Or at least I think I’m beginning to. With all the media attention healthy eating gets, I’m willing to bet a good portion of America knows what healthy eating looks like. While educational efforts need to be continued, I think the roots of the epidemic stem beyond the classroom or the nightly news. Home environment plays a huge role in daily habits.
I first started thinking about it a few days ago when I was hanging out with one of my best friends. We literally spent the entire day (12 PM until roughly 9PM) eating and snacking. My water intake dropped dramatically and I did no exercise beyond walking to the kitchen and back. I ate beyond the point of being full, but because I was with a friend, it didn’t matter. Part of it comes from most of my friends being larger than I am. I don’t want them to feel bad about what they eat so I match them plate for plate. The habit is quite dangerous. I’ve also run to resistance with other friends and with my family when I do make healthy choices. Suddenly I’m “too good” for what mother cooked if I choose to eat a salad instead (which is by no means true, I love mom’s cooking) or I’m “trying to impress somebody” when I go for a run. If I talk about vegetarianism, I’ve “come back from college with bourgeois ideas about food.”
I know my friends should accept my choices and even be happy for them, but it’s a lot easier to do what they’re doing than to resist. I have a feeling the same is true for others in the world. When their families are eating delicious calorie-laden pies and glorious mounds of sugar-topped pancakes, they don’t want to be the left-out kill-joy eating apples and bran muffins. I love vegetables, but I love the people around me more.
Grocery stores also present a huge problems. Produce and healthy snack options (especially in low-income neighborhoods) are cost-prohibitive. Produce, especially, in poverty-stricken areas is on average higher priced and lower quality. How can people expect to eat healthily if they can’t afford it? I live on a college kid budget, which means I shed a tear every time I purchase my veggies for the week. I try to fool myself into thinking I’m spending less by purchasing one orange or tomato at a time, over the course of the week. Let’s face it, a 45 cent pack of ramen (which is enough for a meal) is more enticing than a $2.50 meal made of healthy things.
Cost aside, healthy things are hard to find. I once walked into a supermarket just to scope my options. Once I left the produce isle, vegetarian options dwindled drastically. Even if I did find something vegetarian, it was something soaked in salt, drenched in syrup, and served with fries. No thank you. Any benefit from eating the vegetable probably disappeared by the second time it went through the boiling process. Still, people will eat these things because there are pictures of fruits and vegetables on the box. We’ve been trained to believe that as long as it’s a vegetable, it’s healthy. We’ve also been taught to eat low-sodium low-sugar diets. It seems we can’t have it both ways.
Because “readymade healthy” is so hard to find, preparing nutritious food is a bit cumbersome. Popping a pre-made lasagna in the oven will always be faster than making a healthy one from scratch, unless one is a fan of unwashed, uncut vegetables (but then, the healthiness of the meal is in question). Health takes time a dedication, but in a fast-paced world such as ours, no one has the time to give. We need quick, we need now, and if that means we don’t need health, then so be it.
Our obesity problem is not one of education. Food pyramids (or I guess they’re plates now) are pretty ubiquitous. People just lack the resources and support systems required to change their lives. Don’t get me wrong, with a little shift in priorities and some financial finagling a person can absolutely turn his or her life around despite the obstacles, but I have a feeling not many are ready to do that just yet. Healthy and diet and exercise are extrememly rewarding. When I’ve cleaned my diet, I feel amazing. The aches and pains go away and I feel lighter and more alert. As soon as I stop, a fog descends over my brain and maintaining attention becomes difficult. Health is obviously the better choice, but it’s a beast to maintain.