Well, I take that back. If you are wearing the socks or the no shoes in public people will probably avoid you - that can be a good strategy on those days you don’t want to talk to anyone. But weird shoes, like 5 finger Vibrams will get you plenty of conversation as will hiking dirt trails barefoot.
There’s the "Didn't they get sued?" law suit to discuss, "I heard those are good for you?", "My cousin's got plantar fasciitis, will those help?", and "Don't those hurt your feet?"… oh the list is long! Most people want to know, “Do you like them?" And many people inform me that there is no way they could wear those shoes — "They look painful!"
We get the most comments when people see our family walking barefoot outside. As well as do-gooders vocalizing their concern for my children’s health by being barefoot (unshod). Although their are many people trying to help and who are concerned about sharp objects, sticks, rocks hurting my children, I actually feel sad when I see little kids (and especially babies) in thick, structured foot casts…also known as shoes. I feel so good when my kids walk barefoot because I know the results and have seen the long term effects on life-long shod feet. I am living it myself!
People want the best for their kids. And they follow what they think is the best. Spending lots of money on special tutors, therapists and technology to help their children thrive. Often times this is money well spent. But I would argue that it is money wasted when spent on certain technologies, a big waste of big money is spent on expensive shoes. It is a HUGE misconception that expensive, "strong", supportive shoes are best. Well, they might be best for the shoe manufacturers, but if you want strong supportive feet, you don't want to outsource the work of the feet to the shoe. And here's why:
I have worked with people for years who are in pain. Not just foot pain, but body pain, and much of their pain may result in a big part from their body’s base—their feet. Feet are meant to be extremely nimble like your hand. They have 33 (THIRTY THREE) joints. When you step on a stick or a rock, your ankle is not supposed to collapse to one side and sprain, or have your knee and hip take the brunt of that stick, instead your foot should deform around the object and your ENTIRE body will adjust accordingly. Hip problems and even neck problems are often started with gait and feet dysfunction. A simple thought to consider is this: How well would your hands work if you duct taped them for the majority of your life? Unable to spread your fingers or feel the things they touched? How well would the fingers report back to the brain? Would those pathways stay alive? How well would you be able to use your hands if you tried to after 10 years of having them wrapped? Would they be atrophied and sore/painful? How would you start to use your wrists, elbows, shoulders and spine differently if you were unable to use your fingers? By putting kids’ feet in shoes they will lose much of the muscle, pliability, brain to foot connection, and connection to the rest of the body that is required for ultimate health. Furthermore, the 33 joints in the feet become static and the joints above the feet have to pick up the slack. That means ankles, knees, hips and spine get unnatural loads and work. No big deal for a day. A very big deal for every day. If you want more info, here are some great articles and videos:
- Choosing healthy shoes for your children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FgcvJvpUhY&feature=share&list=FLgtX7eei9MQfEWO8ZBCjKVg
Another thing to consider is “grounding”. This might sound sort of woo-woo, tree hugging, hippie-ish. But it isn’t, it is science. We are animals, who really are healthiest in nature. Part of that is the process of electricity exchange that should occur between our bodies and the earth. Without getting into this too much at this point, look into books such as: "Approaching the Natural" by Sid Garza-Hillman. The truth is that we need this electron exchange to be balanced and at some level we probably realize that without the science. That is why it feels good to lie on the beach or to feel grass on your bare feet. Putting your feet in warm sand is almost like a spa treatment. Ocean water. Sun. And once you get used to it, walking unshod on twigs, rocks, dirt, mud becomes a very soothing experience.
What is really funny is to tell your kids to TAKE THEIR SHOES OFF when they go OUTSIDE! Their friends will look at you like you are insane! It’s the best! Commonly heard around my house is “get those shoes off." But I am not protecting my rugs or furniture, I want them out of those little foot caskets as soon as possible. Yes, they wear shoes everyday when they go to school and we have to wear them shopping or out to eat etc. But as soon as possible I try to get us all out of them. That being said, there are MANY improvements that can be made in the shoes we wear. There are shoe options that will make the foot/body MUCH worse then others. We need to understand the key pieces of the shoe anatomy: toe box, the heel, sole, and the attachment of the shoe to the foot (or not) to really evaluate a pair of shoes. I would also add the material as a bonus characteristic.
The best shoes for babies and children are no shoes. For adults no shoes are great, however, if your feet have been in shoes for 40 years, it might not work to immediately move to no shoe. Instead, you’ll benefit and reduct the risk of injury by transitioning. Luckily, there is a book on exactly how to “Whole Body Barefoot” and you can get it here.
For those times you or your kids can’t be barefoot, the next best option would be shoes that meet the following (shoe-teria) shoe criteria:
1. The toe box of the shoe needs to be much wider then you probably think. The toe box is the part of the shoe that holds your toes. Have you heard the old saying that you should be able to play the piano in your shoes? That means be able to really move and spread those toes around. If you take a shoe to your toes and your toes are wider then the toe box, when you put your toes in the shoe you will be heading down toe deformity row, and taking a turn at bunion’s pass. Not to mention short cutting your balance in the future and working toward deadening the intrinsic muscles of the feet. Ideally, you’d like the toe box to not be lifting up off the ground but flat as well (no toe spring).
2. The heel should not be raised at all. Over the last few years I have mentioned to so many clients and friends that they really shouldn’t be wearing a heel. ALL of them say that they aren’t. But ALL of them are. What?!? When I say heel, people think stiletto. When I say heel, I think anything that raises the heel from the level of the ball of the foot. An easily overlooked example is the tennis shoe. 99% of tennis shoes (my unofficial stab at that %) have heels. And here is an image of what your body looks like with even a 1/2” heel (like a common tennis shoe).
3. The sole of the shoe should be flexible. Remember, your feet want to move, they want to feel the rocks, the sticks and the uneven ground. These are movement vitamins for your feet, their muscles and joints. If the sole of the shoe is immobile, it is like wearing a cast for the feet.
4. The upper part of the shoe needs to connect to the bottom part without your feet and toes having to hold on to it. Yep, you guess it, flip-flops are out. They may seem minimal, and they are, but you have to change your entire gait when you wear them. It is very difficult to have a natural gait if you need to hold onto your shoes with your toe gripping muscles. This will also be the same in clogs (which I love by the way). But I don’t wear them anymore, as I don’t want the hammer toe, the foot pain or the lack of using my butt muscles when I walk. Yes, you can get a better butt by making better shoe choices - how’s that for motivation?
I am going to tell you that I have not had much luck finding a single shoe for kids or adults in any shoe store that meets this criteria. Business idea for anyone interested! I really have to search. So, to hopefully help others find better options here are some great tips/resources:
My favorite fall and winter shoe so far is to buy Minnetonka’s a bit too big and with the soft sole. They are basically a leather foot covering and even these have a too narrow toe box. However, because the material so flexible, you can order them a bit large for the toes and you won’t experience blisters or rubbing. With a nice pair of socks, this is a very comfortable shoe that really meets the shoe-teria above. And, you can get them for the whole family. I really want them to make the Fringe boot in a soft sole. Please Minnetonka? I also love the Vibram 5 fingers in Spring and Summer. You can wear them in and out of the water, wash them and really enjoy people from everywhere asking you what you think of them. They might not look super cool, but they feel awesome and certainly are a conversation starter! Plus, it is fun to be teased for being a dork. Take it from me, as an adult it is a plus (it wasn't quite as fun as a kid.)
My favorite tennis shoes are the Vivobarefoots, although the toe box is really too narrow. But if you want a tennis shoe, this is a good option. Watershoes are still a favorite for me to put my kids in. They are super soft, flexible and meet the shoe-teria, plus they are inexpensive and go in the wash. We wear them with socks always as the smell can be almost deadly without. However, I feel good knowing that my little kids can run, jump and play using their feet, irregardless of how smelly they may be. What good are smell-free but unused feet? That's like saving your best linens for guests that never come.
Here is a list for WINTER shoes that also includes a ton of other resources: http://www.katysays.com/shoes-the-winter-list/
Look, dork family in action! A family that walks in dorky shoes together stays together... Isn't that an old saying from somewhere? No? Oh. Such a dork.
Just think of all the money you can now save on shoes! Feel free to send me a percentage of those savings! :-) But seriously, let's start with the kids. Let their feet grow naturally and potentially avoid lots of health problems in the future! Smile at barefoot kids! Tell them how strong they are! They will love it.