Dinner at our house has always been idyllic. Not “June Cleaver” perfect, but I’d make a simple meal, and the family would eat it—or at least try it—regardless of individual opinions about peas or soup. In general, I rotated a small number of easy-to-make meals, all of which were nutritious enough to serve but appealing enough to be eaten. On rough days, I threw spaghetti on the stove and broccoli in the microwave, and everyone was fine. I never forced anybody to finish, though they needed to eat what was on the plate before they had anything else. Dinner was low-drama. There was noise and laughter and love and tears and “she touched me!” and every other lovely, messy thing I ever imagined dinner with a big family to be, but the food part was easy.
And then I wrecked it.
With one doctor’s appointment, our simple dinner routine turned upside down.
I had some health concerns, so my doctor prescribed a super restricted diet. It was annoyingly nonstandard for me. I had about eighteen ingredients to work with at the beginning. Beets. Carrots. Kale. Chia seeds? What am I supposed to do with those?!? It would be hard, but I was willing to put in the effort for a chance to feel better.
I set myself up carefully. The day before I started, I spent hours making meals from the provided recipes and chopping vegetables to have on hand. I congratulated myself on my preparedness and perfect game plan. “I am strong. I am resilient. I am going to kick this diet’s ass!”
I felt so off eating weird food while trying to maintain normal life. The extra prep and the presence of mind not to lick my fingers as I prepared everyone else’s food took so much energy and self-control. It was full survival mode: keeping all the people alive while waiting for more permissible food options. I didn’t handle it gracefully. By dinner that very first night, all my willpower was gone, but I still needed to make dinner for the others. I pulled out the trusty stock pot for spaghetti and popped some broccoli in the microwave to steam while I sauteed my kale with carrots and zucchini and ginger.
By the time I had both meals on the table, I was seething. As I watched my family down their noodles through the rising steam of my vegetables, the resentment threatened to overwhelm me. I hated eating strange food while they munched on what is essentially crack to me. It was clear that I was not, in fact, going to kick this diet’s ass… it only took one day for it to kick mine.
The season of making my meals separately from my family’s was more intense than I anticipated that first afternoon of carrot-chopping. It broke me down and split me open, as dramatic as it feels to say now. It’s just food, right?
My heart is so entangled with the food I consume. Within days, I figured out that my brain and body have a strong stress response to hunger… and “full” registers as safety. You guys, it’s a mess. The whole reason I’m seeing this doctor is because my body exhausted its ability to make and handle stress hormones well. It’s maddening to see something so daily and integral as feeding myself might be exacerbating my illness.
I had to find a new way to define family mealtime for myself. Up to this point, the food had been the center around which the family gathered. When the food became fragmented, I realized it should never have been my main focus—it is always, always the people.
My resentful attitude over consuming different food than my family shows how entitled I feel to eat whatever the heck I want. I hate being bossed, especially about food. My heart is so prone to idolatry. I am not inclined to worship little wooden figures, but dark chocolate or coffee? Apparently so. Removing those treats from the rotation for a while helped me see it, and set my heart back in a place of gratitude to the Giver, rather than of selfish entitlement to the gifts.
I’m not good at sitting in discomfort. Some part of me fundamentally believes my life should be fun and easy, and when it isn’t, I depend on easy carbs. I talked about pasta as a drug, and I wasn’t kidding. Am I tired? Carbs. Irritable? Carbs. Bored? Sad? Overwhelmed? Over everything? Carbs, carbs, carbs, and carbs. Maybe add some salt, and I could fix literally any problem for at least the next three minutes. Starting one day early in July, I had to endure whatever mild or moderate discomfort ailed me without the easy anesthetic of tortilla chips or the kids’ leftover Kraft mac and cheese. But, while I have some easy carb options now, the habit of grabbing them at the first twinge of unpleasantness has been broken, and I realize that I am, have always been, strong enough to handle life without them. (Usually.)
My June Cleaver meals were nice, but they allowed some pretty ugly heart issues to lurk unexamined. Eating a difficult, high-maintenance diet was important for my health, just like my doctor said it would be. More than that, the intensity of the diet forced some sin and immaturity to the surface where I could begin to address it. I still have a small number of foods I need to mostly avoid. (Sadly, dairy. Farewell, my delicious ice cream and brie!) Otherwise, get to eat with my family, and enjoy the food I can eat with a much freer soul.
**Recipes for Families, the newest free e-book from Kindred Mom, is full of meal ideas and practical kitchen wisdom from over 20 moms! Click the image below and subscribe to our mailing list and get your own free copy!
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and mama to four babies six and down. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps hiding in her bathroom with some coffee.