If you were a single mom getting home from an 8-hour day to your hungry kids, would you rather cook a healthy meal or stop at Pizza Hut on the way home?
Even if a salad is full of ham, bacon, eggs, cheese, croutons, and creamy dressing, it’s still a salad, so that’s healthy, right?
If the FDA tells us that grains should be a big part of our diets and that “Fad Diets” like Atkins and Paleo don’t work, why would a reasonable person ever actually cut processed carbs from their diet?
If Diet Coke says “Diet” right there on the side, what would keep you from thinking it’s a healthy alternative?
If you are reading this blog, you are most likely a pretty health-conscious person, so the statements above seem pretty absurd. But if the answers to questions like these were as obvious as I wish they were, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Have you seen HBO’s The Weight of the Nation? It’s a mini-series about, well, the weight of the American people. You can watch it for free on HBO’s website, and I highly, highly recommend it.
While watching this over the past few weeks, I have learned a lot but have been struck by one thing in particular: In general, American people don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to food.
I am lucky that I grew up in a healthy, active community, hiking and playing in the pool every summer and skiing all winter. But I also remember spending hours in front of the TV, eating pizza for lunch at school, and snacking on Easy Mac and Oreos at home. When my step-mom married my Dad, she suddenly had 6 kids to cook for instead of just 2, so we ate a LOT of easy-to-prepare foods–Shake N Bake, Pasta-Roni, Hot Pockets, Pop Tarts… Not exactly healthy stuff. But I also remember when I would go to my mom’s house (my parents had joint custody and I spent 9 years switching houses every week), she would cook us food: baked chicken, steamed green beans, homemade breakfast burritos, turkey sandwiches on whole grain bread. Instead of Oreos and Doritos, I snacked on Wheat Thins and hummus. I knew what real food tasted like, and it was so much better than the salty pork chops and orange cheese that I got at my other house, I soaked it up. I think that those experiences helped me subconsciously form habits that have led me to an interest in healthy foods as an adult. But that’s not to say that I’m not tempted by junk food; I crave Chicken McNuggets and I have had the prep instructions for Annie’s Mac & Cheese memorized since I was 15. But I also know what those foods can do to me.
I am also lucky that I have never had a serious weight problem. I was a little chubby in late elementary school and middle school, but seemed to grow out of most of it by the time I made it to high school. I gained some weight after graduating college, weighing in at almost 140 lbs at my heaviest, but at 5’3 that didn’t even bump me into the “Overweight” category of the BMI scale.
But all you have to do is look around and it’s obvious that most people are not as lucky as I am. They don’t know what real food tastes like or how to prepare it–they don’t understand that there is a difference between buying spinach from the produce section and buying creamed spinach from the frozen food aisle. Kids are not encouraged to get outside and move around, we’ve all heard about the miserable state of school lunches, and they become obese without ever having a say in the matter. People don’t know that “zero calorie” soda still spikes their insulin levels, causing their bodies to store even more fat, or that bagels are actually way less healthy than eggs and bacon for breakfast.
This issue infuriates and saddens me. And it’s not just an issue of ignorance–many people in our culture are literally addicted to food. In an interview in “Weight of the Nation,” a young woman describes food as being her best friend, her boyfriend, a trip to the beach when she can’t afford one… What if giving up junk food came with the same feeling as breaking up with your boyfriend?
What can we do, as active, healthy people, to educate others? How can we help reverse this trend? Is it even our responsibility, or is there really no excuse for ignorance in this information age? What do you think?