Do you have someone close to you who challenges your food decisions? For some it is like water off a ducks back. For others, particularly after years of the own battles they’ve had with food, to have someone else question something which they finally (finally!) believe is making them feel better can bring up the insecurities that were beginning to be put to rest. If it’s just to do you and what you eat, then perhaps it’s a matter of riding it out and letting the results speak for themselves. What happens, though, when the challenge comes from your partner and extends to differences in what you want to feed your children? Readers: we need your help.
A lovely client of mine is in exactly this predicament now. She is constantly battling with her husband with how they feed their energetic three year old daughter. He travels quite a bit for work, therefore leaving Jane largely responsible for Annie’s food intake. For the last year Jane has been following a whole food paleo style diet and feeling fantastic. Like most people she’s found it relatively easy to maintain. Unlike other diets she has followed in the past, she no longer feels the light yet slightly gnawing hunger across the course of the morning, or the drop in blood sugar around mid afternoon that is often experienced by people who are “good*” during the day. She feels much calmer than she has in the past and feels the food she’s eating is optimising her nutrient intake. Most importantly, after a long history of battling with her weight, body image and self esteem, she finally feels like she’s on her way to conquering the negative thoughts in her head that have told her for years that unless she is a perfect size 10, she is not worthy. Those thoughts that tell her she’s already a failure before she has even started on (yet another) calorie restricted plan are no longer lingering. It’s a sense of empowerment that finally she is able to control her food intake and that it doesn’t control her.
Naturally, given she is the major caregiver for their daughter, she has done a lot of reading around the best foods to feed Annie. Gone are the cocoa pops and Weetbix. These have been replaced by scrambled eggs and potato hash, fruit smoothies that include coconut milk and spinach, and pancakes made from banana, eggs and almond butter. Crustless sandwiches and roll ups have been replaced with kumara wedges and roast chicken drumsticks for lunch. Needless to say Annie loves it. Some slight resistance initially upon trying different foods, but after the ‘food lag’ she is happy to try lots of different foods and now even talks about preferring fruit and nut butter to single lunch box packets of potato chips… and therein lies the problem. Instead of being happy that their daughter is being nourished through whole food choices to optimise her growth and development, Jane’s husband is taking a stand against whole food and this ‘fad paleo diet.’ When he is home, he is frequently challenging her on the food choices available in the pantry and the seemingly deprivation approach to meals that Jane is serving up at home. When they eat out, the evening typically starts with an argument over where to eat. Not because Jane is any more particular over restaurant choice than her husband (as they both enjoy good food), but because he refuses to choose a restaurant as he doesn’t know what she’s “allowed to eat.” The already tense undertones of the evening are further exacerbated by the inevitable “is there anything you can eat on here?” and his insistence on choosing Annie menu options that resemble the standard western junk food diet.
Jane finds that they are constantly arguing over what they feed Annie. He views paleo through the lens of the media. Cutting major food groups, overly restrictive, the higher saturated fat content leading to adverse health in later years are three such criticisms that come up when he googles ‘paleo is dangerous.’ Just as important, he believes Jane is setting up Annie for a future of dietary restriction and problems with food. Not unlike, he points out, what Jane has been battling since her teens. Not only is Jane influencing Annie’s future physical health, but she is intentionally damaging her psychological health by being overly obsessive about removing processed food.
While you might think that Jane just needs to discuss with him the premise of a whole food philosophy to clear up a few misundersatndings, unfortunately there appears to be little that can be done to change his mind. Any source of information that she provides him to back up her decision to include full fat dairy products or remove bread is countered by dietary guideline recommendations to build a diet on healthy wholegrains. Any evidence she presents him is discredited because it doesn’t come from health authorities and nothing she has said can convince him otherwise.
What’s a person to do in this situation? There are two immediate issues here. The first one is the lack of belief from Jane’s husband that she has turned a corner with her own self esteem issues. Her enthusiasm for the paleo diet is being read by her husband as a continuation of her obsession with food and body image. While she genuinely feels that she is getting on top of this, his accusations are bringing back feelings of doubt and insecurities. Obviously those aren’t the words he is using, but because she is being accused of being obsessive around food, that is what she is hearing. Potentially a bigger problem is his accusations around how she is feeding their daughter. What strikes at the core of Jane’s being is the inherent distrust he appears to have in her ability to be a responsible caregiver for Annie. That’s not what he is saying, but there is no doubt in her mind that that is what he is thinking.
So I’m writing this post as a shout out to others who may have been in this situation to offer some words of wisdom. Jane’s husband won’t listen to her. Or me. The information has to come from someone he trusts and respects, and looks up to. Theres no one in their immediate circle that fits that bill at this stage. And while Jane could ‘just relax’ when her husband is at home, that’s not ideal either. So, short of that, how does Jane tackle this?
*you know what I mean by good eh? That 300 calorie per meal diet that just gets you through to lunch but makes you want to chew off your arm by 4pm. blame their mid-afternoon crash on lunch. For a lot of people it’s under eating at both meals even if they feel somewhat satisfied after breakfast.