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. My family has many of the problems that Suppers is designed to help. We have problems with alcohol on both sides, depression, anxiety, and struggles with weight. I had no idea that these things are all connected and that the common thread is what we eat.
As curious and as hopeful as I was going into this meeting, I was equally overwhelmed and lost when it was over. We had talked about nutritional harm reduction, which is a conscious and steady effort to slowly reduce and ultimately eliminate unhealthy foods. But I shuddered to think about what my kids might do if I tried to take away their favorite snacks. There’d be war on Main Street!
The facilitator said we might be surprised how taste buds change after a period of time without lots of sugar in our diet. A dad in our group told the story of how he had had a long illness and had not eaten much for weeks. When he felt better he ate some blueberries. He said they actually tasted like candy! His story gave me hope that if I started taking gentle steps with my children, their taste buds would change incrementally and eventually help them enjoy eating what is good for them.
It took more than a year to transition. My family resisted my efforts: the kids complained, my husband lost his temper, and everyone needled me to bring back the treats. Even though I felt like giving up, I continued to make changes; I threw away a box of cookies, made fruit and raw veggies available for snacking, substituted baked sweet potato “fries” for white potatoes fried in oil, and refused to give in when the kids whined for candy bars in the grocery store. Then one day I handed my son a box of blueberries for his snack and he tossed a big handful in his mouth and said, “These are delishush.” Normally, I would have said, “Don’t talk with your mouth full, please.” Instead I smiled. His palate was developing.
When I was frantic about my family’s health, Suppers offered me a difficult but achievable task. Group support was critical. I also needed to experience that “hatching chick” moment; the moment before which nothing can change and after which nothing can stay the same. That happened for me the day I could imagine blueberries that taste like candy.