The other day my son very seriously told me that he was afraid none of his friends would want to sleep over because our food was too healthy. I seriously almost laughed at him, but then I remembered that at 11 years old this was a legitimate concern. He was expressing his feelings to me, and I really did not want to crush his spirit. So instead we talked about how when he had friends over we could make a few small exceptions to the normally healthy fridge and pantry selections.
It made me wonder if I was giving up my beliefs and the lessons that I try and teach my kids about food by making this compromise. But I legitimately remember having this same concern as a kid, and instead of talking to my mom about it, I would sneak chocolate frosting and hide it into my bed so I could at least offer my friends a finger scoop of the highly refined sugary treat. While I am grateful that my son expressed his concerns, I started to wonder why food has become such a social factor as opposed to the company that we keep when enjoying food.
As an adult, I love the times that I go visit my parents and binge eat Mexican food (hello chile rellenos!). Or the nights that my husband and I go out on a date and enjoy amazing food. But when I think about it, I really love the company that I am surrounded by and the laughs that we have when we are around a dinner table; the food is truly just a bonus.
I think back to my time in Europe and how I enjoyed my meals there because I loved watching the natives eat…they truly enjoy the relaxing act of sitting in a café and enjoying the company they are surrounded by; they know that food is just a way of nourishing the body. So instead of cramming as much food in their mouths as quickly as possible, they slow down and nibble on their food and truly enjoy each bite. They laugh, they cry, they tell long stories, and they relax while they eat. This is how they raise their children, and as a result their obesity levels are much lower.
Back to my American household….as I write this I am eating popcorn and starburst for dinner – yea, true confessions here! Why is this my dinner when I know how much junk is in the candy (the popcorn is home-popped non-GMO, so I feel less guilty)? Because I fell off my healthy eating routine by going out of town and getting stuck at a waterpark without any healthy choices. So my theory is if I already blew my healthy eating by eating junky pizza, then why not keep the junky eating going all night? So crazy sounding, yet I think so many of us fall into this pattern. We work so hard to “eat clean,” “eat healthy,” and/or “diet” that when one meal goes wrong, we continue the pattern and continue to feed with all kinds of junky food. Our relationship with food has become so unhealthy. We are so focused on weight loss or eating on the run that we have truly lost our joy of food. We then start craving more and more junk food.
Let me nerd out for just a second here…..the gut-brain connection comes into play here: a significant cause of our brains and bodies craving certain foods is the bacteria inside our guts. “My bacteria made me want the Starburst,” was actually what I told my husband this evening! An average person has around 1.5 kilograms of gut bacteria; gut microbiota is what this collection is called. The gut microbiota sends signals to the brain through the gut-brain axis and can have major effects on our health and our brain. Many of the gut bacteria will manufacture peptide YY and gherkin, which regulate hunger and can interfere with our food cravings.
So those cravings for the Snickers bar or the large bowl of pasta is your gut bacteria playing a trick on your brain. These cravings can feel almost impossible to resist, and it’s not necessarily your fault but it is your problem – just like it is obviously mine (says the girl chewing a pink Starburst)!
Focusing on eating more high quality food is a great way to get the nourishment that your and your family’s bodies need so that cravings start to go away. Then retraining ourselves and our kids to slow down while we eat and only eat until we are full is an amazing way of retraining those relationships with food. This is one of my favorite resources for nourishing kid approved recipes. (Mommypotamus)
Good food is joyous- its process from growth to consumption should be celebrated. Take time to enjoy the dining process and teach your kids to do the same. And for goodness sake – do not eat Starburst for dinner…they make for a terrible night of sleep!!