The Junk Food Fix is More Than One Person’s Bad Choice. It’s an American Problem.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauriz/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauriz/

My brave, witty and beautiful colleague, Katrina Fernandez, writes with the uninhibited gusto of a natural born wordsmith.

She has her finger on the pulse of the American condition. Her struggles with making ends meet as a single Mom in our current “jobless recovery” echo those of a lot of people I know, including my own family members. Her passion for Christ and His Church, her love of art and her fearless honesty make her one of the best reads on the internet.

Katrina has lately taken on the bugaboo of a whole raft of us working class Americans:  the demoralizing and doomed-to-defeat battle against overweight. Every word she writes, I can affirm from my own overweight life. Every defeat she encounters, every frustration and every small victory are experiences that millions of us have shared.

This topic of discussion fascinates a lot of us for the simple reason that Katrina is not alone in her predicament. Most of us live our lives in what Thoreau once described as “quiet desperation.” The difference is, in today’s world there is nothing quiet about our desperation.

We shout our frustrations for all the world to hear, but, despite our shouting, we do not comprehend them. How much of our food obsession and chronic widespread obesity is a reaction to the larger desperation of people who are pushed as far as they can be every single day of their lives?

All you have to do is leave this country and spend a few days in a place like Spain to come back and see and feel for yourself the driven, nerved-up atmosphere of our America. We are living through an implosion of our national wealth which is being siphoned off from the many and redeposited in the bank accounts of the very, very few.

We are, in fact and in truth, being systematically stolen blind by our government, which is the operative force in this theft.

What I’m saying is that we are getting poorer every single day. It is becoming harder and harder for ordinary Americans to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and a running car in the garage.

We have splintered our families to the point that vast numbers of Americans are trying to row their boat with one hand. Single parents try to be two people. But they can’t. Not really.

We work long hours for low pay and fewer benefits every year. We send our children to substandard schools that throw them into contact with drugs, gangs and that teach them moral nihilism. Our tax dollars are used to manipulate our children into a valueless worldview that is anathema to us and to their futures.

We are forced to leave our children alone in our homes for many hours a week while we try to make a living. We face a future in which any chance of getting off the treadmill to retire is being challenged by politicians who work for corporatists who want this last big pool of money, which is the retirement savings of generations, for their own use.

We are tired to the point of exhaustion almost every day of our lives. We do not have the energy and leisure for reflection and thought. At the same time, the media bombards us constantly with one pounding crisis after another. We are propagandized, lied to and manipulated in a deliberate fashion on a constant basis by this same media.

At the end of our long day, we do not feel like cooking a meal. We are too tired to wheel a shopping cart through a grocery store. It is simpler and in fact less expensive to go through the drive-through at the local fast food joint and pick up a sack of something. We can be sure that this something will be heavily seasoned with fat, sugar and salt. We can be equally sure that it will not contain anything resembling a balance of food types and nutrients.

But we have learned to find satisfaction in the sledge-hammer hit of fats, sugar and salt. The carbs and fats hit our systems like a drug fix. They energize us for the moment and the powerful tastes assuage our longing for pleasure. Eating this stuff passes for a momentary time-out. It feels like comfort.

Food, used like this, is not about nourishment. It is not the pleasurable and relaxing experience of partaking of a well-balanced, home-cooked meal with family and friends. There is no lingering over the last morsel and laughing about the day’s problems.

This kind of eating is a buy-it-quick, stuff-it-down fix. We need the outlandish calorie counts supplied by all that fat and sugar to satisfy our hunger because the food itself is so low in so many essential nutrients. The sugar-fat-salt fix soothes our taste buds and raises our blood sugar so that we feel a short-lived high.

Of course, this doesn’t last. Unlike a real meal composed of good food, the high from this something we’ve bought at the drive through goes away in a relatively short time. Unlike a meal at the kitchen table with friends and family, it does nothing to relieve the day’s pressures and assuage the anxieties that keep us up at night, even when we ache from tiredness.

Before we have begun to burn the high number of calories we’ve consumed, the gnawing hungers, both physical and emotional, are back. Our bodies push us to eat again because they haven’t been properly nourished. Our minds beg us to binge because we need surcease from being, as Alcoholics Anonymous says, too hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

We have nobody to talk to. We have no other outlets in our time-starved lives where we can vent. We are pushed around, abandoned, scared and alone with our miseries. We really are too hungry, angry, lonely and tired to fend off that call for a junk food fix.

Our national problem with obesity is not so much a problem with food as it is that we don’t have healthy options for dealing with the many desperations of our existence. We live in a nation that has been at war for almost 15 years. Our country has been economically at war since around 1939.

Our government has been hijacked by corporatists who are draining the national purse as well as our private purses and taking the money for themselves. The government tells us that inflation is flat, yet every time we go to the grocery store or fill a prescription or guy a gallon of gas, we know that this is not true. Inflation is, in fact, running pretty high. The government has just cooked the books so it does not have to admit it.

The stock market has been going up and up, yet the people of this country can’t find jobs and when they do find jobs, they can’t live on what they are paid. They do not have retirements, the roads and bridges aren’t being repaired, tuition keeps going up and scads of people can not afford the health insurance being offered by the Affordable Health Care Act.

There isn’t time in most people’s lives to drop in at a gym and work out every day. Besides, people who never get enough sleep at night don’t feel like working out. The only pleasure a lot of people in this country get on a reliable basis is stuffing down that junk food they got from the drive through.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we will not solve the problem of widespread obesity in this country until and unless we solve the problems of lost community, no free time and fear of the future that haunts the American people. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s up to us to do this for ourselves.

Widespread obesity is a symptom of many huge problems facing the American people. If you find your community on the internet, instead of the flesh and blood people around you, if you are chronically exhausted from lack of sleep, if you ache all over from lack of exercise, if you can’t find a job or if you have a job, it doesn’t pay your bills, if you have no idea whatsoever where you would go or who would take care of you if you got cancer or when you grow old, then you are not living the American dream. You are living the American nightmare.

Is it any wonder that you find it so hard to give up the one pleasure you have? When a Big Mac becomes the best thing in your life, you won’t be able to stay away from it, no matter how hard you try.

We the People tamed this continent. We built railroads across the wilderness, created an industrial empire like nothing the world had ever seen. We won world wars and put men on the moon. We created a standard of living, not just for the few, but for a whole nation of Americans, that, again, the world had never seen before.

Now it is being taken from us. The only thing our government seems capable of doing is waging constant war. It will not spend our money on us. It does not build roads, does not provide decent education. It goes in your face against our values and needs.

The government has steadily siphoned off the wealth of this great nation for decades now. It has transferred monies that once enriched all the citizens of this nation into the hands of a few. It has exported our industrial base and the jobs that go with it. It has ignored the people on a consistent, bi-partisan basis.

Meanwhile, We the People tear our lives apart with senseless divorces, too much debt, increasingly splintered communities, zoning out in front of the computer or the television, and of course, those trips through the junk food drive throughs.

We are sitting by while we are being stolen blind by our own government, while our young people turn feral from no family life, bad schools and sicko social values and while we commit slow suicide from overeating, under exercising and constant sleep deprivation.

I am not speaking of these thing from the outside. I am one with most of these problems. I eat out too much, don’t exercise enough and so seldom get enough sleep that when I do I am astonished by how good I feel. Over-eating, under-exercising exhaustion is my normal.

I’ve decided I’m going to join brave Katrina Fernandez and blog about my own battle of the bulge. I’ve done this before when I published a series of posts under the title, Less of Me. I’m going to resurrect that title and post under it again.

I see overweight/under-exercise/lack of sleep as a widespread societal problem and a deeply humiliating and utterly defeating personal problem.

If there is a way out of this cycle, I have never found it.

If you want to read something like Ten Quick Fixes for Weight Loss, you need to skip my discussion and go somewhere else. However, I can guarantee you before you go there that it will not help you one bit to read those ten quick fixes. Because there aren’t any quick fixes. Because the problem itself is bigger than the individual. Because when an entire nation of people experience such a devastating malady as this, there is much more afoot than simple lack of will power and bad personal decisions.

The junk food fix and everything that goes with it is a societal problem. It is a maladjustment and a source of illness for tens of millions of Americans.

I am one of those Americans.

Let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

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Less of Me: Feeding the Deeper Hungers

To join the discussion on Cravings, or for a link to buy the book, go here

Cravings, by Catholic author Mary De Turris Poust, provides ideas for combining Catholic spirituality with the fight to control overeating.

It’s a book written from the outside, so to speak. Ms Poust has never suffered from a weight problem, and, aside from a brief adolescent foray into extreme dieting and overexercise that lasted a short time and was cured by going on a family vacation, she has no personal experience with the demons that drive those of us who are truly addicted to food and use it for our drug of choice.

I’m not trying to pick at either Ms Poust or her very fine book when I say that. But it’s an important caveat to consider when reading the book. What can a woman who writes sentences like “I will actually crave broccoli when I eat too much heavy food … something that has grown out of being a vegetarian, doing yoga, jogging regularly …” have to say to me?

It turns out that if she’s a good writer who does a lot of research and has a well-developed sense of Christian spirituality, she has quite a lot to say to me.

As I said in other posts, I am one of the legions of people in this country who use food as a drug of sorts. I soothe myself with food when frustrations get to me. I also use food was a way out of boredom and as recreation. I have somehow developed the ability to mimic many of the emotions and behaviors that real drug addicts attach to their addiction to things like meth, only I use food as the drug.

It’s not a question of what I eat. The real question is, what’s eating me?

Cravings isn’t another one of those try-it-lose-it-and-regain diet programs overeaters know so well. In fact, it comes close to abjuring diet programs. This book focuses on how to replace food as the go-to drug for what ails you by turning to God. It’s full of very useful ideas and plans in this quest. One of the main foci of the book is on what the author calls “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is the fine art of paying attention to what you’re doing when you eat and not just stuffing things down without even being aware of it.

I know that for a lot of people the idea of eating a meal and not being aware of it sounds far-fetched. But I’ve done it. I do it. Part of the reason that food soothes me is that I’ve learned to turn off when I eat.

Food, or at least the act of eating, has become a sort of stress and thinking off-switch for me. That doesn’t mean that I go into a trance or become a blubbering food drunk. I engage in conversations and actually enjoy myself. Food as a drug is at least part metaphor for the simple reason that food is no drug. It is an essential and highly enjoyable part of our physical survival. It is also an integral part of our social life. We bond to people over food.

What Ms Poust suggests is that we try to resurrect this original purpose of food as a means of survival/bonding/pleasure and make the most of them. She wants us to do this by refocusing our emotional hungers that we try to satisfy with food on the One who can actually assuage them.

The practical side of this book gives what I think are sound and useful suggestions such as eat at the dining room table, enjoy regular family meals, pray before meals, and when you crave food as an answer to pain, turn to God in prayer, instead. She gives lots of specific ideas, most of them worth trying and then hanging onto.

Where the book becomes tedious, at least for me, is the over-emphasis on what I think of as arcane references. Part of this feeling is due to the fact that I read a lot of Catholic books and I’ve noticed that the women authors, in particular, seem to have a strong monastic bent. They quote the desert fathers and talk a lot about their retreats to monasteries and conversations with monks.

Now that’s all fine, but it doesn’t compute with me. In the first place, Ms Poust tries to hold the monastic way of eating, which she says is based on simple food eaten in community with prayer and mindfulness, as an example of what the rest of us should do. This might resonate with me more if I didn’t know so many overweight monks. These guys have the same problems with food that I do.

I’m not saying that simple food, eaten in community with prayer and mindfulness is not a wonderful thing. But I am saying that living life as the monks do is not attainable or attractive for most people and besides, so far as weight control goes, it doesn’t always work, not even for the monks.

So far as overeating is concerned, we’re all down here in the pits together, and the sooner we get over the idea that “our” overeating problem is some terrible curse that hits us alone, the sooner we’ll begin to grow up foodwise. I say that, not as someone who has conquered her food problems, but as someone who has been consistently conquered by them.

Cravings is a thoughtful book with a lot to offer. Its basic premise, that some of us try to feed our emotional and spiritual hungers with food, is spot on. I personally am still trying to figure out how to turn to God instead of food for these things. I’ll write more about that later.

In case you didn’t notice, I’m resurrecting the Less of Me series for this blog. In the meantime, if you are looking for a starting point on how to combine spirituality with your battle with food addiction, give Cravings a read. It has a lot of good advice in it. Despite my picky caveats, I recommend it.

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Less of Me: Week Four

Gimpy the Foot.

Less of Me is going to be a little unusual for a while.

There may be a blessing in this unusualness, since I’m being forced to search for ways to live healthy in a wheelchair. I know I’m not the only person who needs this information and if I figure out anything useful, I’m going to share. 

If you’ve followed this series, you know that I resolved to do more exercise and get healthy and promptly fell down and broke my foot and cracked my hip.

The first week was kind of lousy. But this week the pain backed off and I began to feel golden. I hefted myself up, kicked the wheelchair aside with my good foot and reached for the walker.

Now there are probably those among you who associate walkers with feeble, slow-pokey type locomoting. But you’ve got it all wrong. If you doubt that, I challenge you to spend a week or so trapped in the bottom floor of a two-story house in a wheelchair. Kicking that wheelchair aside was powerful.

I clomped around the house with the walker. I even went into the kitchen, whose entry is too narrow for the wheel chair. I was like a step-clomp-step-clomp bird let out of her cage. When my husband came home from work, I persuaded him to take me for a drive and I step-clomped my way to the car.

There is no Olympic Gold Medalist who is any happier with their athletic achievements than I was with that step-clomp walk to the car. I came home and started planning my new life of freedom.

The next day, I got up and noticed that the hardware in Gimpy the Foot was sticking up. It made an ugly bulge through the bandages. Didn’t hurt. Or at least not much. (I quit taking pain meds so I would know if I was hurting Gimpy when I used the walker.) But it wasn’t where it had been.

I called the doc and he said go to the er. Said they had my old x-rays, could take new ones and see what I’d done to myself. I didn’t do that. I just didn’t want to spend another half-day in the er. I think I also didn’t want to hear any bad news. I’ve got Gimpy propped up and am waiting for my doc’s appointment Tuesday. And I’m back in the wheelchair.

If I moved that hardware and they have to do anything over, I’m …. well, I’m gonna do it over. But, boy, I don’t want to.

The question remains: How does anybody get healthy in a wheelchair? Frankly, if I was going to do this permanently, the first thing I would do is get rid of this house. No more two-story. No more narrow doorways. No more high cabinets and steps up the front porch. (You haven’t lived until you’ve had your son and husband lift your overweight self, in your wheel chair, up the front steps just a few hours after surgery. It’s the scariest ride in town.)

I can tell you that the men I live with don’t cook. They also don’t like healthy take-out. They like junk food. I am scared to think how much weight I’m gaining, sitting here with Gimpy propped up and swilling down the junk.

I’ve started doing some upper body workouts that a reader (Thank you Theresa!) linked for me. They work great in a wheelchair. I’m also going to peruse Amazon for a wheelchair workout cd.

I’m going to send one of my girlfriends out with a list of things that I can eat that aren’t junk food. I’m sending a girlfriend because, if I sent my husband, I wouldn’t get any food. It wouldn’t matter how meticulously I wrote the list. It wouldn’t matter if I sat down and went over it with him before he left. He’d still come back with ice cream, chocolate bars, dip, chips, four liters of soda, and a fire starter for the charcoaler.

After thirty years of marriage, I know these things.

Whatever I ask my friend to buy for me, it’s got to be something I can prepare without going into the kitchen. That’s where you come in.

I’m not much of a domestic goddess, even when I have both my feet. How do I do this with a microwave and a refrigerator?

I’m calling on all you cooks out there for ideas. Send me good ones. If the doc says I’m stuck in this wheelchair for the duration, I’ve got to figure out how to do the wheelchair thing in health.

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