Thursday, August 4, 2011

There's a Reason They Call Us Fat Americans

The other day, I was at the gym. While on the elliptical, I usually have my iPod on (and now have my Kindle to read). The gym televisions are directly in front of me so I often will catch things but soundlessly. I'll see some headlines, flashes of information, but I don't hear what's being said. What caught my eye the other day was one of those "Only in America" types of moments. On the screen was a commercial for Jenny Craig. Immediately after it was a commercial for some new gooey, sugary, fatty concoction from IHOP. The irony of that moment struck me and I literally laughed out loud.

As the day went on, I kept thinking about that moment. I wondered what people from other countries would think of the ridiculousness of that moment. For thirty seconds, you are told that you are fat and that the way to stop being fat is to subscribe to this diet program that will provide you with specially portioned and calorie counted foods and that slowly but surely, the weight will come off and you'll be able to be strutting around in a bikini and being the healthy, active person you want to be. (I have issues with diet programs like that in that I think it's more important to just teach people how to eat and live healthily rather than selling them "quick fixes" but that's for another blog.) Literally seconds later, there is a commercial for a dish that is loaded with sugar and calories. I'm not the only one who sees that there's something at least a little wrong with this picture, right?

A couple days later, I saw a commercial for the "All-American Menu" from Denny's, a menu that includes Midwest offering the "Meat and Potatoes Sandwich." This sandwich includes prime rib and french fries covered in brown gravy, topped with two different kinds of cheeses AND mayo, and then thrown on a cheddar bun. AND it comes with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. According to, the sandwich clocks in at about 1025 calories and has over 2800 mg of sodium, 54 grams of fat, and 95 mg of cholesterol. It's a heart attack waiting to happen.

And yet this tiny part of me watching that commercial seriously thought, "YUM!"

My struggle with my weight has been a lifelong struggle, and it's only been within the past few years that I've sort of "figured out" this food thing. I spent my formative years super sizing at every opportunity and chowing down on pizza and french fries and any unhealthy thing I could possibly get my hands on. The first time I encountered a horseshoe sandwich (which is essentially what Denny's is offering), I nearly wept with joy. I have been just as guilty of the obnoxious American food consumption as just about everyone else.

A couple years ago, I woke up and had just kind of had enough. I was tired of being fat. I had always wanted to be one of those people who ate healthy foods, and yet I never did. I had tried diet programs before and it never worked because I would eventually fall off the wagon or would get tired of counting points or turned off by the meetings where old ladies bragged about not having a piece of pie at the family reunion even though Aunt Sadie's cherry pie was her absolute favorite thing in the world. I didn't want to live a life of deprivation, which is what a lot of diet programs seems to preach. I started reading and doing some research. I started being brave and trying foods I'd never tried before (or had tried as a child and dismissed). I broadened my culinary horizons while trying to at least limit my encounters with old friends like french fries. The funny thing is that I probably now eat more different kinds of foods than I did before. Many times, I have stood in my kitchen kind of marveling at the journey I've taken as I chop up zucchini and squash and kale. (The other night, friends, I actually included onion in a recipe ... and old friends of mine will know how much I have historically loathed onion!) At the same time, I've worked with moderation. Yes, I don't eat french fries nearly as much as I used to (I've had fries once in the past couple months -- unless you count sweet potato fries) and I've almost completely cut most fast foods out of my diet. (I can't tell you the last time I had a chicken nugget or quarter pounder.) But I still have a bowl of ice cream every night -- only now, I have a scoop and I try to buy only all natural ice creams rather than the cheap, fake stuff. And if Aunt Sophie is hauling out that cherry pie, you'd better believe I'm going to have a slice because that old broad doesn't make that pie too often!

But I also know that there will always be this tiny part of me that gets a slight thrill at the mention of a meat and potato sandwich. There will always be this inner debate with myself over whether a trip through the Dairy Queen drive thru might not be a good idea ... especially when the Blizzard of the Month is a Nutter Butter Blizzard. (Holding out....) Like many Americans, I've had a lifetime of programming that tells me that bigger is better; that the more crap you load on your plate, the happier you will be; that there's nothing that a big ol' plate of fried food won't cure. After all, if you get too fat, Jenny Craig will always be there to get you skinny and fried food ready all over again.


Danielle Mari said...

Bravo! Great post!

This weekend, my brother-in-law ate at a local restaurant a half-pound burger called the "You've Gotta Be Kidding Me"... the bun was two grilled cheese sandwiches. And they weren't kidding. Upsetting.

Kudos to you, my friend, for choosing healthy over diet fad. You're an inspiration to me. Always have been.

NICKI said...

I think we all have this inner debate, and I like to read that I'm not the only one!

(I too, would be eating that pie, and loving it. It's the day old, dried up bagel that tastes like crap that I feel compelled to devour that gets me..)