Saturday, May 31, 2014

Obesity in America - Deep Fried and Countrified

Hey y'all. As most of you know, I have struggled with maintaining my weight and healthy eating habits during the past year or so. For any of my readers who may not know, I originally met my weight-loss goal in June 2012. At that time I was struggling with many personal issues, many of which were directly related to my weight-loss. Unfortunately, I did not know how to deal with the feelings I was experiencing at the time and immediately began having issues maintaining my weight.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I had been overweight since childhood and always used my weight as a security blanket. As I've written about before, my family was certainly not the Brady or Cleaver family. We were the typical dysfunctional American family. We were extremely poor, and both of my parents worked full-time throughout most of their lives. Although my parents constantly struggled to make ends meet, they found creative ways to keep food on our table. (At one time about 80 percent of our backyard, which was HUGE, was converted into a garden.) We were forced "strongly encouraged" by whatever means necessary to "work in the garden." Considering my aversion to dirt and bugs, it was definitely my idea of hell. I'm sure the 100°+ heat of the Texas summers could not have contributed to my idea of torment! (Other than the infernal Texas summer heat, let me assure you, there's nothing like finding a big, juicy green worm in an ear of corn! YUCK!)

Despite feeling like working in the garden was a punishment, I did love the fresh vegetables. It was kind of ironic that the fat kid in the family loved most of the vegetables.....with the exception of lettuce. (Austin thinks it's funny that I used to dislike lettuce because now I eat so many salads.) Of course, my family didn't really prepare the vegetables in a healthy manner. I'm pretty sure my mother graduated (with honors no doubt) from the Paula Deen School of Cooking. Our family motto is was "everthing's better with butter, y'all", or maybe it should have been "deep fried and countrified". It certainly seemed like the only vegetables my family ate were either drenched in margarine (Mama thought butter was too expensive so we used Blue Bonnet Margarine.) or deep fried. Speaking of Blue Bonnet Margarine, my mother was a firm believer in the company slogan "Everything's better with Blue Bonnet on it!"  I honestly don't think I had ever even tasted baked chicken or fish until I was an adult.

Needless to say, when I was taught to cook I adopted mama's cooking methods. I love to cook and mama taught me well. When I was about three or four years old, mother had me stand on a chair beside her in the kitchen "helping her." I remember constantly begging her to let me help, until she finally gave in to my constant pleading. She started me out (completely under her guidance and close supervision) stirring sauces, gravies, margarine drenched veggies, etc. Soon I graduated to baking, and eventually I was capable enough (and tall enough to reach to burners on the stove without standing on a chair) to handle hot grease. It was at that time that mama taught me how to fry.

Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a poor family, and as such we ate beans almost every night. As a matter of fact, we ate beans so often I never used to ask, "What's for dinner tonight?" Instead I always asked, "What type of beans are we having for dinner tonight?"  The beans by themselves were healthy, with the exception of the few tablespoons of added bacon grease! However, along with the beans, we always had fried potatoes and homemade from-scratch (not from a box) cornbread. (Okay, you might think it was totally unnecessary to specify that homemade from-scratch meant not from a box, but apparently some people think being homemade from-scratch simply means you bought a mix from the store and added milk, eggs, etc. For instance, my sister's former co-worker was confused when my sister told her she made something "from scratch." When her co-worker asked what type of cake mix she used, Regina responded by telling her "I didn't use a mix, I made it from scratch." The co-worker was still confused until Regina started telling her the recipe. I'm pretty sure her co-worker was shocked to learn the fact that it IS possible to bake a cake without buying a pre-made mix from the store! After finding out the work involved in baking a REAL homemade from-scratch cake, the co-worker said "Oh." I'm pretty sure she ended up not getting the recipe from Regina.)

Anyway, on weeknights if we weren't having beans of some sort, we were having black-eyed peas or some other type of legume. Weekend meals were my favorite, especially Sunday lunch. For lunch on Sunday we normally had a pot roast surrounded with onions, potatoes and carrots, along with dinner rolls. YUM! (Although I still prefer chicken to beef, I still really enjoy a good pot roast from time to time!) Other days we had fried round steak, which we pounded out our frustrations on prior to battering and frying. Still other days it was fried chicken. The steak and chicken were always served with mashed potatoes and country gravy and hot, buttery rolls. For dessert (which we were seldom without), it was usually one of mama's delicious homemade (yes, from-scratch, not from a box) pies! (Now as someone who prefers chicken to beef, it's ironic to look back and remember that my absolutely favorite meal that mama used to cook was the fried round steak.) Do you see a pattern here? It's no wonder I weighed 205 pounds by the time I was in the ninth grade. 

I began doing all the cooking for the family on weeknights and weekends when I was only thirteen years old. My mother and father both worked full-time and we kids were left alone a lot. Mom worked for several years at Marathon Battery, at least until she got her hand caught in a faulty machine and almost lost three fingers. (Her hand was never "normal" again.) Due to mama working shift-work and her coming home really late at night, we kids soon discovered if we wanted to eat dinner before 9 or 10 o'clock at night, one of us better start cooking dinner ourselves. 

In our family, we all had chores. My sisters and I started out in the wonderful world of chores by learning how to hand wash all of the dishes, pots and pans along with cleaning up the kitchen. (When we FINALLY got a small, portable dishwasher I thought my family had struck it rich! Too bad it didn't last very long!) After dish/kitchen duty came laundry time! It was my job to do the laundry for our family of 6 from the time I was about 10 years old. When I turned 13, I took over the cooking "chore" from my older sister, Melissa, who disliked cooking. I had been pleading with my mother and Melissa to let me do the cooking and I was thrilled when my mother finally decided I was old enough to handle the responsibility! Melissa reciprocated by taking over my laundry chore. (Although I still consider laundry a chore, I am still the one responsible for it. It is certainly one of my least favorite jobs!) 

So by the time I assumed the "chore" of cooking, I already knew how much I loved it. Whenever my friends and cousins would come stay the night with me, we would often stay up until all hours cooking. One of my favorites was to surprise my parents by waking them up to the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls or doughnuts! However, it was also at this time I realized how hard it was to satisfy picky eaters. I was sick of beans and I was determined to not cook them every night. Oh, I still made them from time to time, but certainly not every night. My father disliked my favorite foods.....Mexican and Italian, and I found it difficult not to add spice to things! I struggled while attempting to learn to cook the way he liked, and eventually he even learned to eat my Mexican food, including my enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and casseroles. By the way, he loved my Spanish rice! (Although he always claimed my food was too spicy, he never failed to clean his plate and often ate a second serving.) He also finally came around to eating my lasagna and "veal" (I called it veal for some reason, but it was really just pan fried round steak.) parmesan. However, my father was very picky. He refused to eat baked chicken, fish, broiled veggies or salads. He repeatedly made the statement, “I’m not on a ____ _____ diet.”

However, even after I grew up and moved into my own apartment, I still went "home" to cook dinner many nights for my parents (in exchange for use of their washer and dryer of course). Several years after I left home, I realized my mother was picking up dinner at various restaurants around town every night. When I asked her why on earth she was buying their dinner every night, she responded by telling me she stopped cooking right after I moved out. I was confused because I thought my mother enjoyed cooking; however, I was completely shocked when I found out why she stopped cooking. She had apparently resumed cooking right after I moved out; nevertheless, she had only been cooking a few weeks when my father told her how much he missed my cooking. She got mad, they had an argument, and she rarely cooked again, with the exception of breakfasts and desserts. Although he never verbally expressed any appreciation for my cooking, it was nice to know he missed me….or least my culinary skills. J

Although it took me years to learn how to cook healthy, I have to confess I still find myself possessed by Paula Deen from time to time. Although I haven’t fried anything, with the exception of bacon or sausage, in quite some time, I do love fattening foods. There is just something about butter (Yes, I normally use real butter in my recipes…especially when baking.) Although I feel guilty about saying it, there is just something about butter that makes everything better!

As I began losing weight, I invested a lot of money in cookbooks featuring healthy, low-calorie recipes. These have been a lifesaver to me. It’s nice to know I can still cook the foods I enjoy, without sending myself into cardiac arrest. Also, I know cooking healthier is better for Austin.  The child loves my cooking. When I was on vacation recently I cooked big meals (including dessert) every day. Austin responded by asking me to quit my job. When I told him I had to keep working if he wanted to keep eating, this is what he said to me: “Couldn’t you please quit your job and stay home every day? You could cook lots of good things for me, your favorite son. You could be like Marie Barone, with the sauce, but without the attitude!”

What brought all of this up today? Well, this week I was in a management training workshop when the subject of hobbies came up. The instructor went around the room asking people about their hobbies. When she asked me what my hobby was, I told her cooking. She later asked what I enjoyed about cooking and/or why I liked cooking. Thinking back about how and when I learned to cook, and all of the various recipes I’ve tried, and the thousands of meals I’ve made is what prompted this post. I truly believe in today’s fast-paced world, cooking is becoming a lost art….at least in many families.

Due to the fact more families are relying on fast food, and/or pre-packaged foods at mealtime and moving less, the obesity problem among children has increased dramatically in the last decade. I was shocked when I learned Austin’s school did not have regular, daily PE classes. He has PE only three days per week for a total of 210 minutes. When I questioned him about health-ed, he informed me it’s only an elective and he elected not to take it. I did a little research and was appalled to find out Texas dropped the Texas Fitness Now program. Texas Fitness Now was a grant program promoting exercise and nutrition in middle schools. Also, Texas high schools now require only one credit of PE. Additionally, Austin was correct in his statement about health education being an elective. How many obese children do you know who would be willing to sit through a health ed class if it was not required? I know for a fact, as an obese child myself, I would have also elected not to take it. Health and nutrition was the last thing on my mind. I also hated PE, surprise, surprise!
 In an attempt to provide children with at least one nutritious meal per day, First Lady Michelle Obama has been working toward passing legislation requiring school lunch menus be revamped. Earlier this week, she made the statement, “we have to be willing to fight the hard fight” while speaking to a group of school nutrition experts when referring to opposition from the Republicans who want to permit a delay in enforcing new standards for school lunches. She also made similar statements at a roundtable meeting hosted by the White House. “The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health. Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for.”

 With all of the focus on the nutritional content of school lunches, I would like to have a chat with the First Lady. This is what I would like to say to her: “What good does one meal of nutritious food per day do for a child? Schools have cut back on physical education classes and they certainly do not teach anything remotely related to nutrition. Why not make it mandatory for schools to teach daily physical education? We keep preaching for people to get up off the couch and move, but then we teach our kids to sit still all day long. We do not even attempt to teach them anything remotely related to nutrition. There is nothing being taught at school that is different from what they are learning at home in regards to cooking, making healthy choices and/or nutrition. How can we expect our children to grow up healthy, when we are only half-heartedly committed to their future health?” That being said, I will now get off my soapbox.
As for me, my weight loss struggles have continued. Although I am still not back to my goal weight, I am happy to announce my latest results. As of this past Monday, I currently weigh 152.25 pounds! I haven’t been this small since September 2012!! My weight loss remains inconsistent, but slowly but surely I am 100% confident that I will eventually reach my goal weight!!  I am so excited!! I haven’t felt like this in almost two years!!
As Thomas A. Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Never stop believing in yourself!!