It all started with a cashew.
My family was having dinner with friends at a Chinese restaurant. Our son Ethan was fifteen months old. In a flash, he grabbed a broken cashew piece off the table and put it in his mouth. We had been avoiding giving him nuts since he was so young, but now it was too late. That little cashew was making its way down baby Ethan’s tummy.
Everything seemed to be all right until about two hours later when the cashew began to unleash its fury. First, Ethan started to scratch his belly. When I lifted up his shirt, I was shocked to see his entire torso was red and inflamed, with big welts everywhere he had scratched. Then he began vomiting … four times to be exact. Thankfully, giving him Benadryl was enough to get the allergic reaction under control. Now we knew without a doubt, Ethan had a nut allergy.
Sadly, there would be no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Ethan’s near future. No granola bars with little nuts in them. No banana nut muffins. No peanut M&Ms.
As Ethan grew older, it become imperative to teach him about his nut allergy so he wouldn’t just pick something off a snack table at a birthday party and wind up in the ER. So we taught him to avoid nuts and any foods he wasn’t sure about. We showed him what different nuts looked like and put them right in front of him to test his understanding. If he was at a party, he learned to wait for me to pick out his meal or snacks.
You may wonder, is it really possible for a two-year-old to exercise self-control in eating? What if he was served chocolate covered almonds or chocolate cake with slivered almonds on top? Would he be able to resist? Isn’t that too much to expect from a toddler?
I’m happy to report Ethan has never sneaked in a peanut M&M or any other delicious nut delicacy after learning about his allergy. And I’m wondering if there’s something to be learned about self-control in the kitchen from a two year old! If a toddler can avoid delicious foods that he knows are bad for his body, why can’t I do the same?
Maybe you’re like me and you’ve experienced a battle or two in your kitchen lately. You against Rocky Road ice cream. You versus leftover cheesecake. You staring down a bag of Doritos. Only you know the score … who’s winning? If you’ve struggled with having self-control in your eating (and who hasn’t?), here are a few simple lessons from a toddler that may help.
Train Your Mind
From a very young age, Ethan has known about his nut allergy. He has trained his mind to believe that eating nuts is totally off limits. You could bring him his favorite chocolate ice cream bar and sprinkle nuts on it, and he would say "no thank you" without a second thought because of those nuts.
You’re probably not allergic to nuts, but maybe you’re trying to lose a few pounds. You’ve got to train your mind to say no to certain things. Maybe Sunday is your day to have a treat. So if someone offers you a piece of cake on Friday, you don’t rationalize or pause to think about it. You simply say "no thank you."
Know the Consequences
If Ethan eats a nut, he knows he’ll get sick. Then after he recovers, he’ll have to face the music with mom and dad on top of that! So he considers the consequences and decides it’s not worth it to eat nuts. What are the consequences when we eat the wrong foods?
Focus on Positive Alternatives
Just because Ethan can’t eat a Snickers bar doesn’t mean he can’t have other treats. I honestly don’t think he walks around wishing he could eat nuts. He just looks forward to the other things he can have like chocolate chip ice cream, pumpkin pie, and oatmeal raisin cookies!
When I was trying to lose weight, I tried to focus on delicious things I could eat instead of hyper-focusing on all the things I couldn’t. For instance, I didn’t think of cookies all day, but I did look forward to having a mid-afternoon snack of hummus and pita bread. When I focused on what I could eat, it helped me say no to other temptations throughout the day.
Have a Yielded and Obedient Heart
Ethan’s got a great heart. I know he wants to do the right thing. Because his heart is willing to obey his mom and dad, he has learned self-control in many areas of his life, including saying no to nuts!
In my heart, I want to have self-control in all areas of my life, and that includes what I eat. I remember the words of Proverbs 25:28, "Whoever has no rule over his spirit is like a city broken down, without walls." It’s my responsibility to put healthy boundaries in my life. No one else can do that but me.
Like many mothers, after my last baby I had 40 pounds to lose. My husband liked to tease me, "That only comes out with prayer and fasting!" and I suppose he was right. I kept a food journal of what I ate and limited desserts to once a week. Sometimes I kept a "reverse food journal," writing down everything I could eat in one day and checking off the foods as I went along. When all the foods were checked off, I was done eating for the day. And when my stomach was grumbling, it wasn’t easy! Other days, I kept the food journal on the refrigerator so I would be accountable to my police officer, I mean, husband.
Strangely enough, I have found losing weight to be a spiritual experience. I’ve learned so much about self-control from the kitchen. After all, what I put in my mouth has a lot to do with self-control. Making healthy food choices is about delaying gratification and choosing what’s best even when it’s not convenient. Plus exercising the muscle of self-control in the kitchen has given me more self-control in my relationships and other tasks. I’ve found it’s all connected.
So the next time I’m tempted to buy a bag of Oreos, I might just say "nuts!" I’ll think of Ethan and how he can resist nuts, no matter how alluring they’re packaged. And if a preschooler can do it, so can I!
[This article first appeared here at Ungrind on October 9, 2008. We’re republishing it because … well, we just love it that much. We hope you enjoy it too.]