Here’s the thing: I ate cake too.
I haven’t always been a health conscious Holistic Nutritionist who spends a lot of time guiding others in their eating ways and sometimes falls into a space of judgment and depression about the way our world is lived.
I too was a child. I loved eating Dunkaroos, Peanut Butter Cups, Gushers and Fruit Roll Ups. In fact, there was even a point in my life when I literally ate ice-cream cakes on a weekly basis. Sure, this was also a time when I was deeply bulimic, but even before that moment, I was chowing down refined sugar.
I’m a millennial. We were brought up on refined sugar. Nasty white chemicals hidden in every single thing we ate. When I think back to the way I used to eat, I have a hard time understanding how I don’t have deep imbalances and health issues. How resilient can a body be? Or is it that my body is incredibly hard-working and forgiving? Who decides who gets sick and who doesn’t?
This morning, my fiance and I had the privilege of joining the cutest pre-kindergarten class in Morristown, New Jersey for a birthday celebration. This may sound strange, but the truth is, it was for his niece’s birthday and we were basically the guest of honour. Together, we sat and observed the children go through the birthday classroom ritual and the ultimate event: the passing out of the bright and delicious looking cake-pops. This was the first time I’ve sat in a class of children in…forever? Since I was the child? I think one of the reasons I haven’t immersed myself in the education space (especially for nutrition) yet is because I have some pretty damaging memories of school.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was really enthralled with these beautiful creations and impressed with Faris’ sister and niece on making these magical looking treats! However, there was a part of me that wished it was more global and normal to make things like cake, icing and desserts with more balanced and high-quality ingredients and less of the refined kind. It sparked thoughts in me about my own childhood and how I wish for change.
When I was around nine years old, I went through a chubby phase. It all happened after a summer-visit with my Nana in England. The story goes: My parents dropped us off and two weeks later they picked up a different child. I had gained a decent amount of weight. Now, this story tends to be used as a source of entertainment and a bit of a moment of laughter in the family, however, when it comes down to it—it’s a painful memory for me.
This was also a time in my life when my parents were arguing quite a bit and I had started coming into my own and noticing how hurt I was with the conflict in my home. When I look back, I believe that my body gained weight not because I ate a lifetime of food in two weeks (although, I did eat quite a bit) but also because I was in need of some protection. I started experiencing a lot of anxiety whenever people had disagreements and I was basically highly sensitive to everyone around me and all of the emotions.
This physical manifestation of anxiety (protective mechanism) plus the fact that I did actually eat more than usual (another result of anxiety) created a body that I didn’t feel comfortable in and ultimately didn’t feel like it was mine. I started to feel uncomfortable in the way my clothes fit and I spent a lot of time worrying about what others thought. This issue gradually perpetuated and became an exponential challenge when I started becoming the victim of bullying. I mean, think about it, a cute little blonde girl coming home from summer vacation quite a few pounds heavier. Suddenly, I was being called “fatty” and “chubby” and “bubbly.” My world changed.
The unfortunate part of this story, is that I didn’t balance out this issue through health originally. In fact, I remained chubby for a few years until I hit adolescence and discovered the idea of starvation and feeling “light.” Being the girl that was bullied and teased for her weight was no longer bearable for me and ultimately, I just wanted a boy to like me. So I started “dieting.” Again, holistic nutrition was not a part of this. Instead, my life included a restricted version of my own: Diet Coke, cigarettes, fruit salad and green grapes. Plus a lot of running. When my efforts began offering praise from friends and people in school—this became my very own version of pay-back for all the bullying. I felt like I had found the answer. I could control how I felt, how others felt about me and what my body looked like all with what I ate and what I put in my body. I found the answer. Boys started liking me and overall my life got better.
Until it wasn’t. As you can imagine, starvation is not sustainable and no matter how young you are sustaining off of fruit sugar and chemical caffeine can’t last. My anxiety grew and despite losing a drastic amount of weight I started feeling fatter than ever. No matter how protruded my bones and how loose my clothes I just didn’t feel okay about any of it.
Now, to fast-forward ever so slightly, my anorexia was then followed by a long and painful stint with bulimia which remained in my life for almost a decade. My behavioural beliefs and conditioning were driven by these urges and my sense of self was governed by how empty I felt inside. When I look back, something that always strikes me is that at no point did I receive education or empowerment around real, natural food. When I am asked about the treatment I received and the clinics I went to I am brought back to these moments where I was never once supported with healing foods. The resources just weren’t there. Even the rehabilitation centres, whose model is built upon the intention of healing the clients, didn’t seem to work. This approach reflects a lot of behavioural management that, in some ways, supports the eating disorder. Instead of truly understanding where the disease came from and what it was covering, we were told what was wrong with us and what we needed to do and ultimately, eat, in order to “get better.”
Ultimately, I was “healed” through many different avenues and influences. However, I believe that the moment where everything changed, was when I started studying Holistic Nutrition. It was there that I learned about what real food is and what my body needs in order to survive and thrive. It was there that I understood the concept that my body is not me, but rather an extension of me. It was there that I learned about organ systems, blood sugar, liver cleansing, natural detoxification, hydration, chakras and chronic imbalances. It was there that I learned how damaging and destructive refined and synthetic foods really can be.
Would I have avoided eating disorders if I grew up eating holistic and balanced food? I don’t know. I believe that I experienced my eating disorders to push me into a new space of living and awareness, and without it I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today. However, I do believe that the education system requires major shifts and the way that we eat and approach eating must change. My world bubble is small and sometimes it takes a bit of travel to recognise how small it really is. Sometimes, when I am writing an article or a recipe for my book or blog, I have this moment of wondering if it is necessary to get into the details and describe what something is or why we should be eating it? And then I realise, yes, it absolutely is necessary. There is so much that we don’t know. There is so much that we are confused by. And ultimately, it all must start with our children.
I feel the world consensus is that until there is a problem there is no reason to get uncomfortable, go against the grain or make changes. Why would you stop feeding your child sugar and gluten if they don’t show any symptoms of allergies or intolerances? Why would you start making them plant-based birthday cakes or giving them dairy-free ice cream unless they actually had a dairy-intolerance? In some parts of the world- this is already realised. However, in many parts of the world refined sugar-free and dairy-free is still considered hippie or a “diet” or “trendy.” Ultimately, this is where I believe change must take place. There is nothing trendy about real food. The only thing that is trendy is processed and packaged food and cake pops. Real fruits and vegetables and plants have been around for way more time than the Industrial Revolution. This is where I feel we must bring our awareness.
A few steps to creating shifts in the world of child’s health:
- Take them to the grocery store and spend most, if not all, of the time in the produce aisle. Ask questions, play games and have your child interact in the experience of purchasing food, voting with your dollar and creating meals from scratch.
- Make meals together, which creates a vibe of happiness and joy around making food and creating delicious and nutritious meals on the regular at home.
- Have people over for meals and let your children participate in this experience of community eating and cooking.
- Grow your own food or take trips to farms and gardens so that children can understand where food comes from and the process it takes to grow one item.
- Buy from farmers markets and educate your children on the idea of buying directly from the farmer.
- Talk about how colours of fruit and vegetables represent different nutritional values and phytonutrients (yellow lemon=vitamin C, red bell peppers and tomatoes= lycopene)
- Talk about global cultures and eating patterns (different local fruits/vegetables, where they are and the different dishes that are made).
- Make it fun (create your own flavoured waters with colourful fruits and vegetables, i.e., sliced cucumber, lemon, lime, mint, rosemary).
* Disclaimer: I don’t have children and hope one day that I will be graced with a child (or two) of my own. No part of this article is meant as a judgment or criticism to parents. I absolutely understand and appreciate that we all do our best based on what we know and where we are. The reason behind my view point is not to put one way of life down or to say that my way is better than anyone else’s. Instead, it comes from a passion that has been built through my own life experiences and the experiences I have observed around me and with my clients. When it comes down to it, research and anecdotal evidence supports the fact that refined sugar and processed food, despite possibly serving its place at some point, is causing much more harm than good. My point is that we have been controlled by a power much larger and greater than us and it’s about time that we face the uncomfortable topics in order to inspire great and incredible shifts in society. After all, what better way to start, than with the children and young (or old) souls of the world.
Author: Chloe Elgar
Editor: Travis May
Image: Author’s Own