Are you just kicking the can down the road when it comes to your health?
You know you should exercise.
You know you should eat better.
You know you should go to bed earlier.
You don’t do any of it!
Humans are funny like that.
Hands up if you think you eat pretty well.
I know I think I eat pretty well and I have always thought that. I still do. The difference now is that I actually eat a whole lot better than all those years ago when I first thought I ate well.
The biggest problem about thinking you eat well is that you think you don’t need to do anything about it!
Going back 15 years to when I thought I ate well (but I really didn’t), I would simply accept that when I needed to buy clothes, they would be a bit bigger than the clothes I bought last time.
It was a sign of ‘living the good life’.
I could also look around me and think ‘I’m nowhere near the size of those people’. Which was true but it didn’t mean that I wasn’t overweight. Or healthy.
The health excuses
There are other clues that I chose to ignore.
Like being puffed when I climbed up stairs, or not chasing my daughter because I wasn’t fast enough.
And I would make excuses so that it was easier to ignore those clues.
Excuses like, ‘I’m out of practice.’ – I was never going to get back into practice, if I didn’t actually practice!
Excuses like, ‘She’s much younger than me.’ – She was, but I still should have been able to keep up, especially when she was small.
And I was always busy when it came to exercise, or else too tired.
The food excuses
When it came to food, I had a whole different range of excuses. As well as a significant lack of awareness.
I don’t eat sweet things much
I have never had a real sweet tooth. I like a sweet thing occasionally but I didn’t have a cupboard full of biscuits.
I had a cupboard full of corn chips and salsa! And when I say ‘full’, it really was.
And because corn chips come from corn and salsa is mostly tomatoes, I thought that I was eating much better food than my friends with a sweet tooth.
To be fair, if you are going to compare chocolate biscuits against corn chips and salsa, then probably corn chips and salsa is better.
The thing is, when you do this, you are only comparing two unhealthy options against each other so one of them will end up being a better choice.
It still doesn’t mean it is good for you.
Both of them lose out badly if you add an extra choice like home-made hummus and carrot and celery sticks.
We hardly ever have takeaway food
This one was actually an out and out lie, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.
We didn’t buy a meal from a fast food restaurant and take it home very often but there was a lot more ‘take away’ food in my life than I realised.
What I didn’t factor in when I said this was how I would buy a ‘snack’ from the coffee shop some days, not every day but some days. Guess what? This is a ‘take-away’ food.
I also didn’t factor in the lunches I would buy.
Or the sausage sandwich I would have while my daughter played touch football.
Nor did I include any meals at a friend’s place, whatever it’s provenance. That pizza that they ordered was somehow different at their place than it was at mine.
Restaurant meals also weren’t included because we actually sat down and at the meal there. Never mind that it was the local Chinese restaurant and we were eating exactly the same food as a take away meal. (Hmmm).
I mostly cook from ‘scratch’
I mostly did but I was not above using a pre-prepared sauce or stock.
I would buy stock to use when I was making some kind of casserole or curry.
I would have several different sauces that I would use to transform a piece of meat into a ‘delicious meal’. Those sauces meant I was also adding large quantities of sugar and often a variety of food additives and preservatives.
I also used store-bought salad dressing and our fridge had a number of different ones. The fact that they needed to be stored in the fridge should have been a clue that they were not really all that great, but I was oblivious. Salad dressing, if it is made with olive oil and vinegar doesn’t need to be refrigerated because both of these ingredients are stable at room temperature.
It says ‘low-fat’ on the label
It did, I just didn’t realise that the manufacturer was loading it up with sugar to give it more flavour and using poor quality ingredients to cut their costs.
Then about 10 years ago I had an ‘Ah ha!’ moment.
A number of things I already knew suddenly fell into place one evening when I was chowing through a bag of my favourite potato chips and idly reading the label.
I discovered that my bag of potato chips had the equivalent of 62 grams of sugar in it!
62 grams may not sound like a lot but it is around 3 tablespoons or just under 1/3 cup of sugar!
That was a pivotal point for me.
I had a simple sum I could use to determine the sugar equivalent of the food I was buying.
I knew how much sugar my body could process.
I knew the difference between good and bad fat and what my body could process.
I knew I didn’t want to be eating food that had numbers on the label.
Within a relatively short period of time a lot changed for me.
I lost around 15 kilos, I don’t know exactly because my focus was much more on my health than on my weight, but I dropped a clothes size or two depending on the brand.
My energy levels improved. Not that I thought they were bad before but I did notice that I would walk further and I actually wanted to find some form of exercise that I enjoyed.
I felt happier and more engaged with people when I was out. This is really difficult to measure exactly and I can only tell you that was my experience.
The thing about marketing and advertising is that the manufacturer wants you to buy their product and they will only tell you the good things about their product.
There is no way my bag of chip manufacturer was going to say ‘Equivalent 1/3 cup of sugar in every pack!’
Or, that a flavoured yoghurt will say ‘More sugar than you can process in a day!’
Or, a bag of lollies will say ‘Play additive bingo!’
I was already pretty sceptical of advertising so I would choose not to pay too much attention to a lot of that ‘noise’ however I was not aware of so much that had been added to food over the years and how it impacted my health.
You may think that we have food standards to make sure that the food that is on our supermarket shelves is good for us, which is true… to an extent.
The thing that happens with our food standards is that each product, and any additives it may contain, is assessed individually.
This means that, although one food may be within acceptable limits, a combination of foods may not be. With the high number of processed foods on the market today it is entirely possible that you could eat some ingredients in quantities which are not healthy.
Think of it this way, a serving of bread has additive A at an acceptable level, and a serving of yoghurt has additive A at an acceptable level, but when you combine the bread and the yoghurt throughout the day you could conceivably exceed the acceptable level of additive A. And by the time you add other foods, you could really be exceeding that ‘acceptable’ level by quite a lot.
Another hidden issue with additives is that there is no research into what happens when they are combined, either in the same food or in a variety of different foods.
So, additive A combined with additive B, combined with additive C could present a big problem to your health but nobody knows!
There are also a number of issues around food labelling which many people are not aware of.
Known allergens must always be listed, however, this may not help you if you have a specific reaction to something which is not perceived to be an ‘allergen’.
There is also the issue that under different circumstances manufacturers are not required to put all the ingredients of a food on the label. For example, where the packaging is too small or the ingredient is a ‘compound ingredient’ which makes up less than 5% of the food1,2.
I have learnt a lot in my research to eat better to maintain my health and I have come to understand that what I see as ‘obvious’ may not so obvious when you are swamped by advertising and busy in your life.
Ultimately, I wrote an online course, Healthy Eating Is Easy! to help people choose better food while they are shopping. Because you can have the biggest impact when you buy your food.
You probably have some excuses which are similar to mine and a number of different ones that you have dreamt up all on your own.
I encourage you to stop and honestly examine those excuses because right now, by not actually acting and voting with your dollar, you are giving tacit permission to the food manufacturers to supply you with poor quality food that is harming your health in the long term.
While I know that humans, as a whole, can be slow to act to make a positive change to their life. I also know that when humans feel they are not being told the whole truth about something they get annoyed and when they are annoyed, then they will change.
So, my question to you is…
Are you going to continue kicking the can down the road?
Or are you going to pick it up and dispose of it thoughtfully?