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All aboard!

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Lately, I’ve been maintaining a glaring double standard: JR and I have been eating clean and feeling great; the kids have not. During our recent 30-day nutrition challenge we planned meals and snacks around whole foods, eliminated added sugar, and ate a ton of vegetables. Sometimes, we served the same meals to the whole family, like this great chicken and rice bake and this yummy shrimp dish. But other times, while we were eating quinoa and buckwheat, they were eating heaping servings of pasta or freezer French fries. While we were snacking on nuts or plain yogurt or roasted parsnips, they were eating Goldfish or ice cream.

In the weeks since the challenge ended, I’ve continued to follow most of the rules because, well, I like to feel great. I’ve yet to eat a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. I have a little dark chocolate as a treat but I’m still eating unsweetened oatmeal and choosing protein foods as snacks. I’m trying to find a new “normal” that I can maintain for a good long while. A balanced approach. And as I’m sorting this out, I’m resolving to bring the kids deeper into the fold. I think we need two big changes:

#1 – Cut the sugar.
Eschewing sugar for a month (and being kind of obsessed about it) really brought my kids’ eating habits into stark relief. Almost every night they had something sweet as “dessert”. It was not always junky – things like homemade goodies sweetened with maple syrup, dark chocolate-covered bananas, and 100% fruit ice pops were in the mix. But as I considered their overall diets, I noticed how much it adds up: sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars, juice boxes, cookies, ice cream treats, lollypops…and that’s just at home! I’ll say nothing (ok, I’ll say a little) of the crap that other people feed my kids on a day-to-day basis at school, at sports (why does my kid need a donut after a 45 minute practice?!), at afterschool activities. I wouldn’t call them addicted to sugar, but their palates certainly have a strong preference for it, and they are definitely in the habit of having more sweets than I believe is healthy.

So, a few weeks ago we limited sweet treats to every other night, trying to wean them off slowly. At the same time, I’m trying to make and buy breakfast foods, after-school snacks, and desserts that contain less sugar. And, though I don’t believe that honey and maple syrup are so much better than cane sugar (your body has an insulin reaction whatever the form) I do think there are benefits to cutting out products that contain refined sugar, so that’s what I plan to do (except for special occasions and Halloween and whatnot… I haven’t completely lost my mind).

#2 – Carb control.
My kids are carbohydrate fiends. Pasta, cereal, crackers, pretzels, snack bars. I believe they need the energy provided by starchy carbohydrates – they are active and they are growing. But I also believe that more of their starches should be vegetables and whole grains. And, I’m thinking we could cut back on wheat products. It’s not that I necessarily believe that gluten is bad for us (though I will say, again, that I have felt GREAT without it) but I do wonder if the abundance of wheat in their diets is a good thing. When facing long-term unknowns I always like to hedge – split the risks by having a bit of this and a bit of that, not over-relying on any one kind of food. So, I’ll try to swap out some gluten-containing foods for gluten-free options. Try to help them learn to accept and enjoy a better variety of whole grains. Have fewer carb-y snacks available. Try to offer more balance.

Seems easy enough. Heh heh.

Will report back.

Challenging Ourselves

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For the last 30 days, I’ve been on a rather strict diet. Well, not on a diet so much as doing a nutrition challenge. Coach Tommy, the owner of my gym (Crossfit Immortal, woop woop!) organized it. I’m not usually one for “diets”, but since I have consumed the proverbial Crossfit kool-aid, I’m apparently down for anything now!

The challenge was a points-based contest based on the nutrition rules of the Whole Life Challenge, which you can read about here. But, Tommy decided to make it more strict. Because it’s only 30 days. And because he’s mean, he’s just mean. (j/k TC.)

So for 30 days JR and I have been off gluten (all forms of wheat, barley, and rye), dairy (except plain yogurt), corn, soy, white potatoes, white rice, processed oils (canola, soybean, etc.), added sugar (including all-natural sweeteners like agave, maple syrup, and honey), and alcohol. Participants lost points for cheating and earned bonus points for working out at the gym.

And it was a challenge indeed, even for a health-conscious eater like me. First off, it was time-consuming. I scoured the web for ideas and new recipes. I spent more time than usual meticulously planning our meals and with almost no packaged foods allowed on our menu, I spent many hours prepping food. I struggled (and cheated) when I baked chocolate cookies and birthday cupcakes for the kids. There were times, for instance after doing 60 snatches and a boatload of slam balls, when I felt like I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a big bowl of pasta. (I didn’t.) And one time I was rude to a bartender when he told me that they had no hot tea. Yes, I *may* have been a hangry b**ch from time to time. But, on the flip side, I also felt full of energy, my workouts seemed super-charged, my sometimes-plagued digestive tract was happy, and my body fat is now 2.5% lower! Not too shabby!

The final contest results are not in yet – weight and body fat will be compared to pre-challenge measurements and these changes will be factored in with the points to determine the grand prize winner. I know from the online tracking sheet that though I had a strong finish, I did not score the most points, so I don’t have much of a chance of winning.

Cash prize or not, I’m glad I did it, because as I ease back into “normal” life I’m taking a few improved habits with me as a result of some key realizations:

  • I can live without cheese and bourbon, but I don’t want to. It’s empowering to know that I can control my cravings in order to reach a goal. I have been proud of the mental toughness displayed by myself, JR, and our friends. That said, an entire life without Parmesan is too bleak for me, and so I will again eat cheese. But, I probably ate too much before, so I do intend to scale back. And as for the bourbon, I was floored by how difficult it was to give up alcohol. I don’t even drink very much socially! But, what I am is a mother’s-little-helper drinker: when dinner/bath/bedtime is particularly soul-sucking a drink helps me recover. It was remarkably hard to go without. I did it, though! And I didn’t beat my children. And I only lashed out at JR once or twice. And I now recognize that I can handle these tensions on my own, without muting them with alcohol. Ah, self-awareness. Now pour me a scotch.
  • Not only can I live without sugar, I thrive without it. Although I was a healthy eater before, I was probably eating too much sugar. I’m now a proponent of a cold-turkey break for sugar addiction. For me “I’ll just eat less” never worked. In the end, I found it was surprisingly easy to give it up altogether. I will still enjoy an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a good lemon bar but I no longer crave it. This, to me, has been the best outcome of this whole thing.
  • I needed more protein. I workout hard. I lift heavy(ish) weights. I need protein! For 30 days I was forced to find good sources of protein to eat with every meal and with snacks – otherwise I would be starving. (And maybe that’s where the pound of lean body mass that I’ve gained came from!) It’s a habit I plan to continue.
  • I pick at my kids’ food. A lot. Why do I do that?! From the first day of this challenge I became much more mindful about what I put in my mouth because even a small taste of a prohibited food would cost me a point. Thirty days later, I think I’ve truly kicked this habit. You can’t tempt me, pot of hot mac-and-cheese!
  • Clean eating is all well and good, but there is NO reason to suffer unsweetened granola or black coffee. During this challenge I often ate to live, consuming foods just to fuel myself and get by. Once or twice, I ate a meatball for “dessert”. I need something crunchy and carbohydrate-y in my yogurt so I made unsweetened granola (a.k.a. cardboard with nuts). I need caffeine in the morning so black coffee (ew) it was. But that’s not how I want to live. I like getting pleasure from good food, and I can get it from healthy, whole, clean foods. But, life is too short to eat something that tastes bad. You can quote me on that.

I was grateful to have my partner-in-eating JR doing this too. For him, the biggest challenge was switching from our typical starches like pasta, potatoes, and tortillas to a more limited list of options like quinoa, oats and buckwheat. It wasn’t easy, but it has forced both of us to change the proportions of our meals and snacks – more veggies and protein, with more moderate amounts of starch – which is probably better for us in the long-run.

Check out my Pinterest board for some of the new recipes we tried during this month. Many of these will remain in regular rotation here at Camp Sunnyside and I encourage you to incorporate them into your family’s menu. But not the unsweetened granola. Nobody should have to eat that $hit.

-A.

A Big Olaf

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Tucking my 7yo A into bed tonight I was reminded of a Saturday we shared last summer, and a lesson it taught me.

It seemed like a fine day – we ran errands in the morning and played games and did art projects in the afternoon while the baby napped. But she was cranky. Quick to cry. Clingy and stand-offish at the same time.

And my gut response was to dismiss this annoying behavior. To roll my eyes behind her back. She’s a real pain today, I thought. Hmph. But then: full-blown meltdown. Screaming. Tears. Snot. I don’t even remember what set her off.

And as angry words hurled at me, something in my brain opened up and I didn’t see a demon child trying to make me miserable, which is how I usually see her when she acts this way. Instead, I saw a sad-sack little person in need. So I looked at her and said, “I think we should go and get Big Olaf.” Softening. A smile. Peace.

A couple of weeks before, at Target, we had seen this enormous stuffed Olaf. She wanted it in the way that 6yo girls want soft adorable things: fiercely. But I’m not one to just buy them stuff, so I told her that she could not have the big Olaf. She took it well, but in the following weeks she mentioned Olaf MANY times. And each time I said, “not today” or “maybe for Chanukah” or some such thing and though she still yearned for it, she was able to let it go. (Pun intended, heh.)

On that darkening Saturday I saw my little girl’s sadness and the only thing I could think to do was to drive to Target and get that big Olaf and darnit he was going to make it all better.

And he did.

I don’t know why she needed something special that day. Maybe she felt I was paying too much attention to the baby. Maybe she felt left out by JR and 9yo N who had gone somewhere together. She probably felt both – the classic middle child. Or maybe she was out of sorts because we were soon moving to a new house. I don’t know. But she was 6 and she needed some extra love. Buying her a $20-but-priceless Olaf, perhaps because I never ever buy her anything on a whim, turned out to be an expression of my love that she would hold in her little hands and truly feel.

Though it would seem that the moral of this story is “buy your kids stuff and they’ll shut up,” I assure you I learned something deeper. That day I was reminded that my kids speak in need code. They don’t look at me and say, “Mommy I’m feeling isolated and unsure of myself today.” When they are having an off day they mope or whine or fight. They test me. And it’s not to piss me off (usually)! It’s because they don’t know how to ask for what they need. And sometimes, in these situations, I need to put aside my huffy impatience and find within myself a big-Olaf-sized dose of love instead.

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