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702: Critical Importance of Family Meals With Shawn Stevenson

Critical Importance of Family Meals With Shawn Stevenson

702: Critical Importance of Family Meals With Shawn Stevenson


Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and I’m here today with a dear friend of mine who is always such a joy to talk to. And this conversation is of course no exception. You’ve probably heard of Shawn Stevenson. He’s the author of the bestseller book Eat Smarter and the international bestseller Sleep Smarter. He’s also the host and creator of The Model Health Show, which is one of the number one podcasts in the world with millions of downloads each month. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and he studied business, biology, nutritional science, and much more. And he’s become a huge and important voice in the health and wellness world.

And we get to go deep on something that is very close to both his part and to mine, which is the importance of family meals, that connection time, the real food that’s involved, and why this is so actually statistically important and one of the most important things we can do with our families. And he goes deep on this based on his new book, Eat Smarter, and the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook. But he really delves into the data of how really small changes, even just three to four meals together per week as a family can be any of the meals of the week. It could be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but just three to four meals actually has a profound effect on the risk of obesity in our children, of mental health issues, so much more. It’s a really pervasive thing.

And he also gives a lot of practical advice on how to implement this and make it a habit within your family. Like I said, it’s always a joy to talk to Shawn. He’s so well spoken, always comes back with data and really applicable examples and tips. So, without any further wait, please enjoy this conversation with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn, welcome back. Thanks so much for being here.

Shawn: I always love talking with you, Katie. My pleasure.

Katie: It is always such a joy to have you here, and we’re going to get to go deep on several topics today. But to springboard into those, is this true? I have a note in my show notes that you, the king of health, did not have a salad until age 25. And so I need to hear a little bit of context about this.

Shawn: It is true, it is true, yes. I grew up as a lot of kids in our culture do today, just largely ultra processed food diet. I should have been an investor in ketchup. When ketchup hit the scene, the different colors, oh no, specifically not ketchup hitting the scene, but when it went from the glass bottles in the Heinz commercials, like they would have it at the top of the Empire State Building and tip it over, then the person could run down and catch it on their hot dog at the bottom. And when the plastic bottles came out, now it’s like I’ve got ketchup on tap and so I would just saturate my meals in ketchup. And, you know, but that kind of set my flavor template or my food experience profile. And yes, it’s true.

I went through a big transformation with my health when I was right around 22 years old. As you know, we’ve talked about before, I was diagnosed with a so-called incurable degenerative spinal condition. My bone density was so low as well. I broke my hip at track practice, which you’re big in the track right now, which is so amazing. But my career was just really taken off. My potential for going to the next level and Junior Olympics, all that kind of stuff, but I couldn’t stay healthy. And no one stopped to ask or think about, and it’s still going on today, what is this kid making his tissues out of? What is he making his body out of? Why is he so brittle as somebody who should be at his prime of life, really? And I transform my health. Which is some of the stuff we’re going to talk about. One of those big steps was simply upgrading the quality of the ingredients that I was using. So I didn’t go from like pulling up at Burger King drive-thru to wheatgrass shots. I found out about this one, there was one Whole Foods in all of St. Louis. When I moved to LA from St. Louis, like four years ago, there were three. And St. Louis is a massive city, by the way. There’s one Whole Foods.

And now that I found out about it, I’m getting grass-fed beef, sprouted grain bun, and instead of those, whatever fries those are at McDonald’s, which those things are scary. And just now getting maybe some oven-baked organic fries and vegetables on the side instead of an apple pie. Just simple shifts like that dramatically improve my health, but everything really went to another level. When I found out about things like some intermittent fasting, some different protocols around different nutritional frameworks, and all that happened around the age of 25 for me. And so that’s when I was able to change my palette enough to where I could tolerate a couple of bites of salad, which was so strange, right? It’s so weird.

But I would, this is true story. My wife, she had made a salad in my mother-in-law just prior to me doing like some fasting around that time. And I had to run over to the trash can because I just couldn’t do it. And but after doing some different fasting protocols and things like that. I ate this bite of salad by myself in solitude back in the corner at that Whole Foods. And I took the first bite and I’m like, “oh my God, this is really good.” This is not an avocation by the way for salads, by the way. There’s some people that are like salads will kill you. It’s not necessarily true, but this was just my experience at the time. And so I ate the salad, like, “oh my God, this is amazing.” And then I took the next bite, but I’m expecting it to be gross. And it still is like good. And I ate the salad. And then this is another true story. I walked out of there and there was somebody walking by me. I don’t know, I’m not this type of person to do this anyways, but I was just like, “I just ate a salad, bro.” And they were just looking at me like, “okay.” And I just walked out of there, kind of like, it was like a movie scene, you know, like, “oh my God, I can eat salad now.” So yes, that’s a true story and super weird, but yeah, that was my experience.

Katie: I love that. And it sounds like this journey that you were on also probably led to a whole paradigm shift and a lot of intentional differences now that you have kids and you’re raising your two sons. And I know having been in your home and getting to spend time with you, your family culture is much different than what it sounds like you were perhaps raised with and that you guys have made some really beautiful intentional choices around that. And I also love that you’ve become such a prominent voice in really advocating for a lot of those changes at the family level, which I do as well. And which is why I’m excited about your new book, which makes that even easier. But can you talk broadly about what led to the inspiration for that and what makes those family meals or meals with family and friends so important, not just on a practical and human connection level, but there’s actually a lot of science to support this as well.

Shawn: Yes, I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this conversation. You’re Wellness Mama, Katie. So when you say this is baked into what you do, like this is really special. And you’ve been so far ahead of the curve in understanding how important all this stuff is and really, our family culture affects every aspect of our lives, truly. And now we have really sound data, a breadth of data, affirming how much our social connections impact our health outcomes. I’ll rattle off a few really quickly.

One of them, I actually cited in the new Eat Smarter Family Cookbook, this was a huge meta-analysis of 148 studies. All right, so it’s not just one study, it’s looking at a huge amount of studies and about 300,000 test subjects. And they looked at all their biomarkers and they looked at in particular their social ties and how they influence their health outcomes. And they found that people who had healthy social ties had about a 50% reduction in all-cause mortality. So what does that mean? People who had healthy relationships had about a 50% reduction from dying early from pretty much everything, all right? Heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases, you name it. There’s some kind of insulation that takes place when we have healthy relationships. Of course, we can get into some of the reasons why. One of those is just a powerful epigenetic controller, epigenetic influence is determining what our genes are really doing, how things are being expressed with our health. We’ll dig in more to that later.

Another study, and this one, I actually just sat down with the director of the study and he’s at Harvard. He’s a professor of psychiatry and he’s now been passed the baton. As the director of the longest running study on human longevity, longitudinal study. That means they’re following people, sometimes irritatingly so, for many, many years and they keep on tracking all their biometrics and their lifestyle factors. When he got the baton passed to him, he couldn’t believe the data himself, so he had to get it reaffirmed with other scientists outside of Harvard.

But their data indicated that our relationships are the number one most influential factor on our health. The number one most influential factor on how long we’re going to live. More so than smoking, than ultra processed foods, than obesity, the list goes on and on. All of those things matter, absolutely, but it is our relationships that has risen above. And here’s why it is, because for me, I’m a big why person, I’m a why guy, I want to know why. It’s because our relationships deeply impact our food choices, our relationships deeply impact our exercise habits, our sleep quality, our stress management practices. It’s one of the most remarkable things, even if we’re experiencing a stressful time in our lives, to be able to share that with someone. You know, I can go on and on and on.

It is our culture. It is our relationships that determine our habits. That’s why it’s the tip of the spear in this conversation. And so now to tie this into where we are today and the reason that I wrote this book was how much really just looking at how much our relationships are impacting our food choices. Yes, but how our interactions around food our interactions around the dinner table are affecting our health outcomes. And I was blown away. To be honest. I was kind of sad at first. How do we not know this? This should be on billboards everywhere. We should know this every single day because it’s so simple and so powerful. What I mean by this, I’ll start with some other researchers at Harvard, some other colleagues. And they compiled a bunch of data looking at family eating behaviors and health outcomes for those families.

And what they found was that families that eat together on a consistent basis, eat significantly more whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and in particular, vital nutrients that help to prevent chronic diseases, and those families tend to eat less ultra-processed foods, namely chips and soda and things like that. All right. So that was fascinating. Like what, why? That’s so interesting. Is there more data on this? And as I do, I started digging deeper. And I came across two studies I’ll combine here. One of them was published in Pediatrics, and one of them was published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. And these researchers found that families that eat together just three times a week, those children in that family have significantly reduced incidence of developing obesity and significant reduced capacity or incidence of developing disordered eating as well. And there again, this thing was rising up that there’s something protective about eating together with our children.

And last study I’ll share here really quickly. What about for us as adults? You know, we’re not influenced by eating together as much. No, we’re big, we’re strong, and we’re resilient. But we’re really in many ways just big adult babies. We’re heavily influenced by our peers, by our environment, by our family. And if we’re honest, a lot of us are going to feel like our family is the biggest determinant of my choices and my happiness in my life. It affects me so much. And what these researchers found was that, and they looked at office workers at IBM. And they found that, regardless of what was going on at work, as long as the workers were able to get home and have dinner with their families, their work morale stayed high. Their stress levels stayed in check and their job performance stayed high. But as soon as work started cutting into their ability to have dinner with their families, their work morale started to plummet. Their stress levels exceedingly elevated and their work performance suffered. So again, what’s going on here?

And by the way, if folks have not been privy to this information. There’s another study published in JAMA that found that up to 80% of physician visits today are for stress-related illnesses. It is like the most consistent ingredient in degenerative conditions, infectious diseases, trauma, the list goes on and on. There’s a huge stress component to all of it. So this is why this matters when we’re talking about having dinner with our families, is that there is a remarkable degree of lowered incidence of stress. Not just lowered incidence of stress, but helping us to metabolize stress because we’re all going to experience stress. It’s not about trying to hide from stress, but being with other people, and I’ll just throw one of these out here and I’ll throw this back to you, why this works, why this matters so much. When we are around people that we love. There is a remarkable increase in our production of hormones, things like oxytocin. And oxytocin has been found, it’s one of the most noted in the data to kind of counteract cortisol, the function of this glorified stress hormone. And again, helping to bring us to homeostasis. And we get that production of oxytocin just by being around people that we love, especially in close proximity, especially around food.

Katie: Oh, I love that. And I’m with you. I feel like these things absolutely should be on billboards. And I’ve seen this trend over and over actually in the health and wellness world as the simplest things that are often the most impactful are often overlooked because of their simplicity, whether it’s the importance of family meals that I would put up there at the top of the list, but also things like very basics, the morning sunlight, the getting to sleep and having a good sleep routine. These are things that are largely free or in the case of family meals actually can be less expensive because you’re cooking at home and saving money versus eating out.

And like you, I know I got into this world because I read those trends of what our children were going to face and that they would be the first generation in centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. And all these rates that we’re seeing play out of kids having higher rates of chronic disease. And of course, part of this does go back to the trends of what kids are consuming. And like you just explained so well, the fact that how we eat has also changed so drastically. But can you speak a little bit to the kind of what I consider really alarming trends among food consumption for children, especially in the US?

Shawn: Yeah. You know, I’m proud that I get to share this information. This is the first major published book that has this information, but also this is a call to arms. A lot of people have now heard, you know, it’s been just going around the internet for a little bit of time now that the average American’s adult here in the United States, the average diet of the American adult in the United States, about 60% of our diet is made of ultra-processed foods. And this has been going up precipitously in the last couple of decades.

And just to make a quick distinction here, by the way, humans have been processing food forever, right? Cooking a food is processing the food. Taking a tomato and turning it into spaghetti sauce or pressing the oil out of an olive, baking a sweet potato and mashing it up. These are all processes, but these are minimal processes. We can still relate to or connect with the origin of that food. There is still a resonance of a natural component or connection to that food.

Ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, this is when we see a field of wheat and somehow that becomes a bowl of cocoa pebbles. We see a field of corn and somehow that becomes Lucky Charms and Doritos. That food is now so far removed from anything natural. There is no way for us to identify. We were just coming into this planet. And we don’t have any reference point or we live in a hunter gatherer tribe. We’re not going to be able to identify where that bag of Cool Ranch Doritos come from regardless of what Jay Leno says. Now that, see that was embedded Easter egg right there. Jay Leno was on the commercials for the Cool Ranch Doritos back in the day.

Anyway, so here’s the thing. Ultra-processed foods are without a doubt, they’re also riddled with a plethora of synthetic chemicals. Food dyes, synthetic flavors, additives, and not to mention another revelation that’s coming forth in this book from the environmental working group. And by the way, a lot of people have been hearing about glyphosate, for example, this insecticide that is just so prevalent in our culture today. This insecticide is classified by the WHO now as a Class 2A carcinogen. This means that it probably causes cancer. And unfortunately, the environmental working group has uncovered that about up to 90%, 80 to 90% of grain products on store shelves are contaminated with glyphosate now. It’s nuts. It’s crazy. And so these are other things that you’re going to find in these ultra-processed foods in bulk.

Now, with that being said, so that’s where we are with the average American adults diet, 60% ultra-processed fake food. Our children. This is again, the first published book that has this data. This was a huge analysis done and published in the journal JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. And they were tracking food consumption by US children, aged two to nineteen, for about 20 years. All right, so it’s a big data set. And they found that the average American child in 1999 was already eating 61% of their diet as ultra-processed fake foods. Fast forward to 2018 at the conclusion of the study, the average American child’s diet is now almost 70% ultra-processed food. And it is continuing to increase. Something is seriously wrong. And this transformation has just happened in the last like four decades, four to five decades, and especially the last thirty decades. It is just skyrocketed as its prevalence in our diet. And so, again, this is, I’m excited and happy that I get to share this information with the world, but also I want people to take action on this because it’s something that we need to change.

Katie: Wow. And that, especially the ultra-processed food connection, like I didn’t even realize the stats weren’t that bad. But a few days ago, I got a DEXA scan. And for people who aren’t familiar with that, it shows you your bone density, but also your breakdown of fat and muscle and your body composition. And one of the things that can really accurately pinpoint is visceral fat. And I was excited to see that even though I still would love to reduce my overall body fat a lot still, my visceral fat was essentially zero. And I asked the person doing the scan about it and he said, “yeah, that’s often tied to ultra-processed foods.” And I asked him like, “well, what kind of numbers do you see on that?” And he’s like, “I saw a guy earlier that had five pounds of visceral fat, which puts him in the extremely high risk of, because that again is tied to all-cause mortality.” And he said, there’s a really strong connection there with these ultra-processed foods and that dangerous fat around our organs that can lead to some really negative health outcomes. So it’s really staggering that we’re seeing kids eat that much ultra-processed food and that that’s like the foundation that they’re getting nutritionally in those really, really important years.

I’d love to shift a little bit into the practical realm because hopefully this has already made such a strong case for the importance of eating real foods and eating them with people we love. And I know also for a lot of families, this can be a little bit of an elusive target and it can be hard to prioritize, hard to actually implement, even when we understand how beneficial it is. So can you share some ways that we can actually implement this in a consistent, habitual way in our families and make it more rewarding and consistent and get our kids involved too?

Shawn: Absolutely. So what I want to do here is let’s tie in a minimum effective dose. Right? Where can we really get some quality bang for our buck? For me, and you mentioned this a little bit earlier, just really kind of perked my ears up when you mentioned this, but finding things that are cost effective, especially for families today, is very important. Part of the reason that we were so inundated with ultra processed foods, myself specifically growing up, is I lived in a glorified food desert, growing up in South City, St. Louis. Growing up in Ferguson, Missouri, this is just what I’m surrounded by. There should be laws against how many fast food restaurants were in proximity to my apartment complex, but there aren’t, and not in those conditions. And so every fast food place that you can name was within like a two or three mile radius in my apartment, every one of them. And many of them within walking distance. And as soon as I even go out my apartment complex, there’s a liquor store right there, right across from the parking lot. And not to mention all the other liquor stores, all the shelves lined with ultra-processed food, the grocery stores, there isn’t like an organic section of the grocery stores, just pretty much ultra-processed food. There is of course, there’s a produce section, but most of the food on those shelves are made from the same, maybe ten things. Primarily corn, soy, wheat, and different iterations of those things and sugar extracted, in particular from corn. And so we have this appearance of variety, but it’s really the same stuff.

And so I’m saying all this to say that. Had my family known that eating together on a consistent basis, even though we were living in poverty in the United States, and I’m not exaggerating, we used to get food from charities. There was a place called the Hosea House by our apartment that we would get food from, government assistance, all those things. And also, being in that environment and already being stricken with a health condition like my mother and experiencing obesity and diabetes, the data is very clear at this point that it makes it more difficult to get out of poverty. That’s the crazy part about it. And she was trying, she was working herself to death really, you know, and I’m not exaggerating with that either. She was working overnight at a convenience store to make ends meet. And one night she was, you know, trying to fend off an assailant, somebody trying to rob the store. And she was stabbed eight times. My mom is different though. She’s different. She’s a very tough person and she was able to subdue the guy and police came the whole thing but when she went in to see the physician to get you know stitched up and all the things. After she was in recovery, he told her, “if you weren’t a heavyset woman, you would have died. You being overweight saved your life.” Now, do you think that she’s ever going to want to let go of that fat? It’s her protection. And you know, you shared something similar with me about that. And so it just really kind of set in place like, this environment is so volatile. And this body fat is protection.

And again, had we known that simply eating together more often could be some kind of an insulation against all of that chaos on the outside world, I know my family would have done it, but we didn’t know it mattered at all. I can count on my two hands how many times I sat down and ate a meal with my family. My mother, my stepfather, and my two siblings. And I’m not, these are usually holidays, by the way, in those times, whenever those were so far, in few. And so here’s where, I’m going to tie all this together right now. So one other study that especially hit my heart.

And when I read this study, this is when I decided I have to write this book right now. And this was published in the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior. And they were looking at minority children who were generally in the context of a low-income community like me. And what they found was that children who ate with their families four times a week, no matter what meal it was, those children consumed four to five servings of fruits and vegetables five days a week at least. And significantly lower amounts of ultra-processed foods, chips and soda than other kids who didn’t eat with their families as often, if at all, like I did growing up. I did not get that opportunity. And in particular, the research noted if the TV was never or rarely on during family meals, contributed really judiciously or it was another one of those factors that reduced their consumption of ultra-processed foods. And why does that matter? It’s because number one, of course, is a distraction, but also it’s constantly advertising, especially back in the day, for ultra-processed foods. We don’t turn on the television and see ads for, you know, broccoli or avocados. Avocados doesn’t have a big marketing team behind them. You’re seeing constantly just a barrage of commercials for ultra processed foods. And so that’s going to guide our attractiveness, what we’re attracted to.

And one of my other missions as well, recently, Katie, is just helping people understand that cravings are cultural. We crave what we’re conditioned by. We crave what we’ve been exposed to. And so right now there are people in Cambodia who might have a craving for deep fried tarantula. And that’s a real thing. It’s a delicacy, apparently, but it would freak us out. It’s just not a part of our culture. In our culture, the majority of the food that we’re eating is fake food. Even the tarantula is real, right? The tarantula, you could tell where the tarantula came from. Creepy as it might be, but we’re eating, you know, things that are equally as strange because it’s not real food. All the Honey Buns and the Funyuns and the Cheez-Its and the list goes on and on. All these things that I was eating on a daily basis.

And so here’s where we can put this into practicality for ourselves. I mentioned this study earlier about three times per week. We saw that significant reduction in obesity and disordered eating in children. This study found four times a week to get some similar effects as far as like diet quality. And so my advocate for everybody is three meals a week with friends and family. Friends count too, by the way. Just having meals with people that you love. But in particular, if you have kids, this is essential. There is something powerful. We’re going to talk about why. Why sitting down and eating with our kids is so powerful and a protection for their health and our health as well. So that’s step number one. Let’s make this a mission, our modus operandi. Our North Star to have at least three meals a week with our family.

Now here’s the practicality piece, we have to schedule it. Just like we have this conversation scheduled. We have to put it on the calendar because we might have the best of intentions, but life happens. And if your family is as important as all the other stuff that you put on the calendar, which you would say, most people would say that my family is most important. We need to act like it and we’ve got to put on the calendar and make it permanent, like put it in a place of permanence. And so, and you can make it whatever meals you want. This could be family dinner on Monday and Wednesday and brunch on Sunday. That’s actually the pattern that we are in as kind of our minimum effective dose as a family over here. But that can, it can change from week to week. But even, you know, recently my wife, now that we live in LA and the traffic is real, the myths are not a myth. It is real. It can be, it can go from the 30 minute drive to an hour drive and like that. And so she got caught on the other side of town. And she had intended on cooking dinner, as a family dinner night, and she got stuck in traffic. And so instead of me just throwing it all out the window and just, you know, boys, you go play video games or whatever, I did hit the DoorDash button. And of course there’s going to be higher quality options I can get on DoorDash, but I got the food and I sat down and ate with my sons. We still ate together. And we had a great time, we connected, you know, and I got to see their relationship and I got to see a new entity that’s created with just the boys sitting down and eating together for that night, you know? It’s just like, it’s so special and valuable. And so, that’s number one. Three meals a week. Pick whatever those are for you. Make it sacred. Make it sacred.

It is so valuable and you got to fit it to your lifestyle and also be gentle with yourself. Give yourself some grace. Because now we can get into like, what are some other strategies on making this happen with the kids? Because if you had a culture thus far where everybody is doing what I basically did growing up, which is we get our food and then we disperse. Oftentimes we’re in front of a screen somewhere, playing video games or watching TV or going outside, hanging with my friends, whatever it was. So, to take that behavior, which we’ve got to acknowledge, we’re addicted, we’re all addicted to our devices. And you want to rip the band-aid off and say, “I was just listening to Wellness, Mama. And there was this really handsome scientist on there.” You can say that, it’s fine. “There was a scientist on there saying we need to eat together three meals a week. All right? So you need to get off your device and come and eat dinner with us.” That’s probably not the way to do it. There’s going to be a revolt from the townspeople. As with anything that we’re really cognitively connected to so deeply is we’ve got to replace that behavior with something of equal or greater value. You can’t just come, going cold turkey is, you’re going to go through a detox and it might not be pretty.

All right, so I’ve developed a bunch of strategies and I put so many different things and just kind of mental cues, things to think about into the book. But also you’ve got to understand, Katie and for everybody, like every family is different. Your superpower. Is that you know your family better than anybody. You know your family, you know your kids better than anyone else on planet Earth. The problem however, and also our spouse’s too. You know, our significant others, we know them better than anybody. But a lot of times, and part of this is because what my mother would say to me when I was like, like, I went away to college, I would come home. I didn’t go too far, I was like 90 minutes away. And I would drive home sometimes and do my laundry, of course. And I would, one time I came back and my little brother, who was 15 at the time, maybe 14, he was smoking, sitting outside of our house. And I lost it. I’m like, because he saw what happened with our parents. Like I just thought that he knew, like we’re not going to do that. And so I’m going, I run into the house like, “mom, he’s out there, you know, why are you letting him do this, disrespect you, da da da.” And she looked at me, she said, “I’m tired, Shawn. I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m tired. I’d rather have him do it here than out wherever”, whatever justification she gave. But the thing that stuck with me that she was tired and she was progressively saying that more and more, but she was just her energy to be able to deal with that, that fatigue. It is a real thing.

And so part of the reason that we don’t want to acknowledge that we know our family so well is that we’re tired and we don’t want to deal with it. I’m saying this from experience in many different ways. And so oftentimes, we just want people to act the way we want them to act. Right? And we don’t want them to kill our vibe, especially if we’re being positive about something, you know, just don’t kill my vibe. All right, do what I said, act right. But inevitably, people are going to do different stuff that you don’t necessarily agree with.

And here’s where I’m getting at with this is that knowing that we know them better than anybody, if we can work on our own personal culture and building up our own energy, it makes it easier to do what I’m going to say, which is having the capacity to practice patience, observation, and to employ our powerful, psychological parenting tools, which is we know what excites our kids. We also know what de-excites them. We know what irritates them, we know what makes them sad, makes them happy, all the things. We’ve got to integrate that into our communication. And it’s probably going to be different as you know, Katie, from child to child. My two sons, very different motivations. My youngest son, he does not like to be told what to do. Never has since he was a baby. He always wanted to do his own thing. And so for him, as long as he’s got a predetermined objective, like these are the three things we need you to do tomorrow. Like he does it first. You don’t have to tell him. He does it first so he doesn’t have to hear from you and he can do what he wants. He wants to get the work objectives or whatever it is out of the way so he can be free.

My older son is the opposite. He’s going to do all the stuff that he wants to do first, knowing he’s got the thing in the back of his head that needs to get done, and he’ll do it last minute. And you got to remind him. All right, so, but I’m going to make myself suffer if I’m trying to address this act like a, you know, behavior change, instead of understanding their own personality and catering things for that, right? I make myself suffer because I’m ignoring what life is showing me.

Okay, so last part here, how do we put this into play? All right, so finding some things that are of equal or greater value is going to depend on your family. That’s what I was all setting that up for. So what I’m going to share is not necessarily going to be ideal for you and your family structure, but I’m just giving some ideas. So to make it more exciting and something to look forward to for everybody involved, you’ve got to really bring in some emotion. You’ve got to bring in some connectivity. You’ve got to bring in this feeling that I’m getting something really rewarding from this. All right? And so for us, one of those things is, I’ll just use a food example, which food isn’t often the best motivation per se. You’ve got to be a little bit careful here. But especially if you’re doing higher quality stuff, you can deploy this tactic sometimes. And so knowing that there’s a family dinner, maybe my youngest son, he’s been gaming with his friends or whatever, and knowing he might not want to get pulled away from that, I’ll be like, “hey, you know, we’ve got dinner tonight. What dessert do you want? Do you want the sweet potato, popsicles or do you want”, I just made that up. Let me actually use something from the book. We’ve got some really delicious cherry frozen yogurt pops, right? So do you want the cherry frozen yogurt pops or the snicker bites from the East Martyrs Family Cookbook by the way? And just give them those options because also If you want a little psychological tactic for all of us, but really with kids too. We don’t necessarily like to be told what to do or even what we’re eating sometimes. We like options. We like the appearance that we have some kind of freedom of choice, but it’s really a cultural construct.

And so just giving a couple of options, I would do this with my youngest son with some smoothies in the morning when he wasn’t really into that. I’d be like, “okay, so do you want a blueberry smoothie or strawberry smoothie today?” And just as soon as he’s invited into the process. That made him immediately start to give input. Now, and also… He’s now invested in this, so the follow through is there. And so that’s what I’ll do. Like, “hey, do you want the Snicker Bites for dessert or do you want the Cherry Frozen Yogurt Pops?” “Oh yeah, Cherry Frozen Yogurt Pops, cool.” So now he knows he might be on his game, but dinner’s coming and he’s going to get that at the end of it. Also, behavioral things or cultural things, like creating your own kind of family rituals. A lot of the time, I’m not going to say most of the time, but maybe 50% of the time. Our family dinners somehow evolve into freestyle battles. Like we’re going off the top and rapping and like going back and forth and kind of passing. We have this little echo mic. I don’t know, it’s got some kind of effects on it. And we’ll pass this microphone literally around the table. And to see also the expansion in my kids’ creativity and the communication with each other. What is the energy behind this? Are we going to battle each other or are we going to compliment? It’s another little fun thing that we do. Or this can be there’s great games and things like that. We’ve been doing this for generations, Family Game Night. But you’ve got to find something for yourself that makes this rewarding for your family.

And super quick last thing, I would highly encourage a pre-meal implement as well to kind of get to hit the reset button. For centuries, prayer has been involved around eating. And part of the remarkable benefit of that is just being able to stop and to be present. And so whatever that might be for you, that could be a moment of family prayer. It could be a gratitude practice where everybody goes around the table. We do that a lot of times, share three things that you’re grateful for from that day. And it helps to open us up, get us to thinking as well, because we see what we filter for. So even through the days now, we’re starting to look for those little moments of things we could be grateful for, because we’re going to share that family dinner tonight. It could be tiny things, like I’m just, I’m grateful for this food. Whatever it is, but we will go through and share three. And what it does is it opens everybody up, gets them talking. And sometimes you can find like there’s a certain tone or energy that your kid is expressing even in that moment that, oh, like they might’ve had a tough day today. Right? And so now we can find a way to cater the conversation.

And I shared this earlier and this is the last, last part of this piece. Part of the reason that this works so well is that we get to see our children. We get to have them right in front of us and see the subtleties. We get to see their body language. We get to hear the frequency in their voice and pick up things that might be a little bit off. Sometimes linger on for too long and something really tragic happens later. This is another reason why this matters so much is that the dinner table is a unifier. It is a unifier for families. It is a common space where we can all connect. And we can keep this really powerful entity, this family spirit alive and well, and be able to offload and to share, and also to humanize ourselves as parents. You know, and to share our struggles. That’s another exercise that we’ve done and I encourage you we can do this as well. Everybody go around the table and share one thing they failed at today. Or something that hurt them. And so those are just a couple of things to make this more attractive and more more of a bonding experience for our children practically and not superficially.

Katie: Yeah, I love so many things about what you just said. And for me, when my oldest turned 16, that timeline really hit me hard. And I realized, I’ve read statistics about how by the time, I think they’re 12, we’ve already spent 75% of the time we will spend with them in their lifetime. And that number, of course, keeps decreasing. And so that was another great reminder of just the importance of those meals, those small things that actually can become such the big memories.

And I love how your approach really takes into account, like in your own journey, the baby steps into that this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing, you don’t have to drastically change your entire life overnight. In fact, that’s actually not the best way to make it stick to begin with. But how you talk about like you just spoke about building it into your family culture and the importance of getting kids involved in that choice. That’s a I feel like gold parenting advice across the board. If they have to get dressed, let them choose this outfit or this outfit versus telling them they have to get dressed, like remove the battle, add a decision whenever possible, and especially with food. I think. Especially with kids too, the beautiful part is they adapt often quicker than we do. So you mentioned cravings can be cultural. I feel like kids, especially when you make a shift in your family culture, they actually adapt and learn to love the new thing maybe sometimes faster than the adults in the family do. And if you can just make those little shifts, it really does snowball and the kids can then often lead the charge.

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I know we’re going to run out of time and there’s so much more in this cookbook. Maybe we’ll do a round two, hopefully many more rounds in the future with you. But any kind of rapid fire tips on implementation whether it comes to making cooking easier, making real food easier, I know that your book is packed with that. But as an example, a couple that I would throw on the list is I use an app called Real Plans, which lets you plan as many or as few meals as you want around your dietary preferences. So that’s simplified that for me. And also things like bulk cooking, at least the protein. So that’s the part that takes the longest often. So if I have pre-made a bunch of beef and chicken or whatever, that shortens the hands-on time every night with dinner, but I would love to hear some strategies from you because I feel like the often, even with the best of intentions, that implementation can still be tough in the beginning especially.

Shawn: Yes, I love this so much. And even cooking, I’m a huge advocate of making enough for leftovers. That takes so much stress out of later decisions. And so even with that though, one of the things that I’m highlighting in the book is just upgrading our kitchen culture, period, overall. And some of the things that we’ve normalized that are not very normal, just because again, it’s just been a part of our culture. And one of those things is the intrusive nature of plastics. And there was just a study just published in 2022. Huge study and again, everybody should know about this by now. And they were looking at how many microplastics and nanoplastics are integrating themselves into your food and quote, microwave safe foods, microwave safe dishes. All right.

And so what they found was that, just a centimeter wide, all right, three centimeters wide space of that plastic dish that you’re heating your food up in in the microwave is releasing billions of nanoplastics and millions of microplastics into your food in just that three centimeter area and the container that you’re going to be heating your food up in is much bigger than that. But they also noted that just keeping your food in that stuff for prolonged periods. Is going to over time pull in more microplastics and nanoplastics into your food.

And why does this matter? Well, I want to share this with you really quickly. I haven’t even talked about this yet. This was published in Clinical and Experimental Pediatrics in May of 2022. And they were looking at plastic bottles and the impact that it’s probably having on children who are bottle fed. And of course there’s some concern about what they’re being fed in the first place, but even with it being breast milk coming through that plastic bottle, they’re now finding high levels of triglycerides in those babies. High cholesterol, higher VLDL, very low dense lipoprotein, and also other markers indicating cardiovascular injury in our babies. Not to mention the BPA metabolites coming through their urine. This is not a joke. This is not like I’m just… Because here’s the thing. I’m a very analytical person, yes, absolutely. But I work to be as unbiased as possible and understand that everything has its place because even that plastic bottle has its place as something viable and even potentially beautiful. Life-saving, yes. However, is it the best option and is there going to be potential detrimental side effect from that? We have to be honest about that.

And now we know there are too many studies on our relationship with plastics in our environment, in our culture, leading to some really powerful degradation of our health, in particular for our children. And so with all that said, making enough for leftovers, absolutely. But in the book, I’m also sharing, here’s some better things to store your food in. And we’ve been doubling down. This was not overnight, by the way. We didn’t just get all of our plastics out. No, no. We just, I just got a set of stainless steel containers. Right? And I just got a set and I’m just like, “let me see how this does”. So we did that for a period of time. We’ve got some glass storage containers as well. And just like finding out, you know, what works for us, what is safe and smart, what has the most durability, just experimenting. And now we’ve lowered, reduced the toxic load of what we’re storing our food in. And so a lot of this data and pretty much everything that we’ve gone through today is featured in the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook. I’m very, very proud and happy about that. But to put all of that into something that is so visually beautiful and the art and the graphs and all the different things that you get to see along the journey. It just makes it so much more human and able to touch it. And it’s just something that’s more visceral. And, you know, I’m very excited about this because simple changes like that. Like just upgrading our kitchen culture and what we’re doing in the kitchen. Being able to invite our kids in. We talk about that as well. All of these things can be a game changer for our family culture and the health of our community overall.

Katie: I love it. And like I said, I know there’s so much more to cover than we can get through in one hour. So I hope that you will be a guest again in the future. It’s always so much fun to have a conversation with you. But I also hope that everyone will check out the new book and all of your books. I’ll link to them all in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm. I’m always a huge fan of your work and I love that you are really bringing the focus to the family with this one. Speaking of books, other than of course your own, I would be really curious to know if there’s a book or a number of books that if you have read either recently or at some point in your life that really profoundly impacted you and if so, what they are and why.

Shawn: You know, I’ve got a recent one. It’s called Staying Sane in an Insane World. The title alone. It’s by Greg Harden. And Greg was Tom Brady’s early mentor at Michigan. And we all know Tom Brady’s story, you know, 7 Super Bowl champs, victories, 10 Super Bowls is like unheard of, it’s crazy stuff. But he was about to quit football. He was going to quit. Until he met Greg. And working at the University of Michigan, Greg happened upon this kid coming into his office, who actually came because of another Heisman Trophy winner that Greg had worked with previously named Desmond Howard. And I’m sorry, Super Bowl champ, another, Tom did not win the Heisman Trophy. But he did a lot of other cool stuff later on. But he was like fourth string quarterback at the time and thinking about quitting, seriously considering that and his interaction with Greg changed everything. Obviously, not to mention Greg work with Michael Phelps and as I mentioned, Desmond Howard and the list goes on and on all these great Olympic athletes and.

But most importantly, most importantly, everyday folks who don’t get that. A glamorized publication of what they’ve been able to achieve. But real people who hold our society together and the impact that he’s had. I’m one of those people. I didn’t know, I was shocked I didn’t know about Greg, but I have an opportunity to sit down and he was coming onto my show. And I asked him a question and then he used me as the kind of prototype or the thread in which he used all of the stuff that he was teaching in the book. He used me because he studied me before coming to see me. Like he deeply studied me and it was weird but incredibly humbling. And yeah, so that book, Staying Sane in an Insane World. Love it. It’s sitting on the arm of my couch downstairs. I always keep like three books. That one has not moved. It is still there just as a reminder, even when I see it to just like, wow, that was a powerful interaction that changed my life. And I read that book cover to cover. And it’s just a really great one. So that would be my book most recently.

Katie: I love it. That’s a new recommendation for me and I’m excited to check it out as well. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. And lastly for today, any parting advice that you want to leave with the listeners that could be related to everything we talked about with families and food or unrelated life advice that you feel is important.

Shawn: Wow. You know, we don’t get another opportunity as you just said, said this earlier, you know, having that experience with your 16 year-old and we don’t get another opportunity to do this parenting thing, you know, like each of these steps along the way is a different step. And we don’t get to go back. And so what I’m advocating for, for myself and for us as parents in this world today, is to really be here right now and to enjoy the process as much as we can from here on out. Enjoy where our children are at right now. Acknowledge where they’re at right now. Embrace the struggles of where they’re at right now. And participate as a more conscious parent in this process.

And the biggest ingredient here is just attention. Attention is the most valuable part of this equation. Our attention today can get pulled in so many of these different directions and these things are so attractive. We’re living at the golden age of television right now. There’s so much good stuff to watch. Not that we can’t do that, of course, and we can do that as a family sometimes as well. But the most important investment with our attention is our families. And so I’m an advocate, huge advocate right now for yes, we’ve got to invest in ourselves, fill up our cups so that we can, you know, get from our overflow. And investing in our families. Because if you ask people, like, what are you doing all this for? Why are you working so hard? What is the most important thing for you? The majority of the time is because of my family. I love my family. My family is the most important thing in my life.

And so what I’m wanting us to do now is to be in alignment with that. Make sure that our actions are aligned with that sentiment, that deep sentiment we feel in our hearts. Now we’ve got to make our actions line up with that. And this could be a beautiful process. It could be a joyful process. And there can be turbulence along the way. And so this is why we do what we do. I know, Katie, you are a phenomenal resource for everybody. I appreciate you so much. You have no idea. And being able to add to this because my family is so important to me, with the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook. It’s been a huge investment. And you know, people say labor of love, but truly, like there’s so much love is going into this book. My family is so much a part of this book. And what we’re doing now is to create a model and to be an example for change. Because with everybody listening, the most important thing that you can do to affect global change or societal change is to change the microculture in your own household first and foremost and then let your family and the example when people see you do the talking. So that’s what I would say.

Katie: That’s absolutely beautiful and very in alignment. I feel like I echo everything you just said. And actually that’s been a recurring theme in my life of late has been just be here now, be present, especially with our families, especially with our kids. And I am so grateful for the work that you’re doing. I’m so grateful for all these resources you have. Like I said, I’ll link to where people can find you and follow you and keep learning from you in the show notes for all of you guys listening. But Shawn, it’s always such a pleasure. I’m deeply grateful. Thank you for being here today.

Shawn: Thank you for having me.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.



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