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April 14, 2011 by Laura

Lately I’ve had that “old habits die hard” feeling. I find myself snacking more. I’m not snacking on anything especially unhealthy, but just mindlessly munching on almonds or apples or those “Mary’s Gone Crackers” crackers. Those are really good, by the way. The Nutritarian Way is to eliminate snacking as much as possible and rest the digestive tract between meals. It’s hard. Also, it’s baseball season, which is beer and grill season in my world. I have not had a beer since January. I really love beer…

Back in February I joined the Y. I thought I should have lost 10 pounds just for joining and remain disappointed that it doesn’t work that way. I like the Y because the facilities are decent, the childcare inexpensive, and the members are a genuine cross section of the community. I frequently run into other RNs, physicians, people who work at the stores where I shop, parents of Amos’s classmates. I went today to do my 30 minutes on the treadmill (not a habit, yet), and I’m glad I went. Just when I was starting to think, “Well, I’ve proven my point, I’m going to eat some chips,” my visit reinvigorated my commitment to Health.

Ok, I have gained weight in my life. At times quite a bit. But today I saw several people who were really, really fat. And this is not a judgment about their character, they were fat. Among them was a mom and her two ENORMOUS sons. They were 12 years old at most and HUGE. Have I impressed upon you the LARGENESS of these boys? A very graphic word I can think of: CORPULENT. Think  Jabba the Hut. Ok, get this: one was eating Jack in the Box and the other Mickey D’s.

Now, if I were a judgmental sort (which we’ll assume for the moment that I’m not), I would have thought something like, “WTF is wrong with you???” But regarding my estimation of this woman’s situation, there are a few mitigating factors. First, I’m highly trained in Interdisciplinary Cognitive Arts. Which is to say that I went to a fancy-schmancy liberal arts college (several, actually!) where we learned to approach a situation from multiple angles. So here’s my thought process:

This woman works at the Y. I’m thinking this is not a high-paying job. She’s got two boys approaching adolescence, the caloric demands of whom are no doubt intimidating. Parenting alone? Statistically speaking it’s a safe bet, but even if she’s married/partnered, I’m going to guess said partner is not the one who is primarily responsible for meal prep. I’m trying to paint the picture of a working-poor, exhausted, single mom, get it? I have all the time in the world (not really) and professional food service training, and even I don’t like prepping kale. What I’m trying to say is that it takes A LOT of work against The System to maintain a truly healthy diet. Healthy calories are hard, easy calories are crap. And not that cheap.

I’m not going on about their lack of personal responsibility because these people were at the YMCA. They want to be healthy. They may even know the basics of what it takes to be healthy. They may even think they are healthy. They may not know why they are so big. I know this, because I’ve been there (well, not physically, but psychologically). And being HUGE is not that unusual anymore. It’s the New Normal.

I’m ranting about this because I am genuinely afraid that my kid is going to come home from 9th grade one day and tell me one of his classmates dropped dead from a heart attack. This is not a far-fetched idea. But I’m not going to go on a childhood obesity tangent here. I’m going to go on a Recommended Reading tangent:

The End of Overeating by David Kessler, MD a fascinating read by the former head of the FDA about the forces conspiring to sell us cheap calories.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. This is a very accessible book on how to change habits. It’s geared toward corporate settings, but also contains useful information on personal habit formation. Interesting to anyone wanting to change long held habits, but especially interesting if you want to make workplace changes.

This morning at 4am, Dale told me I had to take the bag of tortilla chips to work with me and give them away.



  1. Dale says:

    This is Dale, elaborating on that last line.

    Last week we were expecting guests, so Laura bought chips and beer. The guests cancelled, but the chips and beer remained, winking at me. Night before last I cracked a beer (Anchor Steam, at one time my favorite, somehow, mysteriously, not that tasty any more.) Yesterday I busted open the chips.

    Last night after dinner, I was reading in the recliner (“Eat For Health” – no lie!), nicely full – and I could not get those chips out of my mind. Finally I got up and gave in, munching chips and salsa even though I was already full. Yum!

    Guthrie woke us up at 4am. While I was awake, I thought about those chips, and I realized I would keep chomping the chips if they remained in the house. That’s when I asked Laura to bring them to work. (There’s an ethical issue in there somewhere, but we’ll leave it be for now.)

  2. Chainedbear says:

    Can I just quickly disagree with one tiny point, and say that easy calories (that is, crap) ARE rather cheap? Not in the grand scheme of things, of course, but one of the problems with junk food (e.g. McDonald’s, candy) is that you get a ton of calories for not that much money. Sure, they may be empty calories, but they’re energy. And the working poor usually can’t afford (or find? I’m thinking of “food deserts”) organic fresh vegetables or the time it takes to make a pot of brown rice for dinner.

    Just sayin’. 🙂

    • Laura says:

      That’s exactly my point. The crap calories are not cheap in the long run. And while I did not go into my rant about “food deserts” that’s exactly what I was alluding to when I said, “The System.” The healthy food deck is stacked against the working poor. When we cheapen and subsidize empty or detrimental calories, we are essentially systematically discriminating against the poor people and saying that crap food is good enough for them. I don’t buy the “at least it’s calories” argument. I think we all deserve access to quality, healthy food in sufficient amount. When I was a nursing student and had quit my job at Whole Foods (thus could no longer afford to shop there), I would shop at Food Maxx. It was very difficult to put together a healthy meal affordably there, because the non-artificial foods were markedly more expensive than the processed crap. No organic produce at all. After you’ve seen kids born to moms who were heavily exposed to pesticides while pregnant, you get why organic is important. I get really pissed about this.

      • Karen says:

        The deck is stacked against the poor (for many reasons), but let’s not assume that all fat people are poor, or that a bag of brown rice (or lentils/beans/legumes) is expensive. Or that organic vegetables are the only kind that are good for you. There are levels here.

        Large bodies being considered the New Normal has become a much bigger part of the equation. And what about the motivation required to eat well and be physically active? Even if you have access to plenty of money and resources, you might still have a weight problem (look at Oprah).

        I don’t feel a major point coming on here, but I just wanted to mention a few minor ones.

        • Anonymous says:

          Agree on all points. And I was in no way assuming that all fat people are
          poor. But this particular example seemed to fit the bill. There is also a
          fairly well established relationship, in this country at least, between
          income level and health outcomes.
          The monetary cost of good food is only one aspect. There is also, as Chained
          Bear pointed out, the time spent preparing it. One of the things that is
          consistently implicated in the increase in unhealthy eating is the
          significant decrease in home cooking from scratch. If I had not learned how
          to prepare ingredients to cook a meal while growing up, and then I was
          working a marginal job and had a couple of kids, you bet I’d be more likely
          to drive thru. Even now I spend considerable time prepping food ahead
          because I prioritize it, and I like to do it. If I didn’t love to cook, I’d
          be screwed.
          I also don’t assume that everyone is longing to eat organic veggies and
          brown rice if only they could afford it. But if Large is the New Normal, I
          want fast food to be the New Tobacco.

          As for Oprah, I bet she’s not a Nutritarian. :-0

  3. Craig says:

    There was a time when a poor family would get a sack of beans, a sack of cornmeal, and a sack of flour and make that work for a week, with maybe, just maybe, one chicken in there and the green stuff they could grow or forage. Nowadays most people would not know how to make edible food with those items and, as others have noted, junk food provides lots of calories for not much money.

    By the way, anybody suggesting that years of indulging in Racer 5 have reduced his enjoyment of Anchor Steam is a poof.

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