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. 


Stevie said...

Oh Jess, I could talk about this kind of stuff for hours. DAYS, even. Like you, I'm a healthy eater and always have been (thank you, mom, for shoving broccoli down my throat every day). Sure, I love me some french fries and it's almost impossible for me to resist and Oreo, but I just really prefer REAL food.

I was cooking a while ago and was making a recipe that required bread crumbs. Normally, we make our own bread and I make crumbs from that, but we didn't have any on hand. So I went to the store to buy some bread crumbs. All but ONE brand had High Fructose Corn Syrup in it. And of course, the one that didn't was the most expensive. But I bought it anyway because I refuse to knowingly eat HFCS.

It's a shame that all the processed food is so cheap and easy and readily accessible. I wish people realized they could actually SAVE money by buying fresh food and making their own meals. I usually make one or two big meals a week and save the leftovers for lunch, dinner, snacks, etc.

Anyway, like I said, I could on forever about this and it sounds like you and I are on the same page. Also, BLECH about the snack you bought! It's almost criminal that food companies can advertise that as healthy!

Let me know next time you do a clean eating week. I'll join you and we can keep each other accountable :-)

JessicaLee said...

We're definitely on the same page Stevie, and that's exactly what I'm talking about! No one would expect high fructose corn syrup to be in effing bread crumbs! It was so frustrating yesterday looking all over for a packet of onion soup mix that didn't have partially hydrogenated "solids" in it. I ended up altering the recipe because I couldn't find it. There's no reason that crap should be in there! I'll definitely let you know the next time I "behave"... I can always use a detox buddy! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post. Simple & organic is probably the best way to go.

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