So, I tend to avoid really difficult subjects on this blog. Well, lately, that’s been the case, anyway. Aside from the occasional Obama bakesale and donation, I haven’t been all that devoted to anything but trying to get through this Ph.D. and procrastinating with wedding planning of late. But I’ll take a break from the 4 am posts and discuss something that’s been on my mind for a while. It ends in a personal challenge of sorts, so hang in there.
At this point, I guess you’re a bit sceptical. People talk about health in relation to food all the time. We’ve built up an entire science around the attempt at defining a healthy diet, and a healthy individual. Society has decided who should eat cookies and who should not, usually based solely on one’s pant size. But it’s not that simple, as many who have struggled with some diet or another have probably found. Thin does not necessarily equal healthy, and healthy does not necessarily equal thin. Anyone who tells you otherwise is sorely mistaken.
I’ll use myself as an example. Most people would say I’m fairly thin. I’m tall, and have been wearing the same few pairs of size 8 jeans since the start of college. I’m well proportioned, for the most part. But none of this means I’m actually healthy. I have my grandfather’s sweet tooth, with all the danger associated with that, and since I moved in with James, and started having to take night shifts once a week, it’s kicked in like crazy. I’m still thin, relatively. But am I healthy? Not so much. I exercise, and try to eat relatively healthy stuff most of the time (whole grains, homemade meals, etc), but I’ve gained about 5 pounds a year since I turned 25. And I’ve watched my blood pressure creep up in return. It runs in the family, as does heart disease.
The funny thing is, when I took better care of myself — two years ago — the girls in my office thought I was too thin. They’d tell me so, on a regular basis, in worried, scolding tones. I don’t think they meant badly, but it made me self-conscious. I started eating more. Candy from the snack room, plenty of cookies at cookie time, a bit more meat. I gained weight. My blood pressure went up. Running got harder. But the comments stopped, and I felt a bit more comfortable in my skin.
Perhaps I’m too sensitive. I realize it’s my responsibility to take care of my own health, and I really shouldn’t listen to what other people have to say about my physical appearance. But the point is that external expectations for physical appearance — expressed in harmless comments, perhaps, or in the media — do have an effect on how people view themselves, even if other, more reliable indicators of health, tell them they’re doing just fine. And this problem goes both ways. Tell a perfectly healthy girl that she’s anorexic, and she may try to gain weight. Tell another perfectly healthy girl that she’s a fat pig, and she’ll spend her life feeling like she constantly has to diet. Neither situation is particularly healthy.
Anyway, the economy actually got me thinking about all this lately. I know, that sounds strange. But it makes fiscal sense to eat only what you need, at least most of the time. It also makes financial sense to try to maintain your health to the best of your ability. Health care costs for diseases associated with poor diet (diabetes, heart disease, cancer) are atrocious. And who wants to live with those diseases? If only the US government would realize, and actually prioritize preventative medicine, rather than allowing (some) private health care companies to ignore patients until they’re almost too far gone to act, or letting those without healthcare coverage use the ER as their primary health provider … Oh yah, and there’s the whole US food system. But I digress.
I’m presenting myself with a bit of a challenge for the next few months. I’m going to go back to my mostly vegetarian diet. I’m cutting out all the sugar, except on special occasions (my birthday, holidays, graduation, wedding, occasional gatherings with friends). No nightshift snack-bin raids. No sugary mochas to get back on schedule. And I’m getting back on a running schedule. I think I’ll try to document how well I’m sticking to my plan, as well as the amount I save, on a monthly basis (as well as I can) on this blog. To give myself an incentive, I’m going to save those amounts for road race entry fees (if you’ve never tried them, do — they’re an awesome way to see a city in a new light). Double incentives are good, right?
To go with this, James and I have agreed we’ll both skip meat one day a week. So, I’ll be posting healthy, vegetarian recipes that even meat-eating Australians might be able to stomach. He doesn’t like soy, beans, or tofu. He lives on bread, cheese, and salami. And he claims vegetarian meals don’t fill him up. Um … yah. I think this last bit will be my real challenge.
I should clarify: there are actually three motives behind this challenge. The first is my desire to improve my health (and James’s), the second has to do with my long-term goal of lessening my carbon footprint (check out my post on Mark Bittman to see how decreasing meat consumption will help with that), and the third is my concern about the economy. All good reasons, I believe…
We’ll see how it goes, I suppose?