Food rules you can break (part II)

*This is the second post in a three-part series on common food rules that, while seemingly harmless or even healthy in theory, are confusing to the body’s biology. Understanding food rules, where they come from, why we have them, and how we can break them is important in learning how to rediscover your ability to eat intuitively and find freedom in food. 

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Last summer we were at my parents’ house for a barbecue. All the good stuff was on the menu: burgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, fruit, all the fixin’s, beer, soda, iced tea, lemonade. Classic summer eats, warm weather, and lots of family. Everything was spread out on the table, free to grab as you pleased to fill the belly. Except for one thing. This one little item was still inside on the counter.

The brownies.

The brownies were for after dinner, as my daughter found out from Grandma when she asked Grandma if she could have one. So Haley ate her dinner and asked again for a brownie. The answer was no because dinner wasn’t over yet; people were still eating. Haley waited and waited, hovering around the brownies like a fruit fly waiting for her chance to land her hands on one. She tried not to ask too many times if it was time for the brownies yet, but it was hard because even when people seemed to be done with dinner, she still had to wait until Grandma was ready to serve dessert.

After all the barbecue food and accouterments were put away, out came Grandma with the plate of brownies! *cue angel choir*

But Grandma said, “Wait just a minute,” because she had to get the napkins and the forks. I thought Haley might actually explode from anticipation.

Finally sweet Haley got the go ahead for a delectable, gooey, chocolate brownie. She thoroughly enjoyed every bite, except for the bits she left all over her face.

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No dessert until after dinner. This is a common rule in our culture that goes back decades, maybe even centuries. I don’t know. But, it’s a man-made rule with the intention of getting children to eat their “healthy food” first before filling up on dessert. That’s still the intention today; however, I think it’s sometimes used as a tool for control and power at the dinner table.

The problem with this rule is two-fold:

  1. It creates the mentality of a food hierarchy–> certain foods (e.g. fruit, veggies, meat, etc.) are better than other foods (e.g. brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc.). The “healthy” food goes on top and the “unhealthy” food–all the foods with sugar and fat–go on the bottom.

2. Fun food goes on the bottom, yet this rule also places desserts on a pedestal. Dessert is          something to be earned, to obtain after you’ve worked to eat through the hard food, the              good food, and because so, it becomes a desired prize. Dessert holds great value mentally.

So this rule actually has a third problem: it’s confusing! If dessert food is so “bad” then why do we have to work so hard to earn it? Why does it get a special place in the meal? Why is it treated with such specialness?

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“No dessert until after dinner” has no biological logic. We seem to care when we eat dessert, but the body doesn’t. Food is nothing more than nutrients to your body. If you feed yourself broccoli and steak, then your body reads fiber, protein, fat, iron. When you feed it brownies and ice cream, it reads sugar, fat, vitamin D, and calcium. These are all nutrients. You can dip your broccoli in your ice cream for all your body cares. Your body doesn’t read or categorize food on a hierarchy; all food has equal value to the body depending what the nutrients do. If all you’re eating is salad and beef jerky, it’s going to ask for a sugar and fat source, (you might start craving brownies and ice cream) so your body can level out the playing field again.

To break this rule: put all the food on the table–entrees, sides and desserts. This practice gives you the the option, opportunity, and mental permission to eat all the nutrients equally without the mental anguish of having to eat through certain foods to earn others.

Our dinner table from the other night. Hubz was still finishing up the steak, so it isn’t pictured.

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This doesn’t just go for dessert after dinner, by the way. This applies to all our rules about when we can eat certain foods. We have strict rules about what we can have for breakfast, right? We tend to tell ourselves and our kids, no ice cream or chicken nuggets or pizza or whatever the forbidden food for breakfast. Again, your body doesn’t care what time it is when you feed it certain foods. If bacon and ice cream sound good at 8:00 am, go for it. Your body gets fat, protein, and sugar to get the engine running. Great!

That’s great and all, Leanne, but if I put brownies on the dinner table then my kids will fill up on brownies and nothing else. What about that, hmmm? Or a bowl of ice cream before school isn’t going to fuel them for their math test. 

So? They have brownies for dinner.  They’ll be hungry again later and tomorrow and the next day. You keep offering different food options (from all categories) any time they eat. Over time brownies (or whatever the dessert) lose their value, become less interesting when they’re always available. Your kids (and you!) will begin to balance out your plates. They won’t have brownies for dinner forever. As for breakfast, just offer some protein to help support the ice cream. For two months straight, Haley ate chicken nuggets and chocolate ice cream for breakfast. It was the perfect meal for her, and it held her over until snack time and sometimes even lunch, in which she’d have another opportunity to get other nutrients. And eventually, she got tired of chicken nuggets and ice cream for breakfast. She moved on to other things. Kids are the BEST intuitive eaters when we grown ups don’t interfere with a bunch of food rules.

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I challenge you to try breaking this rule: no dessert until after dinner. Practice putting your forbidden or prized foods on the table with your other foods. I know it seems weird and maybe even scary, but remember that nutrients are nutrients for your body. You’re just giving you and your family the opportunity to get all of them on an even playing field. Over the next few weeks, notice how the attitude (yours and your family’s) and value towards dessert changes.

P.S. Anyone else craving a brownie right now? 🙂

Your turn! What would you like to say?