Thursday, January 24, 2013

What to do About an Unhealthy Nation?

I was waiting in line to check out books at the library last week when I overheard a conversation about a study on Americans and health. The news was bad. The U.S.A. was ranked seventeenth on a list of seventeen countries in the area of fitness. That’s right—dead last! I needed to learn more, so did a Google search when I arrived home. Here’s what I found:
According to Livestrong, seventy-nine percent of Americans are overweight or obese. With the exception of some tiny island nations, the United States is the fattest country in the world. We all know what that means—more heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc. I’m not passing judgment. After all, losing fifteen pounds is once again on my list of New Year’s resolutions.
That being said, I’m puzzled by the fat epidemic in my homeland. Most people don’t want to be overweight and most people know what to do to maintain a healthy weight. It's pretty simple: don’t take in more calories than you burn; eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; limit the amount of fat and sugar that you eat; exercise. If we have trouble following these guidelines, we have plenty of tools to help us with the battle of the bulge including apps, programs like Weight Watchers, gyms, and books. Just look at what I saw when I entered Barnes & Noble the other day:

In fact, as I write this, there are ten diet books on Amazon’s top fifty list including the number one spot, Shred: The Revolutionary Diet: 6 weeks 4 inches 2 sizes by Ian K. Smith. The #40 spot is The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days by JJ Virgin. Those darn titles make dieting sound so easy, but it can’t be. Otherwise we’d all be thin.
What's the problem???
The conclusion from this non-expert is: American food tastes so darn good and it’s so available. It makes us feel good. It helps us celebrate. Cooking luscious treats for those special people in our lives makes us happy. Surprise a loved one with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies when he/she comes home and be rewarded with a smile and a grateful hug. That doesn’t happen when offering a bowl of celery sticks.
When friends call to invite us out for dinner, do we choose the new place that sells cauliflower broth or that restaurant that makes incredible chicken wings? Are any of us disciplined enough to consistently make the healthy choice during that moment of temptation?
The obvious answer is, “No,” and that is why we are a fat, unhealthy nation.

In fact, I was just at the YMCA cranking away on the elliptical and what was right in front of me on a theater sized TV? Barefoot Contessa enticing me with lemon bars. Take a quick peek at this video of a chef making a decadent artery clogging treat:  

Couldn't believe a health facility offered its members this viewing option. It made me want to head over to the gourmet food market in town, that really does make fantastic lemon bars, after my workout, but I didn't.  

I truly am going to try and gear up to get rid of that final fifteen pounds in 2013. I know I will look and feel better. It should take me about two months if I’m stellar about diet, exercise, and swear off the Food Network for a little while. Will I have moments of temptation?
 Without a doubt.
 Will I give in sometimes?
 Very good chance.
But I really don't like being from the unhealthiest nation in the world. With all of the resources available, I should be able to accomplish this deceivingly simple goal. What will be my biggest challenge?
Probably beer (or wine) and pizza on Thursday night with my husband at our favorite Italian restaurant. Do I really have to order the vegetable salad with oil and vinegar? Maybe if I take that 5:00 a.m. boot camp class before work, I can have one or two of the smallest slices in the pan? What do you think?
When, or If, you diet, what’s your biggest challenge?   What food generally wins when tempting you to take a five minute diet break?


Had to share this excerpt from my novel, A Stop in the Park. The female lead character, Jamie, uses peanut butter cups to help her forget problems. Here's part of a scene where she confronts the sweet, little morsels:

"Jamie needed comfort so she went to the vegetable bin in the refrigerator, seized the bag of peanut butter cups, and headed to the living room to work on her puzzle. She walked a few feet then stopped.The wise woman was back. Will that candy make you feel happier if you eat it or if you put it back? 

"Hmm," Jamie said.

She held the bag up and looked at it.What would happen if she ate them? All of the sugar and hydrogenated oil would clog up her arteries, she'd gain more weight, and she'd feel sad again five minutes after she devoured the treats.

What would happen if she put them back? She'd keep her blood flowing, maybe lose weight, but she wouldn't get a five-minute break from distress, and she really needed a five-minute break from distress. The flimsy plastic felt cold on her fingertips. Jamie shivered. A minute passed, or was it ten minutes? Whatever, it was long enough for beads of sweat to form on her forehead. Her throat felt heavy, like it had been plastered with cement. She couldn't swallow. Jamie darted to the kitchen sink, set the peanut butter cups on the counter, and filled a glass with water. She gulped and gulped until the glass was empty; then she breathed in and out. For the love of God, she was having an anxiety attack over candy."—
Peggy Strack
A Stop in the Park




  1. HI Peggy,
    Great post and good luck with your goal!

    1. I'm off to a good start! Thanks, Ramonaa!

  2. I enjoyed your post (as usual). Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies. As you said, it's part of a gathering of family or friends, a celebration, a comfort, and so readily available. I believe in balance. So I can have a couple of pieces of pizza every once in a while -- just not every day. That works pretty well for me.
    By the way, I loved the excerpt from A STOP IN THE PARK and remember that scene well.

    1. Thanks Sandy. Food is so much more than fuel. It's one of life's joys. Just can't get too carried away with it. Balance is key!

  3. Big portions in restaurants certainly don't help our waistlines. Here is a little tip: When your meal is served, ask for a leftover box right away. Divide your meal in half, and tuck that half portion away in that styrofoam container for another meal. I'm willing to bet you'll feel full at the end of your meal and you'll have great leftovers the next day. Definitely a win/win situation.

    1. Great idea Darlene. I'm the type to pick at something, even after I'm full if it's sitting right in front of me. I never need the full restaurant meal and the 1/2 rule works.

  4. The video does not show on Goodreads so I stopped here to watch. I remember that episode. I stopped watching the Food Network some time ago because of the nature of the foods they prepare. Not in my diet nor my husbands. I left some 'juicy' comments on your post at Goodreads. Forgive me for digressing a bit. It is a great post but a large part of the problem is the fact not many families prepare nutritional meals at home any more. Too convenient to just go out to a restaurant and what do you get there...fried, fried, fried and did I say they serve fried foods? Then, of course, there are all the sauces and gravies, homemade rolls and bread, and by all means the desserts. I like Darlene's comments about the take-out. We don't do that in advance but always leave with half the food to take home sometimes simply for the animals. LOL :-)