Friday, June 8, 2012

The Gift

"You're no good to me dead!"  Over the past ten years, as I slowly gained weight and engaged in my various self-destructive behaviors (see Who is Sausage Boy? for more), this is inevitably what my wife would end up saying, often through tears, during one of our "discussions" about it.

My wife Jennifer is an incredibly strong, smart, compassionate and intuitive woman.  She has a propensity for, as she says "putting herself in other people's shoes."  When she was 20 years old her father died suddenly of a heart attack while away on business.  He was 47 years old, a lifetime of eating and lifestyle choices addressed to late to save him.  As you might imagine, this has profoundly shaped who she is and how she sees things.  Hence, my self-destructive eating habits have, in the past, provided her no end of consternation, frustration and grief.  Rightly so, of course.  All that time I KNEW she was right, intellectually at least, but as I've mentioned (How It All Started) it wasn't until recently that I found it for myself and actually began to do something about it by making this major lifestyle change.

Coleman George Thomas - the man who would have been my father-in-law.
From all the stories, it seems he was a great lover of life.

Is it an exaggeration to say I was on essentially the same path he was?  Before now I would have said "yes, of course that's an exaggeration."  I knew better than most of that generation who had grown up in the 50s and 60s.  I knew much better, I thought.  I'd like to think I behaved better as well - I ate more veggies, more fruit, drank lots of water, understood the health benefits of food.  But, there I was, back in January at just about 209 pounds and not getting any lighter.  For all that knowledge, I was still on a dangerous trajectory.  So no, ultimately, it's not hyperbole to say that this entire issue (health, weight, food, nutrition) is indeed a matter of LIFE AND DEATH.

The Weight of the Nation

We finally got around to watching HBOs The Weight of the Nation this past week, and it's certainly better so far than I thought it was going to be (I posted a review of a review of it in Fat Americans, where I didn't express much hope).  We only just finished the first part, called "Consequences" and it not only reinforces what many of us already know, but goes a bit further as well.

I think there are two things that would surprise many Americans.  The first is just how "strict" the categories for overweight and obese are.  As I wrote when I started this blog, I was shocked to see that, based on my weight 6 months ago, I actually fell into the category of "obese."  And I was really not that fat.  Even right now, having lost almost 35 pounds, I'm still at the very bottom of the "overweight" category, not quite into the "normal/healthy weight" category.  (Yes, BMI does have limitations - read more about that here.)

Go ahead, find yourself on this chart.  I bet you'll be surprised.

The second surprise is how a relatively small amount of excess body fat can be rather damaging to our health.  Quite simply, our bodies were meant to be lean, like athletes.  If you've got excess body fat around your abdomen (where many of us store it), you very likely have excess body fat around your organs.  This is what leads to all sorts of health problems for those who are overweight or obese.  A number of people I've spoken to, when I announced some recent weight-loss milestone from this round of juicing, reminded me that "it's not about the weight."  Well, to some extent that's true.  This juicing is about detoxifying my body, pumping it full of vitally important micro nutrients while cleansing it of accumulated toxins.  However, considering the negative consequences of excess body fat, my weight is actually rather important as well.

And perhaps there's a third surprise.  It's just a statistic, but it turns out that 68% of Americans are overweight or obese.  That is a shock.  I think most of us upon hearing that statistic would say "Oh, well, that's not me."  Or "Well, sure, I could lose a few pounds, but I'm not overweight, and I'm certainly not obese."  Well, we'd most of us be dead wrong.  That term applied to me and it applies to over two-thirds of us.  We ignore that statistic at our own peril.  Our own mortal peril, I should say.

The saddest part about it all is that we DO know better.  Modern science, in the areas of health, food and nutrition, has made leaps and bounds in terms of what we know about the interaction between foods and our bodies.  We have incredible and powerful knowledge.  We have the wherewithal to be perhaps the longest-lived generations in the history of humankind.  And yet, in most of the country, among many diverse groups (rich and poor, black and white, etc.), this may very well be the first generation to actually live shorter lives than our parents.  So, again, yes, LIFE AND DEATH

Alright, enough ranting.  As much as I often play the role of the "angry young man," railing against society's ills doesn't often produce the effects for which one wishes.  There's an old saying "better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."  It's good advice, along with that of the Mahatma, "you must be the change you want to see in the world."  And so, forward.

My Choice?  Two Gifts.

Which brings me full circle here, back to my family - my incredible wife and my two beautiful children.  I came to this journey of my own accord, as an expression of my own recently discovered self care, but as I've progressed, I've realized it's also very much about them.  Feeling this way, knowing what I know only makes me want to share it with them.  This brings me to the gifts.

My family: wife Jennifer, daughter Phoebe and son Felix.
This is my gift to them.

My wife, for the past week and a half, has been doing for me what she did during my first juice fast back in February.  She has been giving me the gift of getting our kids ready in the morning and making dinner for them at night while I go downstairs and spend my 20 minutes or so getting all my juicing done.  She's graciously given me the time to focus on this process for myself.  I thank her for that.  It wouldn't be possible without her.  In return, I hope I'm giving her the gift of a healthy and long-lived husband and the knowledge that I won't repeat the mistakes of her past.

"If you're not outraged, then you're not paying attention!"

Certainly the scariest trend in America's health crisis is the skyrocketing rate of childhood overweight and obesity. Kids with freaking diabetes for Christ's sake!   How we can let this happen is unfathomable, it is unconscionable.  The other gift I desperately want to give is the gift of good health to my family, especially my two children.  The thought of them ever ending up on the same path I was on, on the path Cole was on, the path that so many of us are on, is terrifying to me.  Knowing what we know today, how to eat in order to achieve optimal body weight, good health and longevity, makes me very incredibly eager to have everyone in my house on board.  Yes, I'm still bit pushy (perhaps that's just my nature), but we are getting there.  Felix is only three and a half, so he's still into "peeza" and "ha dog."  But my daughter, who's eight, can understand the role of nutritious food in her life.  I'm pretty sure she went to bed tonight reading a children's book about just that, as a matter of fact.

However, there's a difficult balance that I think many parents can appreciate, especially when kids are surrounded by potentially terrible food choices everywhere they turn.  I don't want to sit at the dinner table every night scolding my kids to eat their vegetables.  Everyone's got a story about how that backfired.  But unless we want our children to be those statistics, it's clear that only rather radical change is going to produce the desired results.

I've gone on for a long time here, hopefully you're still awake.

As they in the old country, "Salud!" 

Health to you all!

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