Overheard at a restaurant one evening: “Why can’t any of these diets be more livable? There is nothing on my diet that even comes close to what I want to eat.”
I’m not usually one to eavesdrop. Ok, maybe that’s a lie. I find other people pretty interesting, so I guess I consider eavesdropping sociological research. That helps me sleep at night. Anyway, I’m assuming the person I overheard complaining about their current diet was making an effort to lose some weight. And, I’m also assuming they’re following some sort of guideline or set of eating rules to lose the weight. And I couldn’t help but wonder… is being overweight or out-of-shape “livable?” As I scanned the menu I saw that there was in fact a “light and fit” offering as well as several vegetable choices and grilled meats. Now, as a fairly clean eater and Paleo nut, do I trust that this restaurant sources grass-fed local beef and organic vegetables? Yeah…probably not. But just about every restaurant has a bunch of items that are a better choice than French fries and ice cream. And, if it doesn’t appear so on the outside, there are usually ways to take menu items and re-invent them to be a little better for you.
I really think what normal folks mean when they say they want a more livable diet is that our perspective of normal food has been so skewed that what health nuts call “real food” just isn’t appealing anymore. I mean, what normal kid will tell you that their favorite meal is roast beef and broccoli? Or that they’d much rather have whole milk than a soda? It’s the same struggle with my own kids. The moment they were introduced to chicken fingers, French fries and ugh, PIZZA, we were doomed. Because kids don’t really understand the concept of self-regulation. As parents we’ve been guilty of allowing the kids to over-indulge and watch as they run screaming through the house as a result of a junk-food sugar rush. That’s just part of childhood in America. I mentioned in my last article that America has become the land of plenty when it comes to quick and easy dinner choices located at just about every street corner. And, it’s pretty interesting that even nicer restaurants offer children’s menus featuring the usual suspects. Even our favorite Mediterranean restaurant surprised us with a kid’s menu complete with chicken nuggets and a pita-bread pizza! I’ve been in the advertising and marketing industry for the past sixteen years, and I can truly imagine some consultant telling restaurant owners that to attract more guests, they should offer traditional kids menus so parents won’t have to argue their kids into trying something as crazy-sounding as souvlaki.
But, I think a prominent issue is that many younger parents of overweight kids also grew up with access to whatever kind of food they wanted, whenever they wanted it. Their taste buds were rarely introduced to vegetables with every meal and their parents insisting that a meal just wasn’t a meal without protein. These are old-school thoughts it would seem. I’m not one to say that our parents had it much better than we did. I really wouldn’t prefer to live in the fifties without all my modern conveniences. But, I think we need to realize what all these conveniences and accessibility to all kinds of food has done. Our innovations and industriousness have created a reality where just about every American at any income level can access tasty treats twenty-four hours a day. And, without our parents there to chide us, the only downside is we’re getting fat. We’re only hurting ourselves. But, sometimes we forget that our kids do as we do. So, when we don’t choose green vegetables or lean meats at the grocery store, our kids make that their reality, too. And our kids are getting bigger.
So, what is livable? What is a “diet” we can stick to? How can we make a lifestyle change with all these other options out there tempting us on every corner? My kids don’t think I’m being very livable when I don’t allow them to have chocolate cake for breakfast. I’m kind of the worst dad in the world when that happens… and a hero when I surprise them with donuts. My wife doesn’t always think I’m very livable when I refuse a delicious pasta dish she worked on for hours. I’ve hurt some feelings and I’ve been the bad guy. Because I’m “un-livable.” But is it really more livable to watch ourselves become increasingly more overweight? It’s been said that, on average, Americans gain a pound a year after age 30. And, that’s the example we’re setting for our kids. The old adage indeed holds true: If you want to know what a woman will look like after marriage, just look at her mother. And, men have been conditioned to believe that high blood pressure and heart disease is hereditary. It’s much easier to accept a prescription for blood pressure medication than change your lifestyle. Yeah, that’s much more “livable,” isn’t it?
It sounds weird, and I get lots of eye rolling for this, but it’s not about any kind of diet, per se. It’s really about making a life-style choice. And, it’s certainly about re-conditioning our very own taste buds. As a kid, the smell of coffee turned my stomach. I still remember my first sip of beer and wondering how in the world people could drink enough of it to actually get drunk. And, I think changing our modern lifestyle has to be the same way. I knew somebody in college who couldn’t stand to drink sodas. They were so sugary, they said, that it just made them sick. What I thought was really weird at the time has truly become my reality. I can only stand a few bites of chocolate cake and a few sips of soda tastes like pure sugar. I don’t know how my kids can do it! Is it realistic to think they’ll prefer broccoli to pizza anytime soon? Hmm, probably not. But, I don’t want them totally turned off from vegetables and I’d love for them to choose a steak dinner over pizza one day. I’m hoping that exposure to “real” food daily and junk food as a “treat” will instill the idea that you can have a little fun so long as you take care of yourself most of the time. That eating well can be livable and pretty tasty, too. And, to recognize that being overweight and all the health problems associated with it doesn’t have to be normal. That there is no magic pill to fix every health issue and that it takes using your brain and exhibiting a little self-control. Like most good things in life.