The Temptation to Overcompensate
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When I became a mother, I decided I was going to teach my children to make healthy choices. I wanted to be sure they ate plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. We were going to avoid processed food, white flour and white sugar as much as possible. We were going to eat better and I was going to start out from the beginning teaching them to eat healthy food.
Enter Food Allergies….
Now I stock my freezer with homemade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cupcakes, homemade waffles and pancakes. I have multiple boxes and containers of every flavor of dairy free ice cream, dairy free ice cream bars, sorbet, Italian Ice, popsicles, and push pops. I have a pantry full of Dum Dums, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids, gummy bears, marshmallows, canned frosting, and multiple packages of different flavors of Oreos. I stock up on Nestle Simply Delicious and Enjoy Life chocolate chips, ’cause you never know when you’re going to need to whip up a dessert and take it somewhere. If there is ever a new baked good, cookie, cracker or junk food item that is free of dairy, egg, or nuts, I buy it immediately, regardless of the calories or the price.
Every once in a while I stop and think about that mom who wanted to eat healthy food and minimize junk at home. I knew my kids would get fed sugary treats at school and at social events, but I envisioned our home being a place where we made better food choices. I’m not the same mom anymore. Now I think about whether my home is a safe and inclusive place for my kids. “Healthy” food in my home is food that tastes good and doesn’t kill you immediately. What it does for your health 40 years from now is not the top priority. We are just trying to make sure we get to 40 years from now.
And even though we want to eat “healthy” food, kids want to eat treats, especially at parties or fun gatherings. I’ve been to a lot of class parties, and the veggie trays are not exactly empty by the end of the party. My child can’t eat treats outside of our home and can’t participate with the other kids when they have celebrations with their favorite baked goods or candy bars, so I overcompensate by stocking up on sugary treats so he never feels left out. Sometimes I just want to throw it all out and say, “You don’t need to eat this stuff. It’s all junk anyway!” But I know I won’t. You have to have something ready for those heart-wrenching moments when your kid comes home isolated and dejected.
When he comes home asking for a treat because the entire school got handed a cupcake on the way out the door or his classmate bought donuts to celebrate a birthday, instead of telling him how great it is that we don’t eat that junk, I am hoping we have something that is even better or even bigger than what they ate to compensate for missing out on the fun of enjoying the treat with his friends. I’m like, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m going to give you ten bags of gummy bears and bake a dozen cupcakes with extra frosting! Booyah!”
I volunteer to make treats for every gathering I can, and sometimes multiple treats for the same event. They have options, so I want him to have options too! Now instead of buying one dessert at a restaurant, we skip it and I make a whole pan of it at my house. Every time there is a new treat option at the store, we have to buy it and try it. If a recipe works for him or even looks like it could be adjusted to work for him, we have to make it. We are on a constant search for treats, sugar and social inclusion.
And for all of my Mama Bear protecting and overcompensating with every sugary option I can muster, I wonder if I am doing the right thing. What if I just taught him not to want to eat that stuff ’cause it’s bad for you anyway?
Is this even possible? Can someone please tell me how to teach your child not to want to eat sugar? It would certainly make food allergies a lot easier. If you or your kid didn’t want to eat the food, then who cares if you have a food allergy? Sometimes I think I should never have made him safe treats that taste good, because if he thought they were not very good, maybe he wouldn’t want them when everyone else ate them. Maybe?
So until I figure out how to squelch the desire to eat baked goods and candy, I will continue trying to find the magic balance of healthy food choices and compensating for the exclusion that food allergies bring. The hardest part about food allergies is that it is not a choice. Unlike vegetarians, vegans and health food advocates, people with food allergies don’t have a say, and never decided it was the lifestyle they wanted, in fact, most of them resent the limitations that come with the diagnosis. This makes the food even more appealing, and the social exclusion even more difficult.
Even though it is hard to see sometimes, there have been some great benefits of food allergies when it comes to eating better and making healthier choices. I have to remind myself of that. I have thanked Riley on several occasions that his food allergies have made our whole family eat healthier. We do eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, because they are safe and simple. We read every label and are very aware of what is in our food. We don’t eat creamy, high-fat, dairy-based dishes. We use olive oil instead of butter. We don’t ever buy baked goods and on the rare occasion that we go to a restaurant, we never order dessert. On the whole, we really do eat better because of him, and it is not a short term diet. This is a lifestyle we have adopted, and I am hoping that even if he finishes his OIT program, and can tolerate milk and eggs in the future, that he won’t change a whole lot of what he eats at home. Well, minus the treat stash. I hope we will get rid of that.