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When Baby Steps Go Too Far

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I’ve talked about the importance of baby steps for years:

Taking small steps, making small individual improvements, to get your family ever closer to real food and natural living goals.

But what if it were possible to baby step your way right off a cliff?

Can even baby steps be taken too far?

When Baby Steps go Too far

When I interviewed my friend about how she felt doing the Whole30 diet, she came up with one lesson that I didn’t see coming, and it was the social layer of food plus some empathy:

“It gave me more compassion for those that have an allergy to deal with and have no option to ‘cheat.’ It felt very isolating.”


It makes sense that food, around which so much conversation and socialization is often based, could also cause the opposite feeling, of separating rather than bringing together.

But it’s a very sad thing that simply seeking to eat healthy, nourishing food and take care of our bodies as God calls us to do can cause division among friends or hard feelings.

This post is the closer on the Real Food {Cheats} Diaries (Link no longer available) series.

My Wake Up Call

restaurant food

My husband’s friends were planning a get-together a while back, and we responded to their invitation that he would come, but I would not.

The friends asked, in all seriousness, whether I wasn’t coming because the kids didn’t have a babysitter or if the real reason was that I simply didn’t tolerate any eating out of any kind.

I was a little in shock that I had somehow projected myself as so strict about food that “not tolerating any eating out” could even be in the realm of possibility.


I mean, I’m cool with being known as the healthy chick.

Even the weird crunchy chick.

I’m okay with eye rolls as I recycle single-use water bottles and bring my own salt out of my purse while eating out.

But for people to think that I’d risk relationships for food rules?

That would be a hard pill to swallow. (Even if it was a natural pill of healing herbs or something!)

Did my Baby Steps Take me Overboard?

standing on the edge of the cliff

I had to really step back at that point and examine what my life was like in relationship to food, the choices I was making, the conversations I was having (and not having).

I wanted to make sure that my relationship with people was more important than my relationship with food, every time.

I considered:

  • How I interacted with my kids about food.
  • How I reacted to social situations where food was to be involved.
  • My own generosity in sharing food with others.
  • The amount of time I spent making homemade food…and what I perhaps should have been doing instead.
  • If I treated people differently when we talked about food, when their philosophy differed from mine.

At that time, I determined that my toes were well over the line, if not completely fallen off into the abyss of “the extreme.” I knew I needed to right the ship so that I didn’t sacrifice life in pursuit of health.

What good is a healthy 80 years without friends and loved ones to share it with, because you’ve alienated everyone?

So I started making conscious changes to pull back our lifestyle more toward the 80/20 principle, the idea that as long as you’re doing the real food thing at least 80% of the time, the other 20% need not stress you out. It wasn’t great to be at 98/2. Winking smile

I’m guessing if I actually tracked what we eat, it would work out more like 90/10 now, and I’m happy with that.

The bottom line is to make sure that you’re not:

  1. Stressing out so much about food that your stress negates all the positive healthy changes.
  2. Damaging your human relationships because of food rules.
  3. Teaching your kids that FEAR is what eating food is all about.

How I Backed Up to the Line Again.

relaxing about food rules, at last

My changes were deliberate and quite freeing.

I had to really tell myself, and I still have to work on it, that a few cheats now and again aren’t going to truly kill us. (And my head says, “Well Katie, they might, because that’s the whole reason you eat good food, so the chemicals and crazy concoctions in processed food don’t kill you.” But at least it won’t happen right away, right?!)

But really – if I don’t believe that God made our bodies to be able to withstand a little junk food, a little BPA, maybe a little fluoride or pharmaceuticals in our water, then I’m not really trusting God at all. I know we live in a fallen world, and that our souls weren’t created for this earth. That means that we ultimately aren’t a good fit for all that the world throws at us, and that’s why many things out there can hurt us.

But we also have to simply trust that God did, after all, design our bodies to fight off some bad things and heal ourselves, else we have to hide from it all and simply stop breathing.

Balance: Avoiding the Slingshot Syndrome for Our Kids

Family on First Communion Day

One thing my husband and I worry about is the “Slingshot Effect” on our kids, whether that’s with food or morality rules we follow.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when kids are in a strict environment, like a Christian school for example, and then they leave that space and go out into the whole wide world with all its temptations, that they might as well been shot from a slingshot into the middle of it? They’ve been told “no” about so many things for so long that they seem to flip 180-degrees and try “yes” on all of it.

You could also call this the “Pendulum Syndrome” – the idea that if a pendulum swings very far to one direction (the ultra conservative strict side of life) that when released, it will swing very far to the other side (where we don’t want our kids experimenting!).

We don’t want that to happen, and we’re not really sure how to ensure that it doesn’t.

Hopefully, making rules with reasons instead of just rules to follow blindly is the key, so we need to make sure we’re always talking about why we eat or don’t eat certain foods (like this). I also think another key is to have some leeway sometimes, and I hope we’re providing enough balance that the kids have experienced “the other side” so that it doesn’t hold more mystique and attraction than it deserves.

artificial sweeteners in kids' juice at the roller rink

There are some things we always say no to, without apologizing. Artificial sweeteners is one of them, and I’m SO bummed that they’re showing up in all sorts of beverages and snacks now, not “just” the diet options like they used to! Sad smile

I can get up on a soapbox easily about stuff like the juice in the photo that was served to my daughter’s class at a school roller skating party, and it’s all well and good on my KS Facebook page where most everyone agrees with me, but what do I do when a friend in real life gives her kids something like this junk? (In reality, I probably wouldn’t say anything…but I would have 3 years ago! I’m still pondering whether it’s worth saying anything to the school. Likely it’s not, but it’s eating away at me!)

Sharing: Real Food Gifts without Judgment

Sharing meals with others is always a tricky experience, as is receiving them.

When people bring us meals, such as after a baby, I’m always so grateful. It’s an amazing gift to be able to spend time with your children and baby rather than standing up in the kitchen, preparing food. I’ve often been part of groups of ladies at church who faithfully bless one another in this way for every baby or other need.

But…I don’t want to sacrifice our health for the sake of accepting generosity. Do I?

After our second was born, we had so many meals brought our way that we ended up with almost 2 months of meals, 3 days a week! And by the end of that summer of delicious pasta and bread-heavy dishes…my husband’s triglycerides were back as high as they had been before we made healthy changes:

Husband's cholesterol and triglycerides

The year of other people’s food was 2008 – see the rest of the story behind the chart here

I try really hard not to be finicky when people are blessing us with food, but after that experience, I was gun shy. We always shared that my husband was sensitive to gluten (which we’re now second-guessing but lived as such for years!), and that effectively cut down on bread and pasta dishes. However, with this last baby, my closest friends at church were too intimidated by my real food ways to bring meals, and they got me a physical baby gift and a pizza gift card instead.

Another wake-up call. A conflict of interests.

How do I make sure we are eating healthy but not hurting others’ feelings or damaging friendships?

Where is the winning choice?

It’s no less confusing when I take food to others.

Am I being uncharitable when I choose legume-heavy meals that are less expensive than meat, or if I grab the conventional can of diced tomatoes instead of organic or home-canned? I can feel the little twinge of selfishness:

“I want to keep the best for my own family.”

Is that Cain’s temptation sneaking in???


On the other hand, some days I can barely manage to get homemade food on the table for my own family, so if I can serve another by sharing a meal, and I still make homemade food and deliver it with a loving smile, aren’t I doing what God calls me to do?

Or am I only doing 80% of it?

Time: The Ever-Ticking Challenge

kids eating outside in summer

I don’t know if I’ll ever NOT struggle with time.

I hate the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, because I know I’d rather be spending it with my children.

I’ve begun to bring them into the kitchen more often, but that can be a double-edged sword because I’m not always the most patient or charitable teacher. Sad smile I try, but I fail as much as I succeed.

And then there’s the “late for dinner” rant. When dinner has taken longer than I expected to prepare (or I started a little later than I knew I should have), I get cranky and beat up on myself. When I’m serving dinner with a, “Here-you-go-it’s-finally-ready-and-now-we-need-to-hurry-everybody-go-to-bed!” attitude, what benefit are my kids really getting from the one piece of organic broccoli, perfectly seasoned, that they allow to pass their lips?

It’s humbling to admit that I throw “adult fits” as we call them and lose my temper. If I let up on the real food ideals a little more, would I be a better example for my kids, a better mom?

How do I make sure my time is time well spent?

Where to Draw the Line?

I don’t ever want to eat all quick, processed, convenience food.

I don’t think that’s what God has in store for us for this world and these bodies He gave us.

But part of me hates to often say “no” in social situations and feel at odds with people if the subject of food comes up and we’re not on the same page.

It’s one thing if someone has a true allergy and a certain food would actually immediately hurt their body.

In that case, I truly feel that it’s the job of the rest of the community – whether that community be a school, a family, or a group of friends – to take an opportunity to be generous and reduce the isolation of the person with the allergy. That might mean asking questions about what foods would be safe and making sure there are options available, it might mean planning activities not centered around food, or it could even be making sure the offending food is nowhere to be seen if that’s what it takes to keep the friend safe.

In that case, food rules MUST be followed, never broken, for the safety of the person, and the human relationships have to simply be built around that. If someone isn’t willing to do what it takes to keep a friend safe from harm, then they’re not the kind of friend you want anyway.

If a grandma refuses to learn about a grandchild’s allergy and the parents don’t feel that she could keep their child safe from physical harm, then grandma doesn’t get to watch the child and perhaps doesn’t get to be around him much at all. That’s a tragedy, but that’s on grandma.

It’s another thing entirely when someone is simply seeking to be healthy with no genuine immediate danger and excludes themselves from their community at large, like the two examples in Lindsay’s near famous post, “Can Natural Living Become an Idol?”

Trust: Letting Go of What Matters

It’s easier to let go of what doesn’t matter. But to let go and allow God to work in the big things, that which does matter – that takes more of a leap of faith.

We can’t be beating ourselves up over every decision, when we really aren’t in control of our world. A reader recently commented here:

I did most of the protective things listed in this article and it still wasn’t enough. A few months before my daughters 9th birthday she discovered she had developed breast buds. I feel like I completely failed to protect her.

Oh, the mommy guilt!

Our world is too complex, far too gray, for our self-condemnation to be so black-and-white.

It’s a big, big world. And we’re not in charge.

If we try to be, and especially if we think we can be…that’s when we start to put ourselves and our choices above God.

Yes, Lindsay, natural living CAN become an idol.

I’m just praying I don’t let it get that far with me.

What are your biggest struggles of balance when it comes to making healthy choices?

Cliff image from Pixabay. Used with permission.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

19 thoughts on “When Baby Steps Go Too Far”

  1. I just wanted to thank you for advocating for those who have food allergies in social situations. My celiac disease and other food intolerances are so severe that I really can’t accept food from other people but to just have some understanding would go such a long way.

  2. Hi Katie,
    This conflict of thoughts, emotions relates to all aspects of life. Its so hard to draw a line. Thanks for the post.

  3. Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook

    This is a great article! It’s so hard to balance between worrying about things that truly are important, and not worrying too much.

    About the “juice” at the school party: If it was donated by a parent, there may not be much you can do. If it was purchased by the school, look into what that junk costs vs. 10% juice with natural coloring vs. 100% juice; if you can find a healthier option that’s similar in price, contact the school and say, “I just wanted to mention this because so many kids these days struggle with hyperactivity linked to sugar or food coloring. I’d hate for the kids to be any more hyper than necessary when the teachers are trying to keep track of them on a field trip!” The school might be willing to change if it’s just a matter of the secretary picking up a different crate at Costco.

    Related to that juice: My family goes for an urban hike every Mother’s Day. This year, we wrapped up by going into a supermarket for cold drinks; we each chose some form of juice or milk. As we headed up an aisle toward checkout, my 11-year-old son burst out laughing. He told us to wait a moment, ran back to the drinks, returned with a big jug of blue sugar-water, placed it next to a jug of windshield-wiper fluid from the aisle where we were, and took a photo! The jugs were slightly different shapes, but the liquids were EXACTLY THE SAME COLOR! Eewww!! Potentially dangerous, too–we recently saw “9 to 5” and were reminded of Violet confusing her boss’s artificial sweetener with the rat poison!

  4. This is a great article. I was in that place a few years ago and decided to take a step back, stop reading food blogs for a while (no offense 😉 and let some treats back into our home so my kids wouldn’t struggle with the slingshot effect, as you described. I think as I was making the change to whole foods, maybe it was a good thing to be more strict, but the time had come to loosen up. I like the idea of teaching kids to eat real food out of joy and because it tastes delicious rather than out of fear.

    I still struggle when we spend time with my in-laws. They eat a very processed diet and while I believe in the 80/20 rule, it’s hard to eat processed food for three days straight and feel okay. Our daughters also have sensitivities to food dye and my in-laws think it’s all just ridiculous and in our heads. It’s hard to assert that we won’t let them have it while still participating in family activities with a smile on my face.

  5. Katie, you mentioned being concerned about generosity. Although I admire the fact that you are concerned about it, remember that you are very generous with your knowledge and experience when it comes to real food. You have freely shared your advice and wisdom with many lemons via this website. So in that way, you are more than generous! Thanks for the good read, lots Of food for thought as always, and for everything you have taught me and many others.

  6. I’m going to have to read this over and over and over again. Thank you, Katie, for being so vulnerable to us and showing us your thoughts, feelings, and struggles. We are missionaries overseas, which presents a lot of food challenges, but also a lot of gems we would not otherwise get. There are not nearly the amount of convenience foods or eating-out options here, so we just don’t do them. I am continually on the look-out for ways to improve our diets, and I’m succeeding.

    However, the big (understatement!) challenge comes when we go back to the US for 8-12 months at a time. When we go back, we spend 100% of our time on the road, staying with other people or in hotels. Most people don’t want to cook for a family of 6, so we go out to eat a lot. Churches have pot-luck meals for us. We get fast food when we’re on the road. When we can, we try to do grocery store vs. fast food, but when traveling with all the clothes and toiletries and presentation materials and school books we need for several months at a time, there’s no room for a cooler to haul around our kraut and kefir.

    Just thinking about it is enough to make me think of hyperventilating! None of us has allergies or other ‘actual’ dietary restrictions. But if we all feel awful from eating all the junk the US has to offer, we’ll be in bad shape for our family, friends, churches, host families, etc. I need to find the balance for *this* life. I think we’ll be lucky if it’s 20/80 🙁

    Thanks for listening to me freak out!

    1. Wow, Valerie, that is definitely a unique challenge! And the layer of hospitality and Christian service all in there and it’s quite a web. Maybe you can get it to 50/50 by sharing things with the hosting churches like, “Boy, this missionary lifestyle can get tough, we feel like we rarely get a home-cooked meal with lots of veggies or soup…all the heavy restaurant food that is so fun once in a while gets old when it’s every time…” I think that’s just being honest, not selfish. When we hosted some young adults who ran retreats around the country and were constantly in host homes, the advice we received was that the young ladies would just want a break. Light, homemade food, no fanfare, no expectations to be “on” for us, since they’re “on” all day. I was sooooo happy to serve them by making homemade chicken noodle soup and biscuits and a big salad and giving them some space. And I was happy to know what they needed, because so many people think they want a lot of “special” foods, but it’s not special when it’s daily. So maybe…just maybe some churches will serve you in that way as you serve them?

      My heart goes out to you! And…maybe a probiotic supplement? 😉 Katie

  7. Excellent article! Thank you for openly and honestly sharing how you struggle weighing things of importance.

    I too struggle with this. I don’t have any allergies, but I do have autoimmunity seriously enough that I’ve experienced everything from digestive problems to heart issues to multiple miscarriages. So from my perspective, being choosy about healthy food takes a pretty high priority. But many of my friends & acquaintances don’t know all the little medical details that add up to major issues. They can’t see the full picture.

    I do cheat sometimes, but I need to be able to decide what is an acceptable or unacceptable food to cheat on and also what is an acceptable location to cheat. (Those of us with food intolerances can completely understand the difference between being close to a toilet at someone else’s home vs. the toilet at our own home. Sometimes the length of time can be embarrassing.) 😉

    When it’s our turn to provide food for others (or any other service, for that matter), it’s really important that we put our own judgments aside and choose to love the person who has the food issue, which means embracing both the person and their food preferences. We need to remember that we will likely never know the full story behind their choice to eat a certain way, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. As I just got done saying to my husband tonight, “Conflict exists where graciousness doesn’t.”

  8. Lots of great thoughts, Katie! I’m always jealous of people that are able to do the 80/20 rule from a health perspective. I’m all about balance and moderation. But with allergies you don’t get that choice. It stinks. Three out of the five of us follow the 99/1 rule 😛 I hope some day that changes. I appreciate that you mentioned the criticality of allergies and how everyone needs to help.

  9. Balance is hard. It’s really easy to make an idol out of food, at least for me. My husband and I used to be really bad, but with the birth of our first child we’ve come to realize what’s important. We want her to have a healthy relationship with food too so it’s important that we model that for her. Not going to lie though, I still struggle with not eating “perfectly” all of the time. I hate feeling like I’m bad if I eat something with wheat or sugar. It’s complex…probably too complex for a comment, but just wanted to say I hear you! 🙂

  10. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful, humble, raw and introspective article. I can truly relate. I realized not too long ago that I spent most of my time thinking about, reading about or preparing food and spent far too little time praying and enjoying my family. Balance! Good luck!

  11. I think there are ways to maintain friendships without sacrificing health. My family doesnt have any “allergies” in the usual sense but all people will have harmful side effects from unhealthy foods. We follow a fairly strict paleo diet because we want to take care of the bodies God has given us. When we go out to eat with friends we simply speak with a chef about our dietary restrictions and they are usually accomodating. With friends bringing meals we usually ask that they bring a salad without the dressing. Its an easy frugal and paleo meal. If we are invited to dinner we always mention that we cant have grains and people are accomodating. We may just have great friends, but people should respect the way you choose to eat. I think its important to be good examples for others that healthy eating is possible and the best medicine. Its certainly not easy to follow a strict diet around people who dont, but its worth it in the long run.

  12. Great article Katie! It’s all about perspective and balance. I love your comments about trusting God and His design for our bodies.

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