Sunday, December 16, 2007

food freedom

i talked with my lovely friend tracy yesterday. she called to find out if we might be able to make it down to charleston for her winter solstice party. sadly, we can't. BUT, we ended up having a really good conversation about one of the big things i've been struggling with for years. and that is letting go of my food control issues. she encouraged me to write about it. so here goes.

as a radical unschooler, i trust that my children will learn what they need, when they need. i also trust them to decide how much tv they watch, how much video games they play, who they choose to play with, and many other things that i would trust myself to do. i have worked towards learning to give them the freedoms i enjoy as "the adult." but there has always been one thing i struggle to trust them with, one thing i can't seem to let go of. and that is freedom to choose what food they want to eat. sure, i ask them what they want to eat, but their choices have always been limited to what i choose to buy. but there are lots of times when i buy junk food as well. i thought i had gotten to a good place where i was exercising moderation. i wasn't being too strict about food. at least that's what i thought.

before we moved, sadie had been playing at her friend's house. they came over and both had the obvious "kool-aid 'stache." i asked if they'd been having kool-aid, and they both very quickly denied it and said it was lipstick. i knew it wasn't but i didn't worry about it. after we moved, sadie told me that they really had been drinking some sort of red drink. she cried and cried because she had lied to me. she said she didn't know why she lied and she was so very upset. i told her she never needed to lie to me, i wasn't mad about it. and that was that.

since moving here i've had to come face to face with all my food control issues. i'm living with my parents and even though my mom is a raw vegan now, there are still a lot of foods in the house that i wouldn't normally buy. and since i have always given my kids a choice of what's available they have been able to choose these things. i did not always say yes though. i found that more and more i was becoming frustrated about food. the weekends that my niece stays over are the worst because my mom buys food she knows she will eat. which is wonderful and considerate. but i have noticed that those weekends are when i go over the edge emotionally and fall apart.

in the last few weeks i have been trying to let go completely, but i hadn't done a very good job. i was still falling into the habit of saying "no, that's not a healthy breakfast" or "no, you need to eat something good for you." i was completely frustrated. so were my kids. so i started reading more about how other unschoolers have handled this. sandra dodd's website helped immensely. especially the section on food issues. it opened my eyes wide. the idea of letting go has been gut-wrenching. i am not being dramatic, i am not exaggerating. the feeling inside was so strong, i almost felt like i couldn't breathe. if i let go, they might become unhealthy, or overweight. i felt like i was going to puke. but as i read, i found things that rang so true i could not ignore them. i found there are other women with the same emotional food issues that i have. and i realized that i could say YES and my kids were going to be okay. they would not end up with all the issues i have about food. but was it too late for them?? were they already caught up in my issues. they refer to foods as "good" and "bad." would i be able to undo that?

after reading several things about food control that i printed from sandra's website, i talked with sadie again about what had happened before. again, she cried. she was still hurting about this. sadie has lived with a lot more of my extreme control times than the boys and she is the one who resists me the most and is the most frustrated about food. interestingly, as a side note, samuel lived about half his life with no television in the house and he is the one who needs to gorge on tv the most. so we talked about her feelings about my food control. she says she mostly wishes we could have more yummy drinks, something besides water. because she knows that we have other sweet treats occasionally but drinks are even more rare, she wants that the most and doesn't seem frustrated about other treats. drinks are her holy grail. she was still very upset about having lied to me. i knew that what we discussed before was not helpful at all for her. my saying it was okay and that i wasn't mad did nothing to start the healing process for her. this time, i talked about the situation that i alone had created that caused her to feel the way she did and to feel like she couldn't trust ME, not the other way around. she had felt like her lying would cause me to not trust HER. that was why she was so upset. plus the fact that she was still feeling deprived and didn't know what to do with those feelings. didn't know how to NOT want those drink treats. she just wanted them. after talking this time, she seemed happy, completely relieved, peaceful.

yesterday was my first big day of saying yes. i cannot describe the way i felt all day. i felt lighter. i felt free. i realized in this one particular moment that by saying yes to them, i could also say yes to myself. i no longer had to deny myself. i could begin to heal too. i did not feel the need to eat all day like i usually do. it was very weird. i tend to eat out of boredom an awful lot. yesterday i just kept feeling okay. just calm and okay. i wanted to go to the store just so i could say yes when the inevitable asking for candy in the check out aisle came. and when i thought about that i was even lighter. i realized that i CAN say yes ALL THE TIME. there is no reason whatsoever to say no all the time. it's not like they are asking for a $40 video game, or a $20 doll. it's a 50 cent piece of candy. or sometimes it's a $2 box of mac n cheese. or a $3 bag of doritoes. why can't i say yes to that?? my reasoning before was that if i said yes once that they would always ask, would always expect a yes. that i would set a precedent. why didn't i see that even when i said no all the time, they were still asking?

my kids were all breastfed on demand. i trusted my tiny little babies to know what they needed, when they needed it. and i gave it to them willingly, joyfully, freely! of course, that was easy because what is healthier than breastmilk, it's easy to say yes to "good" food. but thinking about this has helped me make more sense of this letting go process. i'm reminded of reading about how people mistakenly weaned their kids by saying no more and setting limits on when nursing could take place. the saying no only made the kids ask more. they were increasing their odds of getting a yes. little kids doing probability and statistics, imagine that. they are so smart.

and now i'm going to share something i have never talked about to anyone. not even scotty. it is something i have always felt frustration about towards myself. i have always had a feeling of scarcity about food. especially when it comes to things i crave. like potato chips. when we have them, i want them all. i hate seeing them disappear. i feel like there will not be enough of them to satisfy my wanting them. it is the reason i ALWAYS use a bowl. if i don't, if i sit down with the whole bag, i will eat them all!!! i have always thought that this was because i was greedy and selfish. i feel so embarrassed about it. it causes a lot of anxiety for me because i am so intent on "eating healthy" yet i want all these "bad" foods. when i read the other moms' stories about this very same thing on sandra's site, a well of emotion opened up inside of me and i wanted to just cry and cry. i was not alone. i don't remember a lot of details about my childhood. what i do remember though is that my mom was always struggling with her weight, she was always on some diet or other. nothing seemed to really work for her and it made her unhappy. i think i worry about food because of this. i have a lot of fears about gaining weight although i've never been overweight. i think i transfer those fears to my kids. i want to protect them from all the difficulty that comes from being overweight and unhealthy. scotty started gaining weight when he was about 9 and has never been thin. i see how he struggles with his body image and it just reinforces my need to protect my kids from that. i remember talking to ren about this craving i always have for chips. we weren't even talking about food restrictions, it was just a regular conversation and something or other about what foods people crave came up. and she said to me "i wonder how many bags of chips you'll have to just eat and eat before you feel like you've had enough and feel satisfied and no longer deprived." at the time, i understood what she meant because we had also been talking about how kids need to gorge on tv or video games when they've been controlled/limited. i never really thought she was seriously suggesting i do that. i thought she was making a joke and referencing the other discussion about limitations. i think now that she was serious. i hadn't considered that letting go of food control would help with my own need to gorge. or my kids' for that matter. i hadn't gone there yet.

another thing i'm doing is letting go of my judgements about what my kids choose. letting go of my labels of "good" and "bad" or "healthy" and "not healthy." so i'm on the path to letting go. to healing us all. scotty has been talking about after the holidays getting on a strict diet. i think what i'd like for him to do instead is stop feeling guilty about his food issues and to just let himself have what he wants until he no longer feels deprived. and just see what happens. i don't know if all days will be as easy as yesterday was. i think i will probably have moments of still wanting to control. but i know i'm on the right path.Share


Jessica said...

Wow, check out my blog

I just blogged about some food stuff that is sort of similar - deals with family/food issues. There is so much rapped up in food. I have a friend that says the only thing that separates us from the animals is that we cook our food - he calls us Homo-Buffutus! It is a hard thing for me to let go of, I feel like a slacker at the same time as a person who respects my kids choices. It is hard for me b/c food or feeding the family leaves me feeling schizo. I could go on and on... Jess

Ren said...

Wow, wow and wow. Great post, great revelations. That takes some digging.

I totally agree with you about the lightness of giving up control. Trying to control other human beings on any level is EXHAUSTING isn't it? It feels so good to be a parter, helping them in this journey without trying to control the outcome.

I've tagged you for a meme, I hope you play:

Merry X-mas chica!! Give hugs to your babies and feed them some sweets.:) lol

CG said...

I'm sorry I missed this post for so long.

Some great insights, but my .02. At our house, we don't limit TV unless there is a reason to. Or sometimes we might say, we aren't even going to consider tV until this afternoon. A lot of times it has to do with what needs to get done. But sometimes it is just about how the family dynamic is. Sometimes TV or video games or WHATEVER (crocheting even) messes up the dynamic and we have to back away from that.

Likewise, I don't think food is ever a yes all the time issue. Health does need to be monitored. Our kids, mine and yours probably, are old enough to do a lot of the monitoring themselves. L especially will ask if this or that is full of "chemicals". But treats need to be enjoyed. As much as I usually hate the word, I guess it is a balance.

For example, we always have the kids ask if they can watch/play something, and always ask if they can eat something. Not in order to say no but to monitor the family dynamic. If we have to do something else in 15 minutes, don't start playing Zelda. If supper is soon, don't eat that apple. So they have to ask because we are the coordinators. And we'll have reasons.

But sometimes, if we have a lot of apples, I'll declare a "free apple day". Or a "free candy day". Or if we are having a party and we have soda, they can have however much they want.

Now, how does this relate to unschooling? Remember back when unschooling was newer to us and folks seemed to think that unschooling meant not supervising or interacting with your kids at ALL? But really it means being even more involved in your kids' lives because you have to know them. You play pictionary for whole afternoons with yours! for goodness sakes! I think the outsiders view of unschoolers leaving their children entirely to their own devices is close to my interpretation of what "always" saying yes in relation to food would be. Of course, I could be wrong.

Did you ever see the Peaceful Warrior flick? Or read the book? There is a scene where Socrates eats this beautiful raw food and then he lights up a cigarette and has a drink, and what he says to Dan is, everything is ok if it is done mindfully.

But I do think you and Ren are so totally right about a lot of the food issues going to scarcity mentality. Which I think I've written to you (or blogged?) about abundance mentality -- to accustom myself to seeing that everything that is really good is available in abundance. The same message as the movie The Gods Must be Crazy. So there are two movies to watch!


Linda said...

A lot of us who extend the philosophy of unschooling into the rest of their life grapple with understanding how food choices fit into that. Something that greatly complicates the ability to see and think clearly about this is our culture's utter horror of "overweight" and assumptions about what makes people fat and what it means for them.

I've been challenged lately to seriously question how much of this is about personal preference, how much of it is conditioned into us, and what makes it valid to consider it an issue of morality or health. I've been finding out some very interesting things and will have a blog post up about it very soon.

Aside from that -- yeah, I know that irrational feeling of scarcity. I've been working on it, and working on avoiding it with my kids. I don't believe that my psychological issues will make them fat if their genetics don't want them to be fat. But I want them to have an emotionally and mentally healthy relationship with food regardless, so this is important.

And I do think that it affects, well, nearly everyone in our culture. You're different only in that you're part of a minority that has begun to figure it out.

CG said...

I was thinking more about this. Like how we include "sweets" but in a way that we consider "healthy" -- not that we don't ever have a little debbie cake, but mostly I make cakes from scratch and use WW flour for it. And don't forget cobblers. And ice cream. And then there are those jams (jars of acid? LOL!). So we have our WW toast in the morning with a bit of jam and wala, no craving for little debbie.

ckjc said...

i love this post. thank you for sharing this laura.

what we do in our house is we try to set it up in a healthy way. i don't buy anything i consider unhealthy for our house, and i try not to put anything else in my house that i don't want my kids to have free access to. that way they can be free here, and i know they are safe. no one has to ask much whether they're allowed to do something or eat something. if they eat an apple before dinner, i just think, cool they're eating something healthy; maybe they'll eat a little less dinner, which is also healthy.

outside our house, i can say yes to sodas or greasy pizza when other people are having them so that my kids don't feel left out. i usually will offer a healthy alternative that i've brought along, and often my children will choose the healthy alternative. if i said no to the greasy pizza that everyone is eating, they probably wouldn't enjoy the healthy alternative.

we discuss what makes foods healthy or unhealthy quite often; it's part of education. and i completely agree that the emotions around eating food are equally important as the ingredients.

laura said...

cheryl, that is exactly what we used to do as well. and it was sort of a non issue when they were younger. and that's why it became such a big one when we lived with my parents. i was no longer in control of the food in the house.

but that is what woke me up to the food and control issues. by limiting their choices, i was controlling their choices, which isn't really giving them a choice at all. allowing them to eat what they wanted outside the home was fine, but it was still awfully limiting and unfair. i realized it created a buzz around those other foods, made them "forbidden fruit." which resulted in the sneaking. which to me is so much more unhealthy than anything.

i tried to think of it in this way...would i want someone controlling my choices? even if those choices were in my "best interest" and "healthier." no, i wouldn't.

i try to include the kids in the grocery shopping (when they're interested) and i want them to be part of the decision making of what we'll buy as well. i think it's terribly valuable for them to be able to see all those things that are available and know that they can choose whatever they want without judgement on my part, without guilt, without labeling things "good" and "bad." because how will they ever truly understand it if they can't choose it. how will they know that some things don't taste as good as the commercial says if they haven't tried it for themselves. or that too much of this or that will make them sick to their stomaches.

example: at halloween there was a bowl of candy on the table forever it seemed and the kids just kept eating it (this was the gorging part of the letting go) and my mom wanted to know if i wanted her to put the candy up so they wouldn't get sick. i told her that when they did get sick they would know what it meant to eat too much candy. without the experience, they would never truly know it. no amount of us saying "that's gonna give you a stomache ache!" would make them fully get it...experiencing things is part of the learning process. and that goes for food too.

believe me, it is still not easy for me to let go of control. but i do feel that it is necessary.

the kids have grown up with talking about healthy vs. unhealthy food their entire lives. they know what is best for their bodies. they know what makes them feel yucky too. i really believe that by allowing them to experience choice, they will be better able to make choices when they are older and are more interested in what is "good" for them. they will have experienced things that they wanted and won't feel the need to fill their houses with garbage to satisfy a need/desire/urge they never got to indulge in.

does this mean i fill my house with junk food? heck no, there are more choices of fruits and vegetables than junk food. and now that we have a garden, the interest in veggies is higher than ever. but the choice is still there.

it just goes back to trust for me.