I found the neighborhood grocery store overwhelming–calorie-laden packages shouting from every shelf, “Buy me, eat me, get fat with me!” Piles of pre-packaged, pre-processed, sugar-stuffed food accosted me. Simply walking through it made me feel ill.
Mid-August, I had to undergo a major foot reconstruction project that confined me to home for several weeks. As I began to move again, I was uncomfortably aware that the weeks of inactivity had led to enough weight gain that I needed to address it, so I joined a program that required a careful and accurate food diary.
In other words, I started counting the calories of every single thing I consumed.
Four weeks into the calorie-counting, I made my first trip to a neighborhood grocery store in ten weeks. However, I had bought some things at a store further from home that specializes in the freshest of fresh food, vegetables, fruit, seafood, meat, bakery, and dairy. Almost no junk food there. While there are certainly plenty of calories to be had, the food itself is quite nutritious. It is a celebration of real food.
Buy me, eat me, get fat with me!!!
But I found the neighborhood grocery store overwhelming–calorie-laden packages shouting from every shelf, “Buy me, eat me, get fat with me!” Piles of pre-packaged, pre-processed, sugar-stuffed food accosted me. Simply walking through it made me feel ill.
Right now, massive, and I do mean massive, piles of Halloween candy beckon from nearly every end-aisle display. Same thing will happen at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, any other possible holiday–the stuff is cheap to manufacture, has high-profit margins, and keeps forever. A manufacturing/marketing dream and a nightmare for the US.
No questions about it: these weeks away plus the meticulous and terribly revealing calorie counting sensitized me to the difficulties of eating properly–and we are in an area with unusually good grocery stores. It’s no wonder most of us in the US struggle with our weight.
Several years ago, I spent several weeks in rural France with my oldest son and his family. Our grocery shopping expeditions led us to stores stocked with real food. Aisle after aisle of yogurts and cheeses, many utterly unfamiliar to me. So many varieties of vegetables and fruits available, along with beautifully tended fresh meat and fish counters.
During my time there, I began the routine of a daily two-mile walk to and from the village bakery for our daily bread needs. All freshly baked; zero crap put in it to “preserve” it for more than 24 hours. It was a “buy only what you need, eat it, and enjoy every bite” experience.
So very different. And yes, people so much more slender. I also lost weight on that trip but ate gloriously every day, enjoying my share of affordable French wines.
Buy me, eat me, get Covid-19 and get sicker
This whole weight situation in the US has come to the surface in the most awful of ways with the Covid-19 pandemic. Note this piece of research from the September 2020 issue of Science Magazine:
Since the pandemic began, dozens of studies have reported that many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been people with obesity. In recent weeks, that link has come into sharper focus as large new population studies have cemented the association and demonstrated that even people who are merely overweight are at higher risk. For example, in the first metaanalysis of its kind, published on 26 August in Obesity Reviews, an international team of researchers pooled data from scores of peer-reviewed papers capturing 399,000 patients. They found that people with obesity who contracted SARS-CoV-2 were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die.
Those numbers are downright scary. I’m all for being comfortable with one’s body, but this has reached the state of a national health emergency and is causing way too many deaths.
In my years of loving and serving the church, I’ve also found that a church environment can also be an extremely unhealthy one. Perhaps one of the hidden blessings of the Covid-church is that the “coffee-doughnut-fellowship” hour no longer exists. Most pastors I know struggle terribly with their weight, often because parishioners are so lovingly generous with their offerings of baked goods. Frankly, God-forbid that any pastor refuses to partake for fear of hurting feelings.
My necessity to eat a strict gluten-free diet likely spared me from what would have been a descent into severe obesity during my pastoral years. Even so, I managed to pack on extra pounds through stress eating and inadequate exercise.
Church, it’s time to meddle
Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition know that John Wesley meddled freely in the lives of his parishioners about their health, eating, and drinking issues. He wrote a book about it: Primitive Physic: An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. You can have your very own copy for a whole $1.50 as an Amazon Kindle book.
Now, some of the things he recommended are clearly dangerous, although they were common treatments then, but much reads well today. Here are just a few snippets of Mr. Wesley’s advice:
A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.
Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise.
We may strengthen any weak part of the body by constant exercise. Thus, the lungs may be strengthened by loud speaking, or walking up an easy ascent; the digestion and the nerves by riding.
The studious ought to have stated times for exercise, at least two or three hours a day; the one-half of this before dinner, the other before going to bed
Those who read or write much, should learn to do it standing; otherwise, it will impair their health.
The fewer clothes anyone uses by day or night, the hardier he will be.
Exercise first, should be always on an empty stomach; secondly, should never be continued to weariness; thirdly, after it, we should take to cool by degrees, otherwise we shall catch cold.
The flesh-brush is a most useful exercise, especially to strengthen any part that is weak.
Cold bathing is of great advantage to health; it prevents abundance of diseases. It promotes perspiration, helps the circulation of the blood; and prevents the danger of catching cold. Tender persons should pour pure water upon the head before they go in, and walk swiftly. To jump in with the head foremost is too great a shock to nature.
I was particularly struck by the suggestion we all go to standing desks since they are so much in vogue these days. Frankly, the vast majority of this advice is startlingly relevant.
Now, let’s take a quick look at Mr. Wesley’s advice on eating:
Use plain diet, easy of digestion; and this as sparingly as you can, consistent with ease and strength. Drink only water, if it agrees with your stomach; if not, good clear small-beer. Use as much exercise daily in the open air as you can without weariness. Sup at six or seven, on the lightest food, go to bed early, and rise betimes. (Wesley, John. Primitive Physic: An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases, p. 12. Kindle Edition.)
Not a whole lot different from the wise statement by Food Writer Michael Pollan: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
The reality: it is a ton of hard work to eat healthily and in ways that help prevent disease. There is not one simple or easy answer to what we in the US face with our national tendency to avoirdupois. But we really must change what we are doing. It is a life-or-death matter.
It’s time for me to make my noon salad. Yeah, it’s a good bit of trouble. What’s worse, I’m considered lucky because I do have easy access to fresh vegetables. This is a shameful, national disaster.