Speaking Out, Part Three

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice. Here’s the final part of three parts.}

I’m really certain that eating together–as families, as friends, as women–and enjoying food–is powerful, powerful stuff.

  • It can help kids do better in school.
  • It can help kids avoid substance abuse.
  • It can keep kids at a healthy weight.
  • It’s even been shown to prevent eating disorders in girls–provided there’s not that “fat talk” going on at the table, of the kind I grew up with.

And yet, family dinners are on the decline:

  • We’re busy.
  • Everyone likes and or hates different stuff.
  • Kids are gross to eat with sometimes.
  • All that is true. But they are still worth fighting for.

Some of the very practical, ordinary strategies I have for making dinner happen:

  • Planning. Make a REALISTIC menu for the week. Don’t go all Martha Stewart on yourself. Start with where you are.
  • Cooking ahead. Kids are crabbiest at dinnertime. Don’t try and cook when the crew is already plotting mutiny. Do as much prep as possible during a happier time.
  • Cooking once, eating twice. Make intentional leftovers. If they don’t like eating the same thing 2 nights in a row, do this: make 2 casseroles at the same time (not that much more work than making 1) but freeze one.
  • Relaxing about what the kids will eat/won’t eat. Young kids–and my kids are still young–are forming their tastes. It’s great to introduce them to new foods. But don’t be surprised when they rebel at new foods. It can take tasting something 10x before you decide you like it.

Try the division of responsibility:

Dietician Ellyn Satter says that parents are responsible for the “What” and “When” of eating, children are responsible for “whether” and “how much.” That doesn’t mean that they can choose cake over carrots. That means, if they choose to eat mostly rice and hardly any stir-fry, it’s a good idea not to micromanage that. We want to protect their sense of enjoyment and self regulation. In our house, when I make something I’m fairly certain the kids aren’t going to want to try, I ask them to try it, but I don’t make it a fighting point. I let them eat the rice, or whatever. It’s a good idea, too, to have ONE consistent fall-back plan. For some families it’s a PB&J. One of our favorites is apple slices and peanut butter. As in, you don’t like the curry? Ok. You may eat the rice. You may have apples and peanut butter. But that’s it. No special meals.
Again, the point is to ENJOY food and ENJOY one another’s company. Fads and fallacies regarding health can come and go. This is about the lifelong lesson. This is about connecting with one another over shared meals. This may even be about connecting with God through food.
Sometimes people get nervous when I talk like this about food. Like it is too permissive, too undisciplined. This doesn’t mean that you can’t follow your vegetarian convictions, or your local-food preference, or your organics or whatever. I have a few of those kind of convictions of my own. But I really believe that we won’t get well as a culture of disordered eaters until we give ourselves the permission to enjoy food and be satisfied with it without guilt. That’s at the heart of eating with joy. And you know what? The geeky studies I can’t help referencing support the idea that this right here does lead people to healthier weights, healthier self image, better cholesterol, whatever. Enjoying food in an un-conflicted way turns out to be good for us in lots of ways.
And that’s because, for example, when you feel comfortable accepting food–the way very young children do–you are in touch with your feelings of hunger, you’re in touch with your feelings about the food, and you’re actually less likely to overdo it. For example, let’s say you go out to eat and instead of getting what you really want–chicken tenders, fries, and a chocolate soda–you get a salad and diet coke. Except that’s not what you really want. And so it doesn’t really satisfy you. So when you get home, or whatever, to your next stop, there are M&Ms there. You don’t even like M&Ms, they’re not your favorite, but you’re feeling deprived and not quite satisfied, so you eat some, more than you want to, and then your stomach feels weird, sort of bloated, and you spiral into a bunch of negative thoughts about yourself, your weight, food, whatever.

Is it going to make you super-skinny? It probably won’t, unless that was your body type to begin with. But is it going to free you up to be more fully, happily, and contentedly the person that you were created to be, and to help your kids become more fully, happily, and contentedly the people they were created to be?

It probably will.

Speaking Out, Part Two

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice. Here’s the second of three parts.}

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

OK, first thing. First thing, I started reading the Bible with an eye toward what it said about food. Not in the, you know, Ezekiel Bread kind of way, as in, “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer,  and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it.” I love it that you can find, you know, Ezekiel 4:9 bread in the health food store, but the lying on your side for a year plus one month? So weird, and no one is going to build any kind of health practice on that!

But, in seriousness, I began to see how food in the Bible is this powerful symbol of God’s love and care and provision for people.

God sets up the garden of Eden with great food ripe for the picking.

God feeds the Israelites in the desert without their having to work for it.

God’s word, God’s love, is described again and again like sweet, rich food–like milk, like honey

Jesus actually feeds people–think of the five loaves and two fish. Think of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus says He is the Bread of Life.
The end of all things: the vision of God’s renewed, restored, perfect world is a party with great food.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live.”

This was not a God that wanted to punish me for enjoying food. This was a God who wanted me to taste and see that His gifts are good. That enjoying them, and giving thanks for them was NOT unspiritual. That eating and enjoying food might actually be a way of connecting with God. This was something to think about.
The second “thing” that happened, after that, was that my son was born. And in the process of being pregnant with him and nursing him (and realizing that in feeding myself, I was actually feeding HIM) I came to realize that what I ate influenced more people than just me. And somewhere I read some article that really scared me, about how mothers with disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and eating were likely to pass that on to their kids.
(And, by the way, some studies estimate that 3 out of 4 American women are disordered in their eating behaviors.)
I came to realize how much I wanted to protect my son from that sadness and struggle. I wanted him to enjoy his food and love his body in that carefree way that children do. In that carefree way that I once did.
Like I said, I’m not perfect. And there is no one single path to finding peace with food, peace with your body, peace with God. This has been my path. Yours is probably somewhat different. But I will say this: I’m really certain that eating together–as families, as friends, as women–and enjoying food–is powerful, powerful stuff.

The last part of the talk will appear tomorrow.

Speaking Out, Part One

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice.}

So, I’ve struggled with how to organize this talk because I feel like there are two sides of me that I bring together in my writing, and each one is the “real me.” The first side is the person who likes to tell stories and to find the humor in things. The second is the geeky side that likes to read and research things and find facts. Sometimes I’m able to strike a balance between the informing and fact finding and the story-telling, sometimes, I lean too far to one side or the other. So I hope that today our time together can have some of that balance.

What I would like to talk about today is food. Specifically, eating together as families. More specifically, how central and shaping and important that can be in your life and your child’s life. I happen to think that how we view food tells us a lot about how we view ourselves. How we relate to our families. Even how we relate to God.

I grew up a Christian, with a pastor for a dad to boot, but my mom is Jewish. And I don’t know how well you might know the Jewish stereotypes, but we are a people that have a notorious love for eating and for worrying. So, you know, the little gatherings of my mom and her best friends (Jews, too, by the way) involved bagels, and cream cheese, and lox, or Danish pastries and coffee, or Chinese food, or whatever, but it’s like, here are all these women, different sizes, different shapes–and they’re enjoying their food, but at the same time, they’re worrying. They’re like, punishing themselves for eating. Like, “this is great, but I shouldn’t be eating it, I’m fat” or “I’ll take JUST A SLIVER of that cheesecake” or eating two different kinds of cake while insisting on Sweet N Low and skim milk for their coffee–not because they like it that way, but because they’re “cutting calories.”

I was quite a thin child. And it wasn’t like I tried to be that way. Actually, I’ve always loved food. And I didn’t think of my body as something that I had “shaped” in anyway, because, you know, kids tend not really to think like that. But always, always, I was aware of one big thing: when you got to be a grownup (or at least, more grownup, you had to punish yourself over the food that you ate. Calories were BAD. Fat was BAD. Even seemingly harmless BREAD and PASTA became BAD. I would eat whatever I wanted, sure, and stayed thin, probably because that’s just how I was. But older women would tell me: “just you WAIT. when you get OLDER you won’t be able to EAT LIKE THAT.”

I began to think that I was something like a self-inflating life jacket. You know, the kind where you pull a valve or something on this flat thingy and slowly but surely it, you know, inflates? I was just kind of waiting for a valve to blow and suddenly I’d have a body that I’d hate, because pretty much all the grown up women I knew hated their bodies, or, at the very least, didn’t like them and beat themselves up over them and did weird things with food and diet. I mean, I even kind of wondered not whether but WHEN I would start going to Weight Watchers meetings myself. (My mom had been a lifetime member.)

What happened next is not that interesting, just because it’s the story of disorder that’s, sadly, more normal than abnormal in our culture. I began to fear food, began to overexercise, just generally developed an obsession. And it had a kind of religious significance, because the Christian diet plans were making their rounds in those days. So I felt like I had to be “Slim for Him,” that there needed to be “More of Jesus, Less of Me,” that I had to “listen for God” to tell me what and whether to eat, and so on. I counted calories and fasted and “did penance” for my indulgences with exercise and, you know, pretty much punished myself for everything I ate. I can remember many days in high school when I’d get by on an apple for breakfast, a banana for lunch, with diet cokes in between, and then only at the end of the day allow myself to eat dinner, and I’d still be anxiously counting calories and figuring out how many sit-ups I still needed to do before bed.

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

And for you readers, you’ll just have to return to get the rest of the story…