Sunday, August 28, 2011

Read labels: a cautionary tale

The other day I stumbled across an article saying that research shows half of all Americans will be obese by 2030. 65 million more Americans will likely become obese within the next 20 years.

I want to be confused, because it seems like we know more about how not to become obese than ever. But I’m not confused. I know what it is. With as much good information that’s available, there’s 100 times as much effort from companies to dupe you into thinking that what they’re selling is healthy.

 As Americans, we’re a gullible bunch. We fall for every advertising gimmick. We eat the fake fat even if it does cause severe gastrointestinal distress and cancer. We take diet pills even though we know they’re no good and no substitute for just eating a damn salad and getting on the treadmill. We jump on every fad eating plan thinking it’s “the one” that will make us magically skinny.

Worst of all, the biggest offender that I believe is the number one problem today: we don’t read labels. We pick up boxes of cereal, yogurt or crackers that are labeled “healthy” and we stick them in our carts and we eat them thinking we’re doing our bodies a favor. Never mind that the cereal might be crammed with high fructose corn syrup, the yogurt has aspartame which is bad enough for support groups and the crackers have more chemicals in them than a nuclear plant. But it’s low fat and sugar-free! Woo hoo!

I’m not writing this to announce that I am superior to all Americans because I happen to educate myself on nutrition and eat my fruits and veggies. I am writing to tell you that I am a victim too. Still, even though I get my SELF magazine and read every study I can and pay attention, those bastards dupe me now and then.

 I’ve known it’s important to read labels since 2008 when I was horrified to learn my favorite cereal of all time, Raisin Bran Crunch, was packed with high fructose corn syrup and modified ingredients. I quit eating it, made NO other changes to my diet and lost five pounds in just over a week (which never happens even when I’m trying to lose weight). The corn syrup was keeping me fat and tired. I’ve been a diligent reader of labels ever since. But last week, I got tricked at the worst possible time.

I set aside one week every couple of months for what I refer to as “clean eating / no crap” week. It’s not some kind of liquid diet nonsense or anything gimmicky. I just eliminate alcohol, added sugar and sweets, starchy carbs, dairy and meat and try to get to a steam room or hot yoga class, all while drinking tons of water. It’s just a week, but it’s tough, especially now that we live in Seattle which pretty much has the best food ever. But I stick to it, because I always feel great afterward and ready to bring the wine and chocolate back into my life.

Last week was that week for me. And it was tough, but I stuck to it, even when my co-workers offered me cupcakes and Starbucks runs and cheesecake brownies (I’m still mourning passing that one up). No, instead I stuck to my steel cut oats and salad and quinoa like a champ.

 By Thursday afternoon, I was feeling great, but also very hungry. My simple salad lunch of mixed greens, an apple and almonds with no dressing simply did not tide me over. I get grumpy when I’m hungry (understatement of the year). By 6 PM, knowing that dinner was two hours away, I knew I needed a snack before I headed home or I’d surely stab someone on the bus. So I headed downstairs to our vending machine / little mini mart type thing. In addition to chips and cookies, there’s a decent selection of healthier snacks as well.

Nestled in with the Cliff Bars and Luna bars, there was a little green baggie marked as “Yogurt Apple Nut Mix.” Peanuts, almonds, little chunks of apples. Yummy! It was next to all the healthy stuff, and it was in a green bag! Green for health! Maybe I was weak from starvation or just in too much of a rush to catch the bus, but I grabbed the bag, glanced at the calories on the back (220! No problem!), paid for it and left. I ripped open the bag as soon as I got on the bus and shoveled a handful of the mixture into my mouth. It was delicious… in all the wrong ways. It was the kind of “good” food companies have tricked all our tastebuds into thinking was good. The peanuts were coated in sugar and the apples were more preserved than Joan Rivers’ face. Everything was covered in “partially hydrogenated” bullshit.

I knew before I even read the label that I’d been tricked. I couldn’t pronounce half the crap that was on it. It was literally everything I’d spent the better part of the week ridding my body of and most of everything I try to never, ever eat. I was so pissed. I should’ve just had the pita chips… or better yet, the cheesecake brownie. Instead I had all the junk of the brownie with none of the fun.

I don’t think most obese people in this country purposely stuff themselves full of garbage until they weigh 400 pounds and then wonder what happened. I think a lot of people simply don’t know how bad some of these chemicals are and that they really will keep you fat and do more damage than any calorie will. I think most people THINK they are making healthy choices. And it’s not entirely their faults. It’s hard to stay on top of the information and almost impossible to avoid these additives that are in everything.

If you don’t do anything else for your health, ever, read up on things like trans fats, corn syrup and all those freakish things on labels you can’t pronounce. Don’t be an idiot like me and get duped. These companies will never stop trying to trick you. And you’ll be surprised how much better you look and feel simply by cutting back on or eliminating chemicals you can’t pronounce. They’ll never give it up, so fight back. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

If I had a hall pass...

I consider myself a somewhat cultured person. I enjoy musicals, even symphonies on occasion, and I’ve read plenty of the classics. Yet I love to watch mindless comedies. So the other night when Mr. W came home from work with Hall Pass, I was onboard.

Hall Pass is that movie where Pam from The Office and Christina Applegate give their husbands one week off from marriage after some really douchey behavior on both their parts. A week off, meaning they’re allowed to do whatever they want including sleep with other women. Of course, if you were married to Jenna Fisher or Christina Applegate you would be thanking God every day, not secretly wondering if the grass was greener elsewhere. But not these morons. Of course, shenanigans happened and hilarity ensued. Admittedly, it was a pretty funny and we’ve found ourselves quoting it all week.

“Part of me wants to be offended at the way men were portrayed in that film,” I said to Mr. W as the credits rolled. “But I can’t be because the majority of you are really like that. I love you guys. Some of my favorite people in the world are men. But you do act that way, you do think of women that way and the majority of you think you’re much better looking than you really are. I know enough of you to know all this.”

“I know, too,” he agreed. “Why do you think I don’t want to be friends with these people?”

Then, of course, he had to ask… “What would you do if you had a hall pass? Would you go out and hit on a bunch of guys?”

“God, no!” I said, genuinely appalled. “That sounds awful and is literally the last thing I would want to do.”

I won't lie, it’s (sometimes) quite flattering when I do get male attention. The sweet teenage boy that gave me a free blended coffee, the random older man at the bus stop that told me I was beautiful, the employee on the ferry to Vashon Island that told me I was “probably the hottest thing to ever set foot in Idaho…” these people all made my day and earned themselves a special place in heaven. Also, these instances happened months apart, I am not some kind of Goddess Badass.

But in reality, those occasional instances and the attention I receive at home from the man I love are more than enough validation that I’ve Still Got It. The thought of cramming myself into something tight that requires giving up food all day, spending hours getting ready and drinking a $15 Cosmo just so I can talk to a douche in a popped collar sounds like absolute torture. And God forbid it should go any further. I don’t touch anything in public restrooms and won’t even use the same bath towel twice. I can’t imagine how I’d be hooking up with a stranger. I’d probably ask if he uses a tongue scraper and if he’s up to date on his shots, to say the least. It would not be fun or enjoyable. It's just not my thing.

No. I’d take that hall pass, all right, but I wouldn’t do any of the things they dreamed of doing in the movie (except maybe the brownies, those looked tasty, but that's another post). If I was given one week off from marriage to do whatever I pleased, it would not be pretty.

First, I wouldn’t shave anything for at least five days. I would sleep in the most unflattering pajamas and sweats known to man. I would also instantly revert to my college days of spending approximately 16 hours a day online browsing blogs while eating cereal. I would watch a continuous Golden Girls marathon, the one chick show that for some unknown reason no straight man ever likes.

I would eat like crazy. I do that now with my husband right next to me. But I would try all the recipes with foods he doesn’t like, like zucchini and eggplant and weird random vegan things I’ve always wanted to make… combined, of course, with things like chili cheese nachos. There’s a scene in the movie where the guys pig out at Applebee’s with a ton of food and several bottles of wine. I would totally do that, except at a tapas place instead of Applebee’s and with lots of dessert, too.

And if at the end of this week off I still miraculously fit into my nice clothes, I suppose I would shower and shave and pull myself together and go out… but not with the intention of picking up a man. It would be with my girlfriends, in a roped off man-free VIP section of a place where the music was at a volume where we could converse without too much trouble and perfectly danceable if we so desired. The evening would end with a ride home in a limo followed by a full day at the spa to cure the hangover that would result from all the champagne. Apparently on my week off I would have plenty of cash, too.

When asked about his hall pass, Mr. W said he would camp out on the couch, unshaven, and watch all the scary, violent movies I never want to see and eat lots of things with mushrooms on them.

In other words, our marriage is all that keeps either of us from turning into disgusting lazy leeches on society. It’s probably a good thing we found each other.

The best part is that it was actually tough to imagine myself with a “hall pass” because I have the kind of relationship where I don’t feel restricted. If I want to wear my pajamas for 48 straight hours, have cupcakes and wine for dinner or take off on a girls’ trip to Mexico or Vegas, that’s OK with him. And when I picked him up at the airport after his weekend of drinking in Montana and he immediately barfed down the side of my car, that was OK with me (he cleaned it, anyway). I don’t know any grass anywhere that is greener than that. 

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