So as we enter 2016, here is some food for thought...
When do you let things go, and when do you tighten the reins?
Years ago, I was making one of my regular visits to our amazing natural foods store in Concord, MA. I was talking to the owner, my dear friend Debra Stark, about what the kids should and shouldn't eat. As a new mother trying to navigate the food system, I was hoping for a simple list of 'yeas' and 'nays'. But what she said instead has stuck with me ever since.
"Well... We all have to live in this world, after all. And we must simply do the very best that we can. Find the balance in what works best for you and your family and go with it".
Ten years later, I now truly understand how very right she was. We can’t eliminate white flour and white sugar from the world; we can’t squash all holiday treats and the fun that surrounds them; we can’t eliminate every soccer game celebration (nor should we); and we certainly can’t second-guess every little thing that we pop into our mouths. However, we can cook at home, we can contribute healthy treats at community events, and we can be mindful about our food choices. It’s about finding a balance and a balance that works for you.
I once watched my kids and their teammates devour neon popsicles after a soccer game. It was a cold, rainy New England afternoon. I thought to myself, really? REALLY? What are we doing here people? It’s our responsibility to set an example for our kids. Don’t just follow the status quo. THINK for crying out loud, use your intuition, and go with your gut! Surely your gut knows on some level that frozen chartreuse high fructose corn syrup is NOT NOURISHING. My mind was screaming, 'Screw the snacks! Run for your cars and home to hot showers as fast as you can, or at the very least pass out hot chocolate.'
How do we walk the line in this world with its excess of, pardon my French, crap? With its children and adults addicted to the status quo? If we swing too far either way there's trouble: paralyzed and fearful of eating anything 'bad' on one end of the spectrum (been there, done that), or fat, sick, and confused on the other (been there, done that too)!
It's only just recently that I feel like I am finally, FINALLY, finding the balance and lie somewhere in the middle.
Last week, I left my littles at the elementary school holiday party and said, 'Hey guys, try and make your best choices, ok?' My husband looked at me, his eyes saying, 'Yeah, that’ll happen. Just let it go, Hil…'
Initially my heart sank as I took in the lurid, table-length mosaic of red and green treats. But then something happened. I saw a little kid dump a mound of green sprinkles in his hand and coax his neighbor to do the same. As they downed it on the count of three, I found myself reminiscing about the innocent days of childhood and the kind of fun they were having. I walked out of there handing Tanner, my youngest child, a tangerine knowing that he probably wouldn’t touch it, but it was OK.
Worry, I could, but the truth is that he gets the good stuff 95% of the time. I've tried to repopulate the kids' guts with 2 years on The GAPS Diet, and daily I feed them wholesome, nutrient dense foods, along with ferments and probiotics, for crying out loud! I mean, let's keep things in perspective, right? A cookie or two (or five) will not undo all of our hard work.
I talk about 'paying my dues', but they have paid too. When I think back to being a kid, I was pretty much footloose and fancy free. Vending machine treats on the chairlift with my best friend every Wednesday ski day, bagels with cream cheese after every tennis lesson, Toblerones and Entemann’s coffee cake on Christmas mornings. And let's not forget a couple decades of Easter baskets, Halloween buckets, birthday cakes, penny candy, salt water taffy, s’mores, and ice creams throughout the summer. Buns? Hell yes, straight up white flour buns with every burger, dog, and lobster roll I ever ate.
My kids have had none of this really, at least not in a carefree way; rather, more of a stressful and controlled way. So you see, I consider it to be 'our' hard work, because the kids are so cooperative about my insistence on good nutrition.
To be fair, I also had a very conscientious mother who was influenced by the pioneering health advocate Adele Davis, as well as sustainability enthusiasts Helen and Scott Nearing living 'The Good Life' back in the day. She only bought us Honey Nut Cheerios about twice a year as a treat (with four kids, that was about two bowls each, maybe). And I can vividly remember the one day that she caved at the grocery store and let me buy Flakey Puffs, with their crispy, flaky outside and sugary strawberry filling… It was heaven, and I can almost still taste it. She would even buy 2 whole Twix bars on our away to Maine every summer for 6 of us to split. We each got half of a half a Twix bar. I mean seriously, maybe the skimp was more about the money than the overload of sweets as the math doesn’t even work out. She and my Dad must have popped the extra two pieces--God forbid they buy a third candy bar or allow each of us each to get our own.
So was it a balanced perspective (everything in moderation) or total ignorance (Tab and Virginia Slims, anyone)? After all, this was the beginning of the onslaught of processed, “fake” foods. Back then, in the 70’s and early 80’s, it was kind of well, fun. I don’t think it was particularly stressful for my mom, maybe annoying to listen to us beg for something at the grocery store, a situation quite different from what mothers and fathers are up against today. Not only are there literally thousand of choices beyond what I had as a kid, there are thousands of new chemicals added as well. Not to mention that many kids today, with the proliferation of autism, allergies, and chronic conditions, are a thousand times more compromised and unable to handle these processed 'treats'. Buh-bye, footloose and fancy free.
Balance is a term we all need to embrace--yet my balance is so very different from that of my mother's and also so very different from many of yours. And as for my children, my boys balance is much more foot loose and fancy free than our daughter with epilepsy. I have been on the other end of conversations with many looking to heal themselves, or their children, and for them, striking a balance is just not that easy. The notion of “everything in moderation”, “just winging it” or even indulging an impulse or desire is not an option. “We ate like this when we were younger, and we’re fine” just doesn’t fly anymore. Decades ago there were far fewer additives and pesticides in food, but today toxins are everywhere. So when I say we must embrace balance-–I don’t say it in a flippant or cavalier way, I say it with the intention of encouraging a goal to find what works best for you!
So for all of you out there looking to strike a balance, I promise there is relief when you can be a little footloose and fancy free and fall somewhere in the middle. But for all of you who have to be extreme, I support you whole-heartedly in this very difficult journey.
Like Debra said, "We all have to live in this world, and we simply must do the very best we can".
It’s a great balancing act in this 21st century for sure!
May 2016 bring you great health, loads of laughter and your unique balance.