Thoughts on The China Study

I started reading this book yesterday, even though I’ve owned it for years. I’m on the section about obesity and I’ve gotten to the point where I have so many thoughts that I need to digest for a while.

Illness As The Norm Or Competition

We have all been around relatives, usually older ones, who routinely get together to compare illnesses. Who has the most diagnoses? Who goes to the doctors the most? Who sees the most specialists? Who has had more surgical procedures? Who is taking the most pills per day? And this is the normal conversation, so much so that I think we’ve come to see aging = many illnesses. We’ve gotten to a point where illness is the norm and health is weird.

And that becomes the expectation or norm for us. We may feel hopeless because we see heart disease or cancer or diabetes in the family and you think those are inevitable so you might as well eat a bucket of fried chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy.

We may think that going to the doctor’s office all the time is what is in store for us after we reach a certain age. Or that taking xyz number of pills is a given. Or that it’s impossible to lose weight or eat better after a certain age.

I’m not knocking anyone here because I was just at urgent care and then CVS with my daughter. People get sick. But I was disheartened at all the cranky folks waiting around the pharmacy counter. They told us we had a 10 minute wait, so she and I wandered around for around 10-15 minutes. When we wandered back toward the pharmacy, an older lady started trying to get me to complain with her about the pharmacists, who were working their collective butts off. She ended up finding another older lady to commiserate with and was threatening to call the pharmacy from the waiting area, like that was going to get them to move any faster. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I’d prefer to spend my time. Not waiting in line for a prescription and not spending time with cranky folks.

But when you start to mention changing diet, eating less drive-thru foods, less junk food, or even a vegan diet, people don’t want anything to do with that. It’s too hard. It’s too time-consuming. It’s too expensive. But eating fast-food isn’t cheap! We would spend at least $20 at a fast-food place, which is at least twice as expensive as cooking at home. And by the time I could go to a drive-thru and back home, I can make a full meal at home.

Even when approached delicately, people are resistant to changing their diets. Honestly, it’s like an addiction to junk food and alternately, an addiction to fad diets.

Kids and Food

And speaking of “norms”, how we discuss diet in front of kids is sad. We discuss broccoli and Brussels sprouts as the stereotypical GROSS foods. If you treat vegetables (not French fries) as nasty, of course kids aren’t going to want to try them. If you think tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable, and your kids are never exposed to any more than that, you are doing them a disservice.

Why is food everywhere the new norm? When my kids took swim lessons, there was a bucket of dum-dums by the door. At karate there’s usually a bucket of candy. There are cookies at Harris Teeter. There are expected snacks at baseball practices – one time it was glazed doughnuts! The reward for summer reading program here is a gift card to a fast-food place. And this is in addition to all the food-centered holidays and gatherings. When was the last time you got together with friends or family and there wasn’t food? How often do we reward ourselves and our kids with food?

Illness As An “Out”

American culture is very hurried and stressful and sometimes I wonder if illness is the only acceptable(ish) way to step back or take a break. True, employees are discouraged from taking sick days (which is a whole different post) but one is less likely to be criticized for having a severe or chronic illness. I am in no way saying that anyone asks for these illnesses or that anyone is malingering.

I have to check myself because I admit I do have some resentment toward my mother and her many illnesses. Some may be real and some are probably not. I never lived with her and as I got to be a little older, she developed a slew of illnesses. She still worked, and dated, and went on nice vacations so I wondered why it was she could do those things but she couldn’t be a mother to me or a grandmother to my kids. But whenever I would criticize the situation, I was reminded to have sympathy because she was ill.

To be sure, there are conditions that are truly debilitating. But it’s sad that we, myself included, cope with illness by eating even more. Or that we resist making changes to our diet and lifestyle that would improve our quality of life. And sadder still that sometimes in our culture the only way to get a break is when we’re ill.

Your Eating Habits Affect Others

I am not going to “fat shame” anyone because I’ve been there. In my last post, I talked about weighing well over 200 pounds. I am appreciative of body positivity.

However, your physical health not only affects you, but the people around you as well. When I was bigger, I had much more pain in my knees. I had 2 knee surgeries, which affected my husband and kids, as well as our finances. Every time I went to the doctor, I had to make sure my husband could watch the kids or take them with me. Because I was bigger, I had less energy for my kids.

True, when you have an illness, it mostly immediately affects you. But think about the costs to your family. Think about the cost to insurance and Medicare and Medicaid programs. Consider the strain on public services like the firemen and women who have to help people who have fallen and can’t get up themselves due to obesity. I see some fire departments are starting to charge for lift assists but if they are at your house doing that, they can’t also respond to an emergency. We don’t exist in a bubble – the things we do have effects on other people.

When you get older and have kids and grandkids, do you want to be able to play with them? Because I lost weight, I could (attempt) to ski, I can swim with them, we can go on bike rides, and even daily walks in the neighborhood are easier. I have an easier time getting up and down off the floor. If and when they have kids, I want to be an active grandma.

I feel a little awkward posting these because obesity and illness is such a touchy subject in the US. But I think pretending this is all normal isn’t getting us anywhere, either. We need to have a more open discussion about these things. I also think having a morbidly obese president who promotes a bad diet and is anti-exercise isn’t helping matters, either.