I am surrounded with people in medical professions. I am personally quite knowledgeable about health; let’s say a very well educated lay-person. So how I got so deep into my own health problem before I sorted out what was going on with me is mystifying. I can only conclude that there are culture-wide headphones that drown out the language our bodies are speaking. Somehow I came to interpret my physical experiences and moods mostly in terms of overwork, emotional and psychological stress, and relationship challenges. I did not know how my mood changes related to what I ate.
At my first Suppers meeting, we participated in a workshop that explained how addictive the standard American diet is. In the U.S. we have easy access to affordable, highly processed foods. The facilitator explained how eating processed foods provides a diet high in sugar, salt, and fat, which destabilizes blood sugar and causes cravings for unhealthy foods and excessive weight gain. We also learned that making dietary changes and eating more whole foods will not only improve health, but can also improve how you feel physically and emotionally.
The “click” for me happened the moment I heard the words “nutritional harm reduction.” I have had eating disorders for as long as I can remember, but it was when I was attending a Suppers workshop for parents of homeschoolers that I had my revelation: I don’t have to perfect our diet all at once.
What a relief to find an alternative to all-or-nothing thinking. I could feel good about incremental changes toward a better diet. Although I first went for my children’s sake, change had to start with me.
I am an Indian mother raising two children in America. I have a very picky five-year-old boy and an eight-year-old daughter who will eat anything as long as it is not too spicy. What? I’m Indian! Their Western eating habits have evolved from being annoying to worrisome, especially as my son is barely grazing the lower edge of the growth charts and is bound to fall off any day now. And to make matters worse, my angst grows when I hear my father’s voice in my head and I can sense his disapproval.
There is something I don’t do now that I used to do. I used to “take care of myself” by diving into a pint of ice cream. Ice cream consumption as a form of self-care may not make sense to everybody, but for me the pleasure was intense and the results were reliable. The downside was that I could never figure out exactly how much insulin to take to cover the ice cream. Plus, once I started eating ice cream, I always ate more than I planned to. Diabetics walk a thin line every day.
Last month I attended a Suppers meeting where we discussed Bee Wilson’s book, First Bite: How We Learn To Eat. In her book, Wilson points to study after study that proves a child can learn to like any food as long as the child has that particular food in the world in which he lives. Wilson advocates a specific approach in which the child has repeated (at least 15), continuous (daily), small (the size of a grain of rice) exposures to the particular food. The child must actually taste the food during each encounter (licking counts).
I didn’t know what, exactly, to expect when I first went to Suppers. But two friends suggested on separate occasions that I try this program. Both had heard me lament my inability to break my addiction to sugar. I had never heard of Suppers before.
Today if I saw a boy who spends all his paper route money on candy, it would be fraught with meaning. But back when I was the boy on the bike, payday equaled a trip to the candy store. At nine I wasn’t searching for meaning.
There is diabetes all over my family. My grandfather, father, and his two sisters all died of the disease. It is not clear to me when in the history of diabetes people started to understand the relationship between intense desire to eat sugar and development of diabetes, but it wasn’t soon enough to spare my father’s family.
Our story started at a Suppers table after I had been attending the program for a couple of months. One of the themes that I heard over and over was “shared roots.” Whether people came to meetings because they wanted to stay sober, manage diabetes, or be less dependent on antidepressants, we all shared roots in nutrient deficiencies from years of eating processed foods. The program calls us “health relatives” because even though our diagnoses are different, the basic solution is the same: eat whole foods.
I just wanted to be a vegetarian. As I withdrew from the pork chop and meatball diet of my childhood, it gave me quiet pleasure and a sense of self-approval. First the red meat went, then the poultry, then the fish that had faces, and ultimately all flesh. I ate lots of rice and beans, and green vegetables when I had the time to cook. And I still allowed myself my favorite treats as long as they were produced by companies whose ethics matched my own. The only problem was that I didn’t feel well.