There are no bad foods. That’s what my time recovering from many years of disordered eating has taught me. I spent most of my adulthood resisting more food items than I would eat. Not just gluten and sugar. Eventually meat, dairy, tomatoes, peppers, caffeine, and all processed foods were off the list as well. Restricting this way lead me to binge on these very forbidden foods. Over and over again. This binge-restrict cycle kept me so busy that my career, relationships and sense of freedom or agency took the back seat. My food issues were all-consuming.
When my wife and I decided to adopt a six-year-old girl, I knew that wanted her food journey to be easier. My hope for my her- and all of us who suffer with compulsive eating- would be to experience food as nourishing and pleasurable. After a decade of diets, a 12 step program and too many tears, I found Intuitive Eating and Rachel Cole. I slowly learned to trust my body and accept myself at any size. I put down perfectionism and picked up compassion. I wanted to model this kind of body-trust for my new little girl and lay the foundation for her to love her own body…no matter what.
So, I read up on Ellen Satter’s how to’s and took charge of when and what my daughter ate. I let her stay in charge of how much. I kept her favorite foods in the rotation, including hot Cheetos, Cup-O-Noodles, and spaghetti with hot sauce. I added smoked tofu, homemade chicken strips, and kale salad. We made granola together. We went to the Farmer’s Market so she could taste everything. I asked her, “what would make you happy to eat this week?” before I put together the shopping list and I bought those things. We set the table together and often include candles, flowers and special dishes.
We say “play food” instead of “junk food” and talk about how some food is full of nutrition and other food is just for fun. They are all okay. I ask her to guess which vegetables I put into her egg pie or identify the fruits in our salad. Enjoying play food is never a reward or a consequence. A little bit is offered each day alongside the rest of the meal. She asks for another “sweet treat.” I say, “Of course! I can add some to your lunch tomorrow.” She can count on a sweet serving every single day. Every once & awhile, I give her unlimited sweets. We do this on a day when her brain and body are super regulated & strong. If any of us are eating too fast at the table, we remind each other to breathe. We talk about how the food tastes and how we made it. Other times, we go through a drive-through or eat cereal for dinner in front of the tv. On Valentine’s Day, we had so much fun decorating cookies together that I didn’t have enough energy to make dinner. We had cookies and frosting and yogurt and fruit for dinner. All of this is okay.
So far, it doesn’t seem like my history of food rules or body shame is affecting my daughter. As she grows up and my healing deepens, I know things will evolve. But making my home a safe space to enjoy food was a big goal for me. So far…so good.