Friday, September 16, 2011

September: National Childhood Obesity Month

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on the September being National Childhood Obesity Month!


September: National Childhood Obesity Month

I recently found out that September has been declared National Childhood Obesity Month.

Which is one of the saddest reflections of our times.

Now, as an "Almost Vegan" I know I am considered the complete opposite end of the spectrum. That because I imposed lots of restrictions on my diet, National Childhood Obesity Month wasn't created for my kids (when I have them).

But I wasn't born an Almost Vegan.

When I started writing about food I ate everything! Ironically, I had a tendency to look down on Vegetarians and Vegans because their diet was so un-Fun. (And in grand scheme of things I considered myself pretty tolerant since I had dabbled with Vegetarianism in college.) At that point my food journalism career consisted mainly of restaurant reviews.

But the thing about writing about food is that you start learning more and more with each article you write, about how our Food system works and all the things we need to fix about it. Somewhere around watching Food Inc., I stopped eating Meat and Chicken. Somewhere around reading Eating Animals, I stopped eating Seafood. Somewhere around the China Study I stopped eating Dairy.

Each of the aforementioned books and movies drew back the curtain a little more, but the last one absolutely blew my mind. Based on decades long project findings in rural China, the China Study details the comprehensive connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I always tell people, "if you like eating meat, don't read this book; but if you don't want to get cancer, I'd order a copy right away."
But where's the Fun in that?

There is something about kids that we feel that they should have Fun at all times. And for most of us the easiest way for us to create Fun is through food. That there should always be a cookie for a treat, a carton of chocolate milk for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Most people will never look at a piece of broccoli and say "this would be great to celebrate Billy's birthday with." And I'm not saying it needs to go to that extreme, but really we need to do something.

We now have a National Childhood Obesity Month! If that doesn't piss you off it should! This "epidemic" (and really in the world of epidemics, it's the one with the most simplest of solutions) will probably shave five years off your kids' lives. Five years!

I have spent two-thirds of my life working with kids and I have discovered a simple simple truth: kids need restrictions. They need boundaries that teach them right from wrong (and this is something we don't grow out of as adults). What kind of restrictions: telling them Yes and No (the very definition of restriction); making sure they know what is healthy and unhealthy to eat (the easy part); and making sure they eat the good stuff (the not so easy part).

I'm an Almost Vegan, so sometimes I have a cookie or a cupcake. I don't beat myself up about it if I do because it's a treat. But treats are only treats if you don't get them all the time.

Now a lot of people get overwhelmed when you start talking about food. They'd rather play ostrich and eat whatever they want. But every action has ramifications, ignoring the need for a healthy diet today will only show up in heart disease tomorrow.

If you're feeling overwhelmed start small. Follow Michael Pollan's basic tenant of food health:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly pants.

It doesn't get any simpler that that. Pollan actually has an entire book dedicated to simple ways to eat right: Food Rules. They are simple pieces of wisdom like the ever so fitting #39.

#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we're eating them every day. The french fry did not become America's most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes — and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they're so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you're willing to prepare them — chances are good it won't be every day.

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