I'm stoked. STOKED, I tell ya'. I just got home from Sunday dinner with my in-laws, where my sister-in-law, who admits she's addicted to sugar and chocolate, told me she has gotten her entire family (minus her husband, who she is still working on) to commit to a sugar-free 2012. I was shocked, to say the least. One, because she has always been the one who needed a chocolate fix before 9 a.m., and two, because her kids, like most kids these days, usually consume candy and other sugar-laden foods. Why and how did she get them to do it?, I asked. (BTW, I was getting giddy at the mere thought of her family doing this).
The story: My sister-in-law has insulin resistance, and feels much better without sugar, especially refined sugar. For several months, she's been playing around with using almond flour instead of refined wheat flour, and coconut sugar (essentially coconut sap) instead of refined white sugar, in recipes. She has replaced chocolate chips containing refined white sugar with dairy-free, refined sugar-free chocolate chips. And guess what? She feels a LOT better. She says it's amazing how good she feels on a refined sugar-free diet. And she thought her family might also enjoy the benefits of a sugar-free diet....For $150 bucks :)
So she asked her kids (aged 10, 8, 6, and 4) if they would go sugar-free for all of 2012 for $150. She explained that it meant no candy at church, no cake or ice-cream at birthday parties, no treats at school...no refined sugar at all. And guess what? They wanted to do it! And lest you think these kids are abnormal in some way - they're NOT! They are regular, sugar-loving kids. But they saw value (literally!) in not eating those sugary treats. They've only been doing it for a couple of weeks, but already my sister-in-law told me her kids' taste-buds have changed. Muffins and baked goods that she makes out of almond flour and coconut sugar or agave nectar that they previously wouldn't touch, they now like! If they are hungry, instead of searching out some candy or other sugary processed food, they snack on fresh fruit she has around the house. She also says emotionally they are more grounded. IN ONLY TWO WEEKS! Think about what a whole year will do. To say the least, I'm really excited for her family. And to my sister-in-law's credit, she is the catalyst in a life-changing year for her family, my family, and possibly yours! Go girl!!
Her kids have already been put to the test several times. For instance, after skiing the other day, her kids were almost ravenous, they were so hungry. She left her kids sitting by her friend while she went to get them food. Her friend, knowing they were hungry, offered them chocolate, licorice, and cookies, to which they all said no. Confused, she asked, "Aren't you hungry??" They replied,"Yes, but we're not eating sugar this year". This was without their mom around, when they could've gotten away with eating sugar without her knowing. When her friend relayed the story to her, she was so proud.
At dinner tonight, my mother-in-law made an interesting point. She said, "This might actually help them to say no to drugs, when confronted with the choice later on in life". I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, it will develop their self-control, something that most people struggle with in many different facets of their lives these days.
After listening to my sister-in-law talk in excitement about her family's sugar-free 2012, I thought, "Why don't I ask my family if they want to do it?" Granted, my kids don't eat much refined-sugar, but when I told my 5 year-old about what his cousins were doing, he really wanted to do it, especially for the money. This incentive-type program appealed to me for several reasons.
1) It takes me away from being the regulator. My kids are actually really good about staying away from sugary, processed food because I work hard at educating them about nutrition and the reasons why they want to avoid those foods. BUT, at times they want that type of food. Depending on what it is, and how big it is, I either flat-out say no (soda pop, Twinkies), tell them they can have a couple of bites, or tell them they can have half. It's always a balancing act. But in reality, I wish they woIuldn't have it at all. If it's their own choice to avoid these foods in return for money, it will empower them to exercise their self-control, and take me out of the picture as the regulator.
2). It will probably be the only year where extended family will be doing this together. After so many years of our family trying to be sugar-free (and sometimes feeling like we were "kicking against the bricks", avoiding sugar in a sugar-filled society), it is so nice to have support and feel like we are involved in a collaborative effort to eat and be healthy.
3). As I previously stated, my kids don't eat much refined sugar, but it will help them to be 100%, at least for one year, and feel satisfaction versus deprivation, for doing it (hopefully!). Also, my husband wants to be involved in a sugar-free 2012. While we don't have sugary treats around the house, when we make our weekly visit to his parents house, he likes to eat what they made for dessert. At a time where his arthritis is not bothering him and his health is good, in addition to knowing he is going to have more stress added to his life as he just started his second-to-last semester of his graduate program while working full-time, he wants to stay "on top of his game" health-wise. A year and a half ago, his body essentially revolted after he started his graduate program due to stress and lack of exercise (from lack of time!). He doesn't want that to happen again.
4). I want my kids to practice exercising their agency, or ability to choose, in a positive light by eating healthily, not because I want them to, but because they want to.
5). It will make us all healthier!
On the drive home, I explained to my 5 and 3 year-olds EXACTLY what being sugar-free would mean in ALL situations for them. My 5 year old was so excited that my 3 year-old got excited and wanted to start eating no sugar "right now!" My 5 year old is old enough to truly understand the program, but I have no idea how my 3 year-old will handle it. I kept asking her over and over again, "Are you sure you want to do it? Do you know what this means?" I guess I will let you know in later posts her understanding and commitment to the whole thing. I have a feeling I might still be involved in her decision-making process since she is so young. I don't think I will have her participate 100% if she really doesn't want to since she eats so little sugar anyway.
The plan: In moderation, we will include raw honey, raw agave nectar, stevia, a bit of evaporated cane juice (in my dairy-free chocolate chips), grade B maple syrup, and coconut sugar for sweeteners. Notice I said, in moderation. All sugars need to be consumed in moderation. Make desserts and sweet foods a true treat, not something you consume daily. Your body will thank you for it.
My Fears: Through the years, I have tried many tactics in trying to get my kids to avoid refined sugar. Some have worked, some tactics have failed. But right now in my life we have a good balance of give and take and I don't want to lose that balance. For instance, my son had to take an oral Spanish exam for entrance into a duel immersion program next year. He was nervous about the whole thing, and was hiding behind me as we walked into the room. But he was a big boy and did wonderfully. I was so proud of him. Afterward, the examiner asked him if he wanted a treat. He looked at me..."Can I, mom?", I saw in his eyes. I took into consideration that he hadn't had a treat in a long time, the fact that they were fun sized packs and said, "How about we split that with your sister?"
Me: "Yeah, that's a good idea. Let's split it with your sister."
It may sound like he was sad, but he was so happy, let me assure you, because he knew he was lucky even to get 1/2 of a fun-sized M&M package. And although I wish it would've been something healthier, I was happy that he had a little reward for conquering something that was a challenge for him. Plus, he told me he chose the M&Ms because he thought they had the least sugar :) I told him it was a good choice because they had the least amount of ingredients :)
Anyway, my point is that my kids and I have "stuck a chord" in the music of finding a balance that fits us all. They almost always ask me if they think a treat is questionable, and there's not much whining or fit-throwing when I tell them whether they can have it, and how much they can have. And I feel this is a tactic that can be utilized long-term.
THAT SAID, as my kids get older, the opportunities for getting treats is ever increasing. I am negotiating with them more and more over what they can/can't have in any given situation. There are ways that I ease this burden that I will detail in another post (bringing a box of special treats to school, etc..), but it might be nice to have a year where I don't have to negotiate.
So, I asked and asked and asked my 5 year-old, who really wants to do this, "Are you sure?" I went through the whole year and detailed what each event/holiday would be like. And he said to me, "Mom, I pretty much do it anyway. And this way I can get money!" I laughed, and said, "Okay. If this is what you want to do, you need to take ownership for it. You make sure you think before you eat and let me know if there's anything I can do to help you." And if he can do it, you can!
So let's do it!!!! Ask your kids, husband, wife, and extended family if they want to join you. You might be surprised!! And let me know in the comments! I will regularly post about how our family is doing --any hard times or pit-falls we might encounter, or differences we see in our health -- and I want to know your experiences as well. Having support and someone to talk/vent to makes something like this a lot easier.
Here's to a healthier 2012!