Friday, February 9

Unhappy Meals, Unhappy Americans

I don't know about you, but I have spent many years wondering how to go about eating a healthy diet. The majority of my relationship with food has been unhealthy, confusing, and frustrating. Trying to stay current with whatever food fad or diet craze the scientists were recommending that particular day left me feeling very confused about what healthy really was.

When I was in high school, low-fat was all the rage. As long as it said low-fat on it, you could eat as much as you wanted. Nevermind calories, carbs, or sugar grams. Then during college, the low-carb thing began to take hold as people everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and ate up all the fatty foods they could find -- steaks, bacon, real sour cream & butter...anything but the dreaded carb. But the fads didn't make me feel any healthier, didn't lead to a long-term healthy weight, and ultimately they just made me doubt that there was such a thing as a healthy, nutritious way to eat.

It seemed like every month a new someone was saying something new: "Eat this, don't eat that, eat exactly this much of this _______ (insert super-food X, Y, or Z)." If the experts couldn't agree or make up their minds as to what foods were healthy, I subconciously decided I wasn't going to bother trying to decipher what a nutritious diet really looked like. So what the heck, I thought, might as well just chuck it all and eat whatever I feel like eating.

Enter pregnancy. Enter eating free-for-all (eating for two!). Enter baby weight gain. Enter frustration!

So after we moved to Nashville in August 2004, I was in a new town, a new church, I missed my friends and support system in Ohio, I had a new baby, money frustrations, and oh yeah -- one distinctly unhealthy body. I felt tired, depressed, lonely, and downright yucky. I knew I needed and wanted to figure out what was healthy for my body, but I wasn't sure where to start. The food pyramid? The latest diet fad? A new exercise gagdet or program? With so many conflicting voices, I wasn't sure whom to listen to. I was doubly confounded by my gluten-free diet, which I embarked upon starting in February 2003 when I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Through the sound recommendation of my friend Laurie, I began seeing a Christian nutritionist, Scotti, and what I have learned in the last 2 years has been pretty life-changing. Since November 2004, I have been on a journey of readjusting and reeducating myself about nutrition and food, essentially attempting to change my relationship with this whole eating thing in general. The road has not been easy, I have fallen off the bandwagon a few times, there was another pregnancy thrown in with another round of baby weight still to lose, but here I am on the other side, still working at not just what I eat, but why I eat.

Okay, so that was a long intro. On to my point. I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Gluten-Free Girl (which BTW is a great read for gluten eaters as well), and she mentioned a New York Times article by Michael Pollan entitled, Unhappy Meals. It sounded interesting, but I didn't have time to check it out right away. About a week later, I noticed that this same article was the most popular article on the NYT's website for the entire month of January. That piqued my interest again. So a few days ago, I finally got around to reading it. Wow! I just had to talk about it on my blog because in my view, this man is so right on the money (other than a few random references to evolution).

The essay is a couple thousand words long, and it took me a few sittings to make it the whole way through, but oh man! was it worth it. I highly recommend reading it. Pollan discusses the American love affair with "nutritionism" -- the idea that we tend to fixate on one ingredient, vitamin, or food group. Finally! A term that partially explains my frustration with conflicting medical advice, diet crazes, etc. Check out this excerpt:

"To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help. But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to “let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion. I’ll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the “French paradox” — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you."

Interesting, right? If you're not already enticed to check out this article, I'm going to give another sneak peek at the author's final conclusions at the end of the article. These suggestions make up his nine-part answer to changing the way Americans think about food and nutrition, and I say, "Hooray!" (Pollan elaborates a lot more than I have here.) There is something in me that longs for more natural, more whole, less refined/processed, and less artificially fortified. Here goes:

1. Eat food. [As opposed to "food products."]
2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. [Think local farmer's market instead.]
5. Pay more, eat less.
6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. [Pollan suggests a "flexitarian" diet -- one that includes meat, but is heavy on plant foods.]
7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. [People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than Americans are.]
8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
9. Eat like an omnivore.

What I have learned thus far on my food journey meshes pretty well with these suggestions, so I'm going to keep mulling them over and incorporating this info into my food choices and lifestyle. I believe it's another stepping stone on my journey. If you read the article and want to post anything about your reactions, I'd welcome your comments.

Here's to happy meals and healthy bodies!


Gudrun said...

Hi Jenn,
Thanks for filling us in on the good article. I saw it last month and read maybe a couple of paragraphs, but it didn't draw me in. So, I took another look, now. I don't think I'm ready to give up all my meat just yet, but I think some great points are made. My current quest is to give up diet coke and aspartame. I've been clean for a week and a half! =)

Anonymous said...

Hey Jenn,

I just checked out your blog and really enjoyed reading it. I scoured the whole blog (and Josh's too) for pictures of your kids and didn't find any. Did I miss them? I'm dying to see what they look like these days!

How is the veggie smoothie going?

Melanie Ostovic

Jenn, Hesse Family CEO said...

Hey, Gudie - I'm definitely not giving up meat either, but the article made me think even more about my food choices. Believe me, I don't live by all of these suggestions! Good luck with your diet coke/aspartame fast! :-) Thanks for commenting!! Love ya!

Jenn, Hesse Family CEO said...

Hi, Melanie! Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading my blog. :-) Josh and I decided not to post pictures of the kids on our blogs b/c of internet weirdos, but I send out a monthly email with pictures. Just send me an email so I'll have your address, and I'll add you to the list. You can reach me at hessefamilyceoATgmailDOTcom. I hope your pregnancy is going well!!

Lil_LPerry said...

Jenn - Thanks for the article! Being healthy is so hard these days!!! :) It's a lifetime goal of mine (always has been) and now that I'm getting older, it's getting even more important! I'm even getting to the point now, that when I DO have sugar, I can only tolerate a LITTLE bit - and most of the time, even THAT is too sweet for me. Natural foods are the way to go!!!!!
Gudrun, I saw your post, and we've started drinking the Diet Coke that is sweetened with Splenda. I know, it's still probably not the best for you, but if you've just GOTTA HAVE a DC, then it's probably the best. Personally, I like the taste of it better anyway!
Love you all! Jenn, I can't wait to see you!!!!!!!

Gudrun said...

Hey lil_perry, Thanks for the tip. I peek at your blog occassionally too... congrats on your marriage! (just a tad late).

Anonymous said...

Hey have echoed what my mom's diet classes are all about. We have seen such success with the women choosing to eat more naturally (veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes....etc...)Many ladies are getting off of their medications and one's doctor even said her diabetes may go away due to her new way of life...Awesome! Last week at the diet class I was almost in tears when she gave the testimony. So many people seek treatment (which I believe in! Don't get me wrong!), but there are other ways to help yourself with diet changes! :-) What a great article. Thank you so much for posting it! I guess I'm a flexitarian.
Put me on your monthly picture list. I want to see pics of those sweeties!
Jonathan, Caleb, and I are coming to Nashville Sept. 7-8 for a women's conference that will have Kay Arthur and Beth Moore. We'll stay through the weekend. May be we could go to church with you Sunday morning. Obviously that's far away, but the conference is selling out very quickly, so we've made plans!
God bless!