Real Food Baggage: 5 Tips for the Real Food Journey

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We transitioned Ellie onto the GAPS diet at 18 months old.  We found hope as we watched her begin her healing journey, and I embraced all of the new learning that meant health for her and for our entire family.  Yet more than two years later one thing is still obvious – there is some emotional baggage.  

GAPS provided food for our child who had none. It introduced me to real food, and opened countless doors to healing for our family.  I will be forever grateful.  But at some point a new reality hit with a major whammy.

You might be transitioning to real food as fast as you can in an effort to heal a sick child, or digging into the real food world to improve your home and leave a healthier legacy for your babies.  It doesn’t matter what the motivation.  At some point in the journey, it hits every mama:

This is super hard, this is our new normal, and there is no going back.

Oh, dear.

There is no chapter in GAPS on how to adjust your family values, or let go of societal norms.  There are no tips on how to answer quizzical friends on your new priorities, or how to pack broth for a day on the town.  There is no handbook on how to dodge Gatorade after soccer practice, or gracefully avoid the dye covered cupcakes at a birthday party.  There is no parenting class titled “Restructuring Your Family: From Taco Bell to Fermented Foods in 21 Days”.  This realization will leave any parent eagerly looking for a hole to stick their head in.

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And to make matter’s worse, it’s not really the same as establishing real food values from the beginning.  It’s not really the same as having your kiddo understand McDonald’s is garbage from day one.  Instead you have to find time to back track,…to re-teach children,…and create new family traditions and values.  That is some seriously exhausting stuff. 

By the time we started Ellie on GAPS and I began my real food education, she was extremely ill.  We feared constantly.  Our home life had transitioned well beyond severe food allergies.  She had developed a severe chemical sensitivity as well.  Lotion on an unsuspecting friend, stickers snatched from her older sister, or even pushing her stroller through a cloud of air popped popcorn would send her into hours of vomiting, wheezing, skin rashes, and other random symptoms.

We lived in a bubble. 

This did not bode well for my extrovert personality.  I was stuck at home tending to a chronically ill child, and feeling constantly guilty for her older sister who was missing out on life.  All extracurricular activities stopped while I focused on holding my family together, and felt as if I did a lousy job at even that.  Every photo from the time Ellie was born until the time she turned 2 includes mountains of laundry, counters filled with dirty dishes, or cluttered floors.  It was too embarrassing to have anyone over, yet it was impossible to leave the house.  Those energy sucking occasions were reserved for work, grocery shopping, and doctors appointments.  And I quickly realized that transitioning the entire family over to GAPS meant a safe home environment for Ellie.  It took four months to make the switch, and suddenly a lot more than food had changed.

We were forced to rethink and rework just about every single family tradition and value that we had established.  

That was ok.  That was part of the process.

Over time I have discovered many mamas who have asked the same questions and conquered the same hurdles.  If you are a mama on the same journey, you are not alone.  Here are some hopeful hints I gleaned along the way:

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1.  Grieve.

Acknowledge your expectations.  Acknowledge that a real food education is empowering and freeing.  Acknowledge that it is often also scary and overwhelming.  Mamas often feel guilty for what they wish they had known sooner.  Mamas often feel guilty for imposing new rules and restrictions on protesting children, or for saying no to foods that were once acceptable.  Stop to acknowledge that it hurts.  Say it out loud.  Write it down.  Talk about it.  Have a good cry.  Then let it go.  I do this best on my knees.

Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

2.  Extend yourself some grace.

There is no perfect mommy out there.  Seriously.  I know.  I have tried to be one.  You made mistakes before, and you will make mistakes again.  And this real food thing is no different.  It may take some time to get a new routine in place or to establish new habits.  You won’t always have a perfect answer when asked why you have made a change.  You will mess something up.  That is o.k.  Our children will learn how to give forgiveness and receive grace when we acknowledge we are not perfect and that something is difficult.  That is a life lesson worth more than gold.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

3.  Give yourself permission to protect your family.

At some point you will have to do some schedule restructuring.  Let’s face it, the increased time spent in the kitchen is nothing to sneeze at.  It’s going to slow you down, and it is going to take some adjustments.  The sooner you recognize that, the more sleep you will (hopefully) get.  You may have to cancel some commitments, or restrict functions out side of the home, at least for awhile.  You may find that some of your regular activities are no longer meshing with your family needs, and you will need to go in search of new ones.  Outside of your home, you might find yourself saying no more often than yes.  This is acceptable.  Regardless of what society says, your family comes first.  

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1

4.  Change how you phrase things.

Often our feelings of insecurity or guilt come through in the words we choose.  We also might accidentally make others feel uncomfortable, or imply we want them to swap their priorities for ours.  A simple positive spin on how something is explained will show that you are taking ownership for your family, and communicate less judgment.  Instead of saying we can’t, start saying we don’t.  Stop saying I’m sorry, and start saying thank you.  A simple wording change will tell others that you have chosen a different value for your family, rather than communicating that you are grieving something lost.  This also applies when communicating with children who are adjusting to new priorities and boundaries.  Here are some examples:

“I’m really sorry. We just can’t attend an event during the lunch hour.” versus “Thank you so much for the invitation. We don’t schedule events during the lunch hour.  We would love to be available at another time.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t eat at that restaurant.” versus “We don’t eat at that restaurant because there are no menu options for us”.

“Oh I really wish we could join you but I just didn’t pack enough food to have the kids out all day today.” versus “That sounds like fun! Unfortunately we need at least 24 hours notice for outings like that or we don’t come prepared.”

This will take practice.  This doesn’t come naturally.  This is worth the effort.  Speaking in a more positive and empowering manner will help you to hold on to joy and shape your heart, while enforcing your family values.

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.  Matthew 15:18

5.  Find some new friends.

Don’t ditch the old – just add some new.  Community is extremely important in all areas of life.  Seeking out and making new friendships among those who share some (or all) of your new goals will help you feel supported and help you feel a sense of belonging.  Those things are valuable in any situation.  If you are working to heal a child, it is something that may be critical to your success.  Online support groups are a fantastic place to start, but don’t forget to seek out at least one or two local friends you can get to know.  Nothing can replace the authenticity found in a genuine, face to face, personal encounter with a friend.  And just like every other milestone in your life, some friends won’t be too fond of the new adjustments.  You may lose one or two.  That is normal.  This is not a reason for you to feel guilty about your changes, or doubt your convictions.  Instead celebrate the new relationships you are bound to form.

A friend loves at all times.  Proverbs 17:17  

Does this resonate with you on your real food journey?  Do you know a struggling mama who needs encouragement in her real food changes?

Hope is contagious.  Pass it on.

~ Nichole

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9 Comments
  1. Well said, Nichole. Thank you for sharing experience and the great tips. Really important things to remember when making a huge commitment to change.

  2. Thank you. While we aren’t GAPS (yet?!), we are in a “real food” journey, and you are so right about the positive spin. My daughter (12) has relatively new alleriges in addition to the older anaphylactic one, and she is still grieving. It is a hard change to make, especially when not everyone is on board, and the budget is very tight. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • I developed my allergies at the same age! Oh, that was a hard age to start dealing with those changes. There is enough going on at that age without additional stuff. Hang in there mama! The budget part is hard, but it does get easier.

  3. I hear you. Everything sucks, and then you blog. The end.

  4. Thank you for writing this. While my children’s issues aren’t as severe as your daughter’s, we have still experienced every one of the painful things you mention. It’s not the cooking or the sourcing that makes my life so hard (although those are more difficult than those easy days of simply going to the grocery store, buying everything on my list, and making whatever was fun, easy, and froze well for quick entertaining)…it’s the social and emotional elements that crush me. There is just no easy way around any of it: losing friends because your lifestyle is just too different now, not because they don’t love you anymore, but because EVERY. SINGLE. THING. they like to do is something you can’t now. The challenge of making new friends after a move to a new state when you can’t go anywhere, eat anything, etc. and your life is surrounded by restriction. Like you, I struggle with my outgoing nature feeling stifled by all this, and often wonder if I will ever enjoy life again. Your post doesn’t convince me that I will, but it IS comforting to know that someone else understands and feels the same way. Thank you.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experiences. I have often thought that if I just moved and started over it might be easier. Thank you for putting that into perspective! After 2 years we are finally on the move and I feel as if I have kitchen and home life under enough control that I can focus on getting out and getting moving on new traditions and activities. Perhaps focus on just one regular outing until you get comfortable with that, even if it is just going around the corner to the park or getting to church on Sunday morning. You will get there!

  5. Another great post about the Real Food Journey. Thank you for writing it.

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