07.26.12: What Makes Us Fat? Laziness … I Mean, Convenience.

I like this article.  I like that it’s going to irritate some people and force them to look in the mirror.


“Middle income people are the most overweight and eat fast food more regularly than anyone else. In contrast, 80 percent of those with low incomes cook at home at least five times a week.”

The problem of obesity is complicated.  I don’t think there’s just one cause any more than I think there’s just one solution – not to the American/Western Civilization obesity crisis, not to an individual’s struggle with weight and wellness.  But based on the data in this study, it’s safe to say that we can’t blame obesity entirely on a lack of education, lack of funds, lack of access, et cetera, as we have in the past.  Our nation’s obesity is also a problem of too much convenience.  I’m going to say it: too much laziness.

Poverty and a generally uneven playing field are huge problems in this country.  There are “food deserts” everywhere; communities where the only fruit you can find is in a cellophane-wrapped “apple” pie at the Kwik-E-Mart.  Food insecurity plagues swaths of the US population[1].  Access and cost are huge barriers to healthful eating for many people.  But not for everyone, eh?

I spent a lot of years in the fitness and wellness industry, ultimately in corporate wellness.  I gave seminars and talks about lifestyle change, mostly to what you’d call middle- and upper-income audiences in a workplace context.  Talking back was encouraged, and we’d often discuss how dang busy and tired we all were and how the drive-thru felt like our only option.  And then, invariably, we could all name the winner of Dancing With The Stars (or who won the Heisman in 2007, or whatever) [2].  So … how busy are we, really?  And we all talk about being broke, about these tough economic times.  But we have smart phones and new shoes, and our pets get their shots and tags (I have that one on the brain because holy crap that was a big bill, that dog needs to get a job), and we have air-conditioned cars and cable television.

So … I get that we’re overwhelmed, because I live in Overwhelmed-Ville.  But I don’t really buy the “too busy” thing.  If something is important enough, we’ll find a way to make it happen.  Eating right and moving around should be as important as all the other things we make room for in our lives.  Yes, it’s as important as church and family.  It’s as important as sleep.

We middle-income folks are the lucky ones.  We have kitchens with appliances that work.  We have Tupperware.  We live near grocery stores … multiple grocery stores, so we can pick and choose based on price, selection, or convenience (which I’m not making into a dirty word – it can just get out of hand).  I live within reasonable distance of 2 Super Targets, 2 Super Wal-Marts, 2 Krogers, 3 Publixes (Publices?), a handful of roadside vegetable stands, 2 Trader Joe’ses (these plurals are tricky), a medium-sized Whole Foods, and a ginormous Whole Foods[3].  There are 5 farmer’s markets in the general area to choose from on the weekend.  So why on earth, except out of sheer laziness and/or poor planning (or pressure from a toddler who likes lemonade from a certain place, let’s not leave out that formidable force), should I ever go through a drive-thru?

Food is expensive, and it’s only going to get more expensive, it appears.[4]  I’m not implying that middle income families have unlimited funds or that we’re not all cutting back, sometimes painfully.  But wouldn’t you rather choose between the strawberries and the grapes because you can’t afford both this week, than between the Doritos and the Fritos?  If we have access to good things and if we know better, then it is incumbent upon us to make good choices most of the time.  Not all of the time, because we’re all still human, and cheeseburgers are still pretty delicious.  But most of the time.

I’m also not implying that we should feel guilty that we have so much opportunity and we squander it on fast food and piles of buffalo wings.  Don’t feel guilty about it – just don’t fall for the tired old messages that say you deserve a break today, celebrate yourself by sucking frozen sugary caffeinated goo through a straw, you’re just so busy you have no option but to stop on the way home and buy a disk of cheese and grease that’s been sitting under a heat lamp! heat lamp!  These messages tell us what we want to hear and let us off the hook when we’re simply too lazy to chop some damn lettuce.

It’s natural to take the easy way out.  Lots of things are hard, man, and it wears on you after a while.  Easy feels good because it’s as if the decision has been made for you, and you’re just along for the ride.  There’s where the trouble starts.  Are you going to go along for the ride, or are you going to be brave and honest enough to make hard decisions that you may not want to make?  Hell no, I don’t want to chop the damn lettuce, I’ve been working all day and my wrists hurt, I want someone to bring me food and drink and clean up after I devour it all.  I deserve it.  Or – do I deserve something good, that I made, that won’t make me feel ashamed of myself later, that deep down I know is worth the effort that I think I don’t have left in my body?

It’s true that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  We should make the most of the ones we have.  There aren’t enough breaths or heartbeats, either.  I want the ones that I get to be FREAKING AWESOME.  I don’t want to waste another hour, minute, breath, or dollar on something that isn’t good for me and my family.

Okay, I think I’m coming down from the pulpit now.  Maybe I’m rabid about excuses and rationalizations because I leaned on mine for so long, and I continue to catch myself leaning on them even now.  Now, when I not only know better, but have lived better.  It’s the beauty and the terror of Square One.

[1] “Food security” is a household’s consistent access to decent food.  The term includes availability, access, and use.  It’s a global as well as a domestic concern.  http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=FOOD_SECURITY

[2] Tim Tebow.

[3] I live within driving distance of these establishments.  The issue of walkability is a whole separate rant.

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