Thinking For Yourself Part 2: The Obesity “Epidemic”

 I look around every day and see a horrible epidemic in America that scares me and makes me sick. It is not obesity, or cancer, or heart disease. In fact, it is worse than all of these because it is a root to these problems and many more including the declining economy, global warming, and poor lifestyles.

I look around and see millions of people who have stopped thinking for themselves. – Natasia Champion

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Obesity. The word itself embodies ugliness and low self-esteem. It is an obvious problem in the American culture, described by many as an “epidemic”. Besides being labeled as unsightly by our modern culture, the obese person is extremely unhealthy with a much lower quality of life than a more fit and trim individual.

Lately there has been a trend in our media of promoting acceptance for physically imperfect people, which would realistically be every human being, but definitely those on the heavy side. This is great! Everybody is different, everybody has a uniquely beautiful body, we come in every shape and size and that should be seen as wonderful, not just acceptable. America has had a long history of idealizing celebrities and the unhealthy body image that we get from most of them. Getting back to a healthy standard for self-esteem has been a long time in coming and we still have a long way to go.

However, with this new acceptance trend I’ve seen something sad and a bit disturbing. People on the unhealthy side of heavy are beginning more and more to make excuses and feel ok with them. Celebrities like Monique and Queen Latifa have become role models for the obese, proclaiming their pride in their “curves” and loving that they are “big girls.” There are even calendars with bikini clad obese women, proudly showing their “curves”.

It is not politically correct to breach this subject in most cases. “Fat” is an ugly term and for the most part, we as Americans know our weight is a huge problem but we just don’t like to talk about it. It’s not nice.

I think it’s safe to say that for most Americans, weight is completely preventable and controllable. There are well-known DOs and DON’Ts, we’ve all heard them.

DO: exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, eat modest meal portions, DON’T: eat fast food, trans fats, excessive sugar, etc. There are more weight loss products on the market today than there ever were, exercise contraptions, diet drinks, “magic” pills, pre packaged meals, exclusive gym and club memberships, surgeries, and the list goes on.

In spite of all of these “helpful” items, we still seem to be struggling to shed those extra pounds.There are also more individuals showing up with a medical excuse for their extra weight. Glandular problems, heredity, medication side effects, incapacitating injuries, depression, and this list is getting longer everyday as well. The fact remains, these problems are fairly recent in our history as a nation and have never been on such a wide scale as they are today.

Once again, being the amateur historian that I am and having the desire to learn from the mistakes of others before making my own, I have to look back to when we were fairly free of this obesity epidemic. I don’t have to go too far, only about 30 or 40 years, maybe 50. The main things missing from this picture of the past: a McDonald’s on every corner, video games, an over abundance of highly processed foods, many of the little conveniences we have today. As I run over the list I see a pattern. Technology and convenience, designed to make quality of life higher, have actually become the main factors in lessening it.

Time to think outside the box. Let me describe a set of events. Mary is born a healthy and beautiful 7 lb. baby, perfect in every way. Her parents do everything they are told by their doctor, peers, media, and other “important” individuals, because they are good parents and they love their baby. Mary gets all her shots on schedule, being introduced to live viruses in weakened form at just weeks old, even diseases like polio must be prevented even though it is virtually non-existent in modern America. While at the crowded doctor’s offices Mary acquires everything from common colds to chicken pox over her childhood years. Mary is your typical child, she doesn’t like vegetables and she loves cartoons and video games. Her parents don’t want her to be hungry so they feed her what she likes, but they are also very busy with their jobs, so many nights they bring home carry out fast food. Some nights it’s frozen pizza, or fish sticks, and on the nights when a meal is “cooked”, most of it comes from a can using one of those “quick and easy” 20 minute recipes. Mary doesn’t like to drink water, it’s bland, so juice or soda with a lot of sugar is served. Through childhood and teen years Mary struggles with common ailments, ear infections, urinary infections, flu, etc. For most of these she takes an antibiotic, which while dealing with the germ, it also kills off good cells and weakens her immune system, creating a dependency on these medicines through the years. The cause of most of these ailments is a poor diet that weakens her immune system and too much sugary drink, not enough plain water.

Mary leads a fairly inactive life, sitting at school, sitting for several hours doing her homework, sitting playing video games, watching tv, and talking on the phone with her friends. Through high school, peer pressure causes her to eat sporadically and even more poorly, bingeing mostly on junk food here and there. Her parents are both so busy with their jobs that there are no family meals, so nobody really sees what or when Mary is eating on a regular basis. Half the time she is at a friend’s house anyway.

Mary moves away to college and the stress of studying and living on her own coupled with all night parties and late night munchies puts 10 or 15 pounds on her. She adds a few pounds each year that she is in school as stress, poor eating habits, lack of time, and a mostly sedentary lifestyle combine. She keeps saying she’ll lose the weight once she graduates and has a little more time, but after graduation she is unable to find a job in the popular field she went to school for and she ends up having to get 2 jobs just to keep up with her student loan payments. She doesn’t have time or extra money to join a gym, but her social life is top priority and she still finds time and money to party every weekend. (She is so stressed out that she feels she needs to party on the weekends just to get through the next week.)

Mary meets Ted at one of her jobs and a year later they get married. She goes on a crash diet to lose weight for the wedding, but a few months in she gains the weight back and a little extra. Another year and there’s a baby on the way. Everyone tells her that she has a very good excuse to eat and do very little physically and she overshoots her targeted weight gain of 25 lbs. and gains 40. A couple of years later when baby number two comes along, she wasn’t able to shed all her baby weight from the first and she still gains another 40 lbs. Taking care of her kids and working leaves very little time for anything else. She finds her marriage slipping and 8 years in she and Ted divorce. The stress and emotional turmoil send her into depression. She goes to the doctor to get medication for that as she has done for every other thing in her life and starts to gain weight as a side effect to her medicine. She continues to take the medication however because she feels unstable without it. By the time she’s 40 she has 150 extra pounds and little hope of losing it. The weight itself contributes to her depression which enhances her need for her medication.

That is a sad story, but it is the story of a high percentage of “average” Americans today. We have let our lives spiral so far out of control that we don’t have a clue how to get back to where we need to be, truly healthy in mind, body, and emotion. There is no simple answer, nor just one answer, and again, I’m not here to give you the answer. Like anything worth having, you must work hard to search for an answer for yourself and be willing to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable in your search to find it. I’m so committed to people thinking for themselves that I will not even point out all the things I find wrong in the above picture, I will let you ponder it for yourself. I will, however, touch on a few that I have recently adjusted in my own life.

This is your problem, you fix it. Nobody can, or will, fix it for you. There is no magic wand or magic pill. I believe health is a lifestyle, not a product. I am not a small person by any means. The word “petite” is never used when describing me. At 5’8″ I am large boned and thick muscled, I come from a family that loves food, I’m married to an awesome chef whose roots are down home country, and I was recently pregnant for 2 years. I struggle with extra weight, always have. I struggle with finding the time and desire to eat right in a world of wrong food choices. I face the same financial constraints, the same cultural challenges as most Americans, perhaps even more so. The difference is I choose my priorities differently.

Make no mistake, I’m still a work in progress. I have not attained that magical perfection that remains elusive for the average person. I have, however, seen what’s going on around me, thought about how it is affecting me, and started to make small changes one at a time.

First of all, I don’t own a microwave. Even if you don’t believe in all the hype about it changing food’s molecular structure you should consider getting rid of your’s. Let’s even assume that microwaves do absolutely nothing to food. What they do promote is that “eat it because it’s quick” mindset. Instead cooking a fresh, nutritious meal and sharing it at a regular time with your family, there are so many processed and prepackaged foods you can “cook” in the microwave that the family dinner has diminished greatly. Kids no longer need supervision to use the stove, so our youths are growing up with no basic culinary knowledge. Your average college kid lives on ramen noodles simply because that is the only thing they know how to prepare. With out a family dinner, families have no set time to stop and touch base, their kids are with their friends (or are they?), Dad is working late at the office, and Mom is going over her presentation for tomorrow’s meeting or catching up on her favorite tv drama. It’s no wonder kids are getting into trouble and marriages are falling apart.

Besides all of that, food prepared in a microwave just doesn’t taste good. It seems bland no matter how well you season it and it doesn’t hold heat the same way. There is just something very unwholesome about it and it leaves you dissatisfied, leading to overeating. Who hasn’t eaten something and then looked through the cabinets for something else because the first thing didn’t quite “hit the spot”? If you don’t notice the difference between microwaved food and stove top cooked food, then you prove my point. Your palette has been dulled by bad food. My list of grievances with microwaves is much longer, but I think I’ve said enough to get you thinking for yourself.

Another thing I’ve done in the battle against unhealthy weight is commit to regular exercise. For me, a gym membership has been helpful. Since everybody is different and has different preferences I can’t say that this is what you should do. You may find a home exercise machine is the way to go, or you might have a specific park you can jog in. Only you know what is the best motivator. For me, a gym membership has been helpful because I have to pay for it. I’m the type of person that agonizes over spending money on clothes when an old garment has holes in it. I don’t indulge, I don’t splurge, (I leave that for my husband to do), not on myself at any rate. I would give the shirt off my back for someone in need, but I find it very hard to spend money on myself unless absolutely necessary. My membership includes child care while I’m working out, so I pay a little bit over a dollar a day for my membership. Even at this rate, I feel very bad if I don’t make it there at least 5 times a week. If there is a day I don’t go, there is definitely a reason, such as being out-of-town, running errands all day, or when my husband is off work. (He works 80 hours a week, so when he is not at work I prioritize his needs and spend time with him.) My daughter also loves to get out of the house and interact with other people and children her age. Since I’m committed to being a stay at home mom at least until she goes to school, I’m with her constantly and this is a chance for her to have normal interaction with others beside me and for me to get a break for an hour to have time just for myself. This killing-several-birds-with-one-stone factor is also a big motivator for me.

Some things to remember when committing to getting more exercise: YOU WILL SWEAT. If you don’t sweat, it is not good exercise. Sweating is actually beneficial, cleaning impurities from your system, and moving your body circulates the fluids, also helping to process the toxins out of your system. You can’t just do ten crunches a day and say you’re done, or stop when you start to sweat. Accept that it will be hard, sweaty work. Wear supportive clothes that help prevent chafing and go for it. Keep telling yourself that the sweat feels good and before long it actually will feel good to sweat.

IT WILL TAKE TIME: Losing weight takes time, building a healthy lifestyle takes time, exercising takes time. Commit at least an hour to your exercise routine, even if you are only shooting for 30 minutes. Taking your time to make exercise a routine rather than just a task will help in the long run. Don’t just do 10 minutes of cardio here and 5 crunches there, set the time aside, suit up into your exercise gear, do the pre stretches, take time to cool down properly, treat it like it’s as important as your job. It is your health, it should be more important. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is great and parking at the back of the parking lot is awesome, but add those things to a regular routine and you will find you are less likely to slack off. Humans tend to be creatures of habit, use that to your advantage for once.

I have been microwave free and exercising regularly for quite a while now, my newest steps have been in the food choice department. I do not keep anything but water at home to drink, except I will occasionally make a pitcher of tea, usually when I’m anticipating company. If I go out to eat I will have water or tea, never soda. Anything that can melt a nail is just not good to drink. ( Tea and coffee are not the best either, but I still consider them better than soda.) Kind of makes you wonder, if the FDA approves of soft drinks, what else do they approve that is maybe not as good for you as you previously believed. Another lovely fact, the FDA deems a certain percentage of animal fecal matter in processed meats as perfectly legal. Bologna, hotdogs, meat products – think about what you’re eating. Also, one of the things that I ask myself before buying an item at the grocery store is, “Does the list of ingredients look like a complicated science experiment’s shopping list?” If so, I pretty much stay away from it. All those unhealthy chemicals and words you can’t pronounce are bad for you. “Why would the FDA approve them if they are so bad for me?” Well, why would the FDA approve a percentage of animal fecal matter and a drink that has proven to dissolve metal over a small period of time?

That leads me to the second thing I consider when buying an item. “Who is making money off this product and how many different people are involved?” You will find that highly processed foods are made with a high percentage of ingredients that are byproducts. “Byproduct” is just a nice word for garbage. For instance, whey is a byproduct. It is what’s left over when cheese is made. The curd is all the good stuff, the milk solids, the nutrients, and whey is nutrient deficient waste product. You will be surprised how many products have whey and whey powder in their list of ingredients; boxed dinners, canned pasta, canned soups, baby food, mac and cheese dinners, frozen meals – and this is just one example, there are many more, and a lot of them are more unnatural than whey. Most of them are also much more harmful.

$25 worth of wholesome goodness procured at my local Farmer's Market.

This post could easily become a book and I must conclude before it does. Once again, I’m not trying to get you to side with me, only to think for your self, to break free from the misconceptions our society blindly consumes like imported chocolates. Don’t just do something because everyone else is doing it, stop and ask yourself why you are doing it or what the consequences will be.

One of my favorite summer dishes, light but filling, Penne Fresca. Everything but the whole wheat pasta came from the farmer's market.

As always, I welcome input and any original ideas on how to remedy the major concerns we are facing as a nation.

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Thinking For Yourself Part 1: Our Economy

I look around every day and see a horrible epidemic in America that scares me and makes me sick. It is not obesity, or cancer, or heart disease. In fact, it is worse than all of these because it is a root to these problems and many more including the declining economy, global warming, and poor lifestyles.

I look around and see millions of people who have stopped thinking for themselves.

T.V., newspapers, doctors, pop culture, the internet, and even blogs like this have made it very easy for Americans to stop thinking for themselves and just keep listening to the most popular opinion among the general public. After all, “if so many people say so, it must be true. ”

Let me describe for you a time in history when political and religious leaders told the masses what to think. One of the most powerful government systems in history crumbled as the masses stopped thinking for themselves and the privileged few made all the decisions. They made laws according to their own advancement and gain, suppressing the populace by dumbing them down until your average person just plodded along in life with no real goal other than daily living and serving their tyrannical leaders. There was no creativity, just a lot of people who worked harder and harder for less and less return.

You say, “I know this period in history.” Do you really? Am I describing the Dark Ages … or modern-day America.

At this point, there are many of you who are laughing and thinking I’m crazy. Let me stop you right there. First, I will point out that this post is not designed to get you to side with me. I do not need a following to give credit to my words or point of view. This post is a plea from a fellow, concerned American to clear your head, remove all the preconceived notions, the headlines, the things you’ve been told your whole life, and have an original thought. Life itself depends on it.

The second thing I want to point out right here in the beginning is I am not going to receive any kind of monetary gain if you read this. I don’t get paid to say this, in fact, I don’t receive any kind of compensation other than the hope that these words might take root in a few hearts and spread as effectively as the lies you are told every day.

American Economy. To fix our economy you can’t just treat symptoms, you have to get at the root of the problem. Let’s go back to when things were good. What were we doing when our economy was strong and our nation was growing? Back in the  40’s and 50’s we had a generation who had come from the poverty of the Great Depression and had a wish to make life better not just for themselves, but for their kids. People were not afraid of physical labor, lack of convenience, or even fighting a war over seas to insure that their kids would grow up in freedom  and have more than what they had as children. Mom and Pop businesses were prevalent, small communities helped and supported one another. There was no Super Wal-mart, there was no obesity problem.

Today, we shop at super stores, one stop shops boasting ease and convenience, but at a high price. Giving our money to giant corporations leaves less for the independent business. Farmers suffer as taxes and increased regulations make it impossible to profit off their crops. Slowly, the small-time farmers are diminishing as competing with bigger operations becomes more difficult. As they let go of their multigenerational livelihood, jobs decrease but the demand for them climbs at double speed as their children no longer inherit family land and equipment. Starting from scratch for a small farmer is virtually impossible these days.

This ugly situation is compounded by the people. Since it is easier to run to Wal-mart, farmer’s markets are little more than novelties. The average American does not even know what a farmer’s market really is, let alone know where to find one, how to use it to their advantage, and realize the chain of benefits this resource holds.

We have a little farmer’s market here in Bowling Green, not even the biggest one I’ve ever been to. It’s modest at best, open in the spring and summer months one or two days a week for several hours each day. I like to think I am a very down-to-earth kind of girl, I can garden and get my hands dirty, but I didn’t even realize all the wonderful products that were available at our farmer’s market, all in one little place – for a great price! In addition to truly flavorful produce and fruit, (unlike the tasteless, nutrition free, wax and cardboard produce at the mega stores ) there were hand crafted goods, local wines, home-made jams and jellies, home canned pickles and preserves, artisan cheeses, and much more. After spending twenty dollars, I walked away with more and better quality items than the mega marts could ever provide, and I also had the wonderful feeling that my money was actually supporting my local economy, my friends and neighbors right in Bowling Green. As an independent artist, I can appreciate this because these are the people who in turn will support me by purchasing my products.  It’s kind of like investing.

Many people think of the Derby and Bourbon when they think about Kentucky. Some might go so far as to envision tobacco and hay. Not many realize we have wineries, cheese makers, mushroom farms, great independent restaurants, craftsmen, artists, beautiful land with all kinds of natural resources, amazing hospitality, and the list just goes on and on. Research these local places of interest and make it a point to patronize them the next time a need arises instead of the convenient mega stores. You will be surprised how many items get checked off your list. You will be surprised how your lifestyle will change, your diet will improve, your community will prosper, and many other little perks will be enjoyed if you stay consistent and gradually get into the habit of supporting local economy. What’s more, our national economy will steadily improve. More jobs will be created as demand for these products increases. Our children will have a brighter future.

This is not just for Kentucky. There are local products throughout our country, some unique to that particular region. Take advantage of these blessings! You know much better than me what is available in your area – or you should. Challenge yourself, and start small, to make one change and stick with it. When that becomes second nature, add another change to your lifestyle that will help not only you, but your neighbors, then just keep going. I am committed to shopping for all my produce from the farmer’s market from now on. I refuse to buy fruit and vegetables from any mega store or super market. Here in Kentucky, we are blessed with stubborn vendors that set up their truck and a sign on the side of the road in rural and suburban areas to sell sweet corn, melons, tomatoes, you name it. It is not very difficult to find a good source of local produce in the summer.

“But, I can’t cook…” or ” I don’t know how to use that stuff…”  Well shame on you! That is just another excuse that doesn’t hold water. All you have to do is Google “How to cook corn” and you will get 5 million different websites with recipes and knowledge for every level of expertise. The “I can’t” and “It’s not convenient” attitudes are the reason our economy is in such bad shape. Do not be that person that waits for the government to swoop in and tell you what to do or think. Your brain is an amazing organ, use it.

This is just my first idea of how to remedy our declining economy. There are so many more out there just waiting for people who will think outside the box. One thing is certain, you can’t wait for somebody to fix this problem. This is your problem, you fix it. Don’t just be another person sitting around complaining about the bad economy and then get up and buy your week of processed dinners at Wal-mart. As with any problem, it will take time and effort to fix, but if we don’t get started now, then it will never begin.

Please leave a comment here for me and others to see your original idea on how to make a real difference. I would love to know there is somebody out there who also cares about the world our kids are going to live in.