children, to find a definition of healthy eating that’s palpable to our tastes, manageable for our schedules and realistic in a world of “food” that often isn’t even food but just a load of chemicals and crap.
For starters, I’m not a nutritionist or a food expert of any sort. I’m a regular old mom doing my best to feed my kids healthy food (whatever that means) on a busy schedule. (That means I’m not your doctor, and I don’t provide health advice.)
I have, however, put forth effort to educate myself a bit on the food we eat and how it treats our bodies. As I’ve learned more about the science of food, feeling like I’m eating well just keeps getting harder. The more I know, the more I cringe. That “science of food” even exists kind of seems like a problem in and of itself. Shouldn’t food be simple? Shouldn’t we eat what makes our bodies feel good and operate well. Alas, modern technology has made that much harder than we might like to believe.
I’m not going to bore you with the facts and stats about obesity, and especially childhood obesity, in our world. Just Google it and you’ll find more than you ever cared to know presented in far more interesting and engaging ways than I could ever achieve here. Google it and you’ll be one step ahead of most of the population for just being educated.
When Personal Responsibility Can’t Withstand Greater Forces
I’m generally a strong believer in personal responsibility and the power of choice. We have immense control over our lives and should be held accountable for our actions. In the world of food, though, I don’t think it’s really that simple. Eating healthy is so difficult, in large part because we have so many forces working against us.
Over the last several decades (maybe more), the food we eat has been filled with so much sh*t. Pardon my “french” but there’s really no other way to describe some of the junk that ends up in our mouths. If we can’t even pronounce the chemicals listed as ingredients, should we be eating it? What happens when all that crap is in most of what’s on grocery store shelves? How are we supposed to know what’s good and bad when boxes of junk tout the minuscule amounts of whole grains included in the ingredients to purport that they’re healthy? Do we even need whole grains?
Being confused and frustrated in the grocery store doesn’t begin to address the complexities of eating outside our homes. Anyone have any idea what’s in the last meal they had at a restaurant? I’m not sure I want to know. However, at least I can choose not to eat at certain restaurants if I’m concerned about the quality of the food they serve.
You’re Feeding Our Children What?!
The real issue, in my opinion, blows up in school cafeterias. Holy crap?! Schools should be a safe place for children.
While metal detectors and security guards focus on physical security and federal programs like Common Core attempt to ensure academic performance, how can we rationalize loads of fast food restaurants and processed junk “food” in cafeterias in any way supporting students’ health and well-being?
I don’t necessarily have a problem with fast food restaurants and the like existing. When they’re around town, we often have a choice to visit or not. But when presented to children and teenagers in school cafeterias, it’s insane to expect them to pass up on these options even if a glorious salad bar or healthy alternative is offered in another line. (In fact, some science suggests these foods are actually addicting, akin to drugs.) They just shouldn’t be options in schools.
Despite my general preference for taking personal responsibility, I’m calling the government guilty for this giant mess. Serving the youth of the country through quality education programs, including the food served while attending school, should be a top priority. I know it’s not the only priority, but it ought to be high on the list. (For clarity, this isn’t about teachers or unions or the like, just about school lunches.)
Actions speak louder than words and the menus in many schools aren’t promising. Check out Fed Up, a documentary sharing more about the details behind what’s really on school lunch menus and why. I fully recognize it’s a documentary intended to present one group’s views, but even if half of it’s true, that’s still a disgusting and disappointing reflection of our national school lunch programs and the leaders who run them.
I’m not an expert on federal funding for schools or meals or anything of the like. But I have to believe there is a better solution. I know that, presuming the status quo remains, I will be packing lunch for my children every day when they start school. I’d feel so guilty allowing them to eat garbage every day for lunch. (And I don’t have children that will pass up the junk every single day for salads and lighter fare. I don’t have that self-control so how could I expect them to?) I can’t imagine how parents feel that have children on free lunch plans or don’t have another option.
My Thoughts on Year of No Sugar
That was my rant, my tangent, my voice from my soap box. Let’s get on to the real reason I wrote this post, to share with you my thoughts on a recent read, Year of No Sugar. In the book, the author describes her experiences attempting to eat no added sugar (in the form of fructose) for an entire year with her family. Her experiences teach her just how loaded with sugar, among other junk, our food is and how hard it can be to feel normal not consuming the pounds and pounds of sugar hiding out in just about everything we eat. It’s hiding in places you may never expect.
In search of a way to define what healthy eating habits might look like for our family, the no added sugar rule really resonated with me. I’ve thought about Paleo or Whole30. I’ve thought about eliminating processed foods. None of them really work for us. They seem too restrictive, and I’m not entirely sold that certain prohibited foods in these diets are so terrible in moderation.
I’ve been cognizant of the great sugar debate for a while. Over the last year or two, I’ve been passively educating myself about the argument that sugar is effectively poison for our bodies. While I’ve been intrigued about changing my family’s eating habits, it’s quite a complex feat. Eating out, grocery shopping, attending social events, and working with the menus daycare provides for our children, not to mention the social relationships we’ve derived with sugar as both a reward and a central figure in significant social engagements, make limiting sugar a really tough battle.
While I respect the parents who have created strong barriers between sugar and their children, I wanted to be reasonable and feel regular and not be cause for special rigamoroll every time we’re in a social environment with food.
I also felt like practicing a strict eating regimen would feel like a full time job. I already have two of those (corporate and my family) and a side hustle of a blog. No more full-time jobs, thank you.
As Eve, the author, explained her family, her love for baking and her family’s eating habits, I could totally relate. With respect to feeding her family, I felt she could have been talking about me and my family precisely. The similarities engaged me quickly, and I stayed up far too late many a night reading and waiting to find out what strategies she used that I could consider implementing in our lives.
We’re definitely not eliminating all items with added sugar entirely like the author did. But I feel like it’s a really good guideline for our family that reminds us to look at ingredients (which we already do) and think about what we’re really eating in a way that works for us.
I don’t anticipate huge changes to our eating habits. We already don’t drink soda or other types of sugary drinks and rarely shop in the beleaguered “middle of the grocery store” where unpronounceable ingredients run rampant. As we have spent the last several months discussing and defining what better eating habits for our family will look like, dessert has been the biggest topic of discussion.
I occasionally bake cookies or other desserts, and we do share a donut date a couple times a month. I think the donut date will stick, but M and I have agreed to cut back on the frequency with which I bake. Sometimes the bag of chocolate chips in the baking aisle is tempting, but I always feel better when I avoid them.
I want to eat healthier but struggle to always find the motivation for all the meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation. I also know though that my children, especially T, have far better behavior when they don’t eat sweets and junk.
While I wavered for many years about how much food consumption impacts behavior, seeing it play out in my own house has made me a believer. Maybe I’m just drinking the sugar-free Kool-aid now. But if it means my little guy doesn’t throw at least one knockdown, meltdown, crash and burn tantrum a day, give me a glass. I’ll drink that Kool-aid all day! I’m running out of energy to endure the threenager currently living in my home.
Want to Know More about Sugar?
As I’ve researched more about sugar, I had some trouble figuring out just how much I should be eating and how nutrition label amounts translated into daily values. When I see a certain number of grams of sugar on a box, how do I know if that’s a little or a lot?
Recently, my mother-in-law forwarded along this sugar consumption article to me laying out a few details about our sugar intake. I most appreciated the last section of the article entitled “What To Do,” which helped me more informatively read nutritional labels so I know what I’m ingesting.
Should You Read the Book?
In the end, I’d definitely recommend reading this book. It’s a quick and easy read that I flew through. Feeling I could really relate to her family I’m sure added to my appreciation of her journey and the steps she and her family took to fight the on slaughter of sugar drowning our food. At the very least, knowledge is power, and it’s helpful to know what we’re really eating. If you don’t read the book, at least read the ingredients on food you’re eating every day.
If you’re an ebook gal, I’m sure you’ve got the Amazon Kindle app. I’m more of an audio book fan because I listen often while I walk to work or while I’m driving. If I can’t find what I’m looking for at my local library, I occasionally check Audible, which offers 2 free books for new users. What’s your preference? Do you choose audio books or ebooks? Or do you prefer to cuddle up with the good old fashioned paper option?
P.S. For the bookworms in the audience, I use Goodreads and would love to follow along if you use it as well. Leave a link to your profile in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out. Here’s mine!