Thursday, July 18, 2013

America the Hutt

I remember feeling like I was SO GROSS when in middle school. I was fat and unpopular. Boys in my class didn't ask me to dance at sock hops. My parents were concerned about my health and they were constantly trying to do things to get me to diet or workout. Naturally I resisted their attempts. What child wants to be told they're overweight? What pubescent girl wants to think she's the fattest/ugliest girl in her class? I didn't want to be different from the other kids who didn't belong to a gym or spend time working out after school. I wanted to go to MacDonald's after soccer practice and eat fries and a shake like everyone else. 

This is the way I remember myself.

I've spent a lot of time recounting my "success" story to people who are curious about how I got to my "rock bottom" moment (Recently I was lucky enough to share it with the awesome community at Nerd Fitness. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, give it a look-see!). Often, I start by saying that I was fat from a very young age and that I was incredibly self conscious about it. Although I participated in things like soccer and figure skating, I was never as good as the other kids. Physicality was never my strong suit. I hated my appearance and when I started to get interested in boys, I faced a string of rejections. So much of what happened during my formative elementary and middle school years contributed to my attitude towards nutrition and fitness, not to mention my self esteem. It was the bedrock upon which residency at Jabba's palace was built.

Recently, a friend posted a picture of us from middle school on Facebook. Prepare yourself to behold the behemoth female hutt, the gargantuan fatass of yesteryear. BEHOLD HER!


Ok, so given the lead-up, I'm guessing you're as shocked as I was. I look like a totally normal in this picture. Curvy and Teva-clad sure, but unhealthy? No! Yet, in my head, I thought I was a troll. I was convinced I had a huge problem. 

The fact is, I might not have been working out the way I am now, but I was involved in plenty of physical activity at school and in after school sports. I rollerbladed to school a lot! I rode my bike on the weekend. The reason I couldn't keep up with kids on my soccer team was because I played with kids who went on to get soccer scholarships and play on all state teams. I was AVERAGE in terms of skill, but I was active. I just felt bad about my performance because most of my friends excelled insanely at physical stuff.

Even though I wasn't as unhealthy as I perceived myself at the time, I still developed into an unhealthy adult. I was broken just like so many obese children are today.

I'm pretty sure my parents' constant concern about staying active and eating healthy, as well as their rigid rules about what kind of foods we all ate when we were together at home, contributed to my need to act out and eat fast food, binge on ice cream, and hide candy bars in my room. I'm sure the huge gap in skill level between my friends on the soccer team and myself had a lot to do with feeling like there was no point in applying myself to getting better. 

Then again, I'm not sure how it could have been done differently. Maybe my parents pushed too hard, but if they hadn't pushed at all, then where would I have been? It's just as likely that I might have gone down the same path to the Dark Side. If they hadn't instilled in me a "no quitting" attitude, I probably would have dropped out of all my sports after they lost the glow of "newness" and I was faced with the fact that I just wasn't very good at them.  

For about two months I've been meaning to write about how I feel about childhood obesity and its relationship to parenting, but I haven't because I'm not sure I have anything useful to add to the dialogue. It's a huge problem in this country. We are 100% failing our youth in a huge way. I don't think the answer is telling them they can't ever have any cookies or candy, but at the same time I don't think we should continue to let people stay as ignorant of the content of their food and the processes it goes through before it gets to the table. I wrote a post a while ago about how much I love the fact that NYC restaurants are required to post calorie counts on their menus. Sure, not all calories are created equal, but seeing that number does help me make better choices from time to time, even when it comes to treats. There are parts of the country that don't do that. Hell, there are parts of the country that practically build shrines to butter (mmm butter). We think that's normal! If you ask the countries in the world who don't have this same issue, you'll find that it's not.

My friend Dani just visited me from Brazil. She said she was shocked by our portion sizes and by the fact that everything comes fried and with some sort of starch. I started to notice that too when I first started Nutrisystem and now that I order Paleo when I'm out, it takes a lot of effort to sort of rewrite the menu. Most of the time I overpay for what I get because it costs more to replace fries with something healthier or I have to remove so many elements from my meal that I end up with a tiny portion.  It costs more money and it takes more effort to eat right- even though I'd wager it's totally worth it.

America builds it's foods to make us fat by habit. Sandwiches come with fries naturally. On menus, you hardly ever see "Choose your sandwich and one side." They just assume you want to put fries in your face (and it's a fairly good assumption... cause they are delicious devil food). There are places that list potato salad  and pasta salad as vegetables. You can see why our youth is confused. We're hardly helping them. 

Changing our national habits seems like a huge challenge. I'm not sure where to start, but I know we have to do something. I've spent the last few months asking parents I know about how they approach health in their own homes. There doesn't seem to be a formula from success. Some had kids who more naturally adapted to healthy lifestyles even though they did nothing special to encourage them and others have kids who continually struggle in adulthood despite having a childhood where every meal was planned.

I haven't written about what I think we should do to assuage our obesity problems in this country because I only know what works for me. My friends have gotten healthier and I've gotten healthier, but we've all done it in completely different ways. Weight Watchers, Keto, Paleo- you name it! We've all found something that spoke to us and that we could do for long enough to see results. I guess the only thing I can definitively say is that we have to somehow figure out how to heal apathy when it comes to health. Gorging ourselves and eating the "wrong" things has become so normalized in our country that it's the healthy choices that seem to exist on the fringe. If someone works out every morning before work, that person "must be crazy." If someone orders a salad at lunch with friends, we all say, "Oh you're so good." Those things should be fairly normal in a healthy country- but for us, they're not because we've poisoned our collective national mind but making unhealthy treats the "norm."

We have to figure out how to make people care, but so many people don't- or they just care more about pizza than they do about not getting diabetes. Plus, the more normal these obesity-caused-ailments become, the more our kids accept them as a natural part of life. The whole reason my "transformation" has been maintained so far is because I've directly linked health to the things I enjoy in my life. I run... from zombies. I do HIIT workouts... watching Xena. I lose weight... to cosplay. You get the point.

If you're one of those people (and I know they're out there because I used to be one) who feels like they have tried to lose weight, but they've just failed time after time, then find something you love that's directly affected in a negative way by your weight and think about how much more fulfilling your life would be if you could participate in it. It might be different for everyone, but becoming personally invested in getting a better a life might be the key. Yeah it's more work than some simple answer that would solve our country's weight problems, but I'm not sure that even exists.

If a kid loves sports, then great! Tell them how much better they'll perform if they fuel their body properly. If they love video games or action movies, encourage their interests and show them what it takes to get big and strong (like this 300 workout used by the actors to prep for the film). If they hate working out, but they love to cook, teach them about food! Let them take a cooking class that specializes in nutritious dishes so that they can learn a skill that will help them their whole life. Start small and they may see the benefit of working on the things that don't come naturally when they realize it will affect the skills they're already interested in improving.

There's one thing my parents did absolutely right (and I wish every kid was as lucky!). They encouraged me to follow my passions. Had I figured out how to bring my passions and my deficits into alignment earlier on, I might not be struggling as much with my health today.

I'm interested to hear how you all feel about "the obesity epidemic" in this country and what can be done to help heal it. It's something I think about a lot because I don't want anyone to have to suffer like I did. I don't have the answers, just an inkling. I think one of the most important things is to just get people talking! So talk, Slayers! Maybe we can start to untangle this Gorgon's knot together. 


  1. AW yay! So happy you were featured :) I've been waiting for your feature!

    As a parent, I struggle daily with finding the right balance for my girls of healthy vs treats. It's challenging but I think not giving up is key.

    So many parents say it's just too hard to get their kids to eat vegetable. If I don't give them chicken nuggets they won't eat. But kids are pretty survivalist and I'm pretty sure they would eventually eat some healthy protein/veggies/fruits if you keep at it :)

    1. I can only imagine that it's way easier for me to say that things need to change when I don't have kids myself than to actually have to implement it on a daily basis. I think you're right about not giving up. I know I was helping take care of my cousin recently and just taking him into the kitchen and helping him make the choices was very helpful. When he didn't choose veggies off the bat, I started describing how I would make them and made it sound like it would be the most delicious thing ever. He ended up really liking what I made, but who knows? Maybe he's an exception to a rule. I think you're right about the survivalist thing. If what you have is healthy, and that's all there is, eventually they'll have to deal with it.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. It was the same in my house. My dad is a caterer and his good food (even when it was healthy), and his (sorry dad) sort of controlling attitude in the kitchen kept me from wanting to participate in that dialogue. Ultimately I didn't learn how to cook anything that didn't go in the microwave or wasn't easy, like pasta.

      He's a great resource now, but not knowing how to cook things till recently really shot me in the foot. Now I'm playing catch up.

    2. ARG! I totally accidentally deleted Jessica's comment while I was trying to get in my replies. Here is her original post. SORRY JESSICA! :(

      "My parents were strict about food too. We ate together every night until I was a senior in high school. They still had dinner.. I just wasn't there. I walked to school. We were only allowed a soda with dinner. When I became old enough to make my own choices, I made the bad ones. And I'm with you.. I wish I was as thin as I was when I thought I was fat.I 've been 5"5' since I was in fifth grade, I was just a big girl. And then I stopped growing, ahah. Now I have to work so much harder to get the weight off. It would've been so much easier to just listen to my mom (I'm sure she would love to hear that!), by

  3. Here's a youtube video that my friend Amanda linked me from Jamie Oliver's food revolution. THIS is a great show. If you haven't watched it, you should. Our kids do not know what REAL FOOD is and it's terrifying.