For the past two weeks, I have been doing a “healthy-eating challenge” with my daughters, Lucy and Jane. This is not a weight-loss challenge, mind you – at least not for them. While I wouldn’t mind losing a pound or 20, they are healthy, strong teenagers with the metabolism of jackrabbits. They don’t need to lose any weight.
Their main problem is the fact that, if left to their own devices, they will subsist mainly on what I like to call “toddler food”: crackers, granola bars, cookies, applesauce, chips and the like. Fruits and veggies, lean proteins and whole grains have not been high on any of our must-eat lists as of late, so when they came to me expressing interest in eating healthier, I jumped all over it.
The healthy-eating challenge is a simple program I found online and meant to motivate us as a team. Each day, we get points for doing certain healthy things. For example, drinking eight glasses of water earns three points, and eating five servings of fruits and vegetables earns eight. If you stop eating before 9 p.m., you get three points.
For some reason, working out for 30 minutes gets you the same amount of points as keeping a daily food journal, which hardly seems like an equal comparison. I’d walk around with a food journal sewn to my forehead if it meant I didn’t have to run on my treadmill each morning.
But the rule that is the most challenging for us is “no sweets for six days of the week.” This just seems cruel. Do these healthy-eating crusaders have no heart? Do they have no soul? Making and eating treats is the lifeblood of this household. Without the promise of at least a few chocolate chip cookies each week, I don’t really know what there is to live for.
However, I am a firm believer in the motivating power of bribery, so the girls and I decided that once we have all reached a certain amount of points each week, we will get a small reward, like watching a movie together or getting a pedicure. Even in the face of no treats, we squared our shoulders, pulled our sweatpants a little tighter and soldiered on.
Things went well for the first day. Lots of lettuce and protein. My daughters struggled with drinking eight glasses of water, which to me is the simplest part of this thing.
Day two was similar except I started to see despair creeping into Jane’s eyes when she went to pop a Hershey’s Kiss into her mouth and remembered that treats – even tiny ones – were off limits. Depression appeared on her healthy-eating face, and I worried she’d give up on the whole thing because it was overly restrictive.
“It’s not like you guys need to be on a diet,” I said shortly after the Hershey Kiss incident. “We just need to get into the habit of moderating. I vote that we increase the allowable treat days to three” (which is still a vast improvement from what we had been doing).
Lucy and Jane were not difficult to convince. Jane and I had a scoop of ice cream that night and carried on. Day three passed without incident. Salad, beans, apples, chicken, eggs, repeat. By day four, I cracked.
“How about this,” I said to the girls as Logan dished up the pumpkin cobbler I had made for dessert (because Grandma was over for dinner, and that’s just what I do when Grandma comes over for dinner). “We don’t want to torture ourselves, right? What if we say we can have a small treat every day of the week except for one?”
“So treats six days a week?” Logan asked, bemused as only a man with no cravings for sweets can be. “Yes, six days a week,” I replied, glaring at him over the kitchen island where the plates full of cobbler were sitting, ready to be served. “Are you going to put ice cream on top of those or what?”
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.