I am doing something very uncharacteristic of me. I have started a nutrition log. Normally, when I feel the need to improve my body, I work out a little harder or more often. If things have really started to get out of control, I’ll temporarily give up cookies and candy and try to get a little more fiber in my diet, but usually my dietary rules are to try to avoid fast food and show a little restraint around the sugars. However, the job I had (until last December) really cut into my workout time, and then I was sick a lot this winter. Add to this a strained intercostal muscle I got from coughing, which won’t go away until I stop coughing, which I am starting to worry will never happen. It hurts like the blue blazes, and significantly dampens my desire to exercise or otherwise breathe deeply. Girl Scout cookie season has come and gone. As a result, I have been getting more cushy in a predictable way. Cushiness in sweaters in Minnesota is one thing, but we will be celebrating our survival of our oldest son’s K-12 experience (aka, his graduation) by taking the family on a trip to Hawaii in June and the idea of cameras and swimsuits converging upon me in my present state has me uneasy. Looking for help with discipline I decided to take advice from one of the fittest people I have ever met: Kevin Wells, an avid fitness and nutrition enthusiast who also happens to have diabetes. MyFitnessPal, he told me, was the tool to get.
I have only used it a couple of days, but it is free and pretty helpful so far. It calculated the daily calorie intake needed to meet my goal (no surprise, 1200–it’s always 1200, isn’t it?) it offers a huge food catalog to choose from and lets me create my own items (good for the homemade stuff) so I can easily track how many calories I have eaten and gives me a countdown of how many I have left. Someday when I start exercising again it will allow me to log that in so I can boost my daily calories available. I am a little obsessive with the app right now, as I get used to the practice of denying myself, and trying to get the most out of my caloric budget.
This has gotten me thinking about the food I have taken for granted. We have mountains of food at our disposal. Some of those mountains are what I think of as “throwaway” food, food that we consume for fleeting pleasure rather than nourishment. I have either piled these throwaway foods on top of what I consume or substituted them for the real thing (as if skipping lunch so I can eat a whole sleeve of thin mint cookies makes it a better idea.) When I use the MyFitnessPal app to plan for my daily intake, I see that I can get plenty of food even on reduced calories, if I work in enough vegetables and fruit. For me, doing this is as easy as making a conscious, if somewhat reluctant decision. Meanwhile, 868 million people, or one out of eight on our planet, is chronically undernourished because of 1.) scarcity of food due to famine or war and 2.) poverty combined with rising food prices (Reuters article using United Nations figures.) For me and for most people I know, the most difficult issues around food are understanding the nutrition labels and deciding whether to buy the store brand or name brand for better value. I don’t suggest we stop eating in solidarity with our hungry brothers and sisters or even give up all things sweet and fun in our diets, but I can say that the next time I am tempted to eat a half a box of “nothing but calories” I will stop and consider how insane that is when there are literally millions of people, including children, dizzy with hunger out there. One other thing I will do is to make sure a portion of my charitable giving goes to alleviate hunger. Locally, food shelves are happy to take non-perishables and even happier to take monetary donations. Most use special buying programs so they can stretch each dollar they receive. Globally, there are many charitable organizations focusing on hunger including The World Food Program, a program of the United Nations, or a personal favorite of mine, Feed My Starving Children, which packages nutritious dried meals for distribution to the hungry worldwide.
It is too easy to stop thinking about food when we get to the scale or the mirror. It isn’t enough to consider carbs and calories. I’ll probably never be thrilled with a photo of me in a swimsuit, but while I can always cover up a “not quite ready for beach body,” food as an issue of justice and compassion deserves our full attention.
What throwaway food hijacks your best laid nutritional plans?