It’s the time of the year that we traditionally begin to wind down, reflect, and think about what we want to accomplish in the next year. For most of us, we will bid 2020 a swift farewell. This dumpster fire of a year can’t be finished soon enough. And as nice as it is to think that 2021 will begin with a clean slate, I can’t help but look ahead a bit apprehensively. How about you?
As much as we should congratulate ourselves for surviving a miserable set of 2020 circumstances, many of us feel a bit guilty about our current fitness levels or those few quarantine pounds we somehow found. So, here we go again. Fitness goals. Weight loss goals. New Year’s resolutions. Sigh. Is the pressure on yourself really worth it?
Indeed, many of us have enough on our plates already. I think the goal should really be to simply get moving and to fuel our bodies as nutritiously as possible on a regular basis. Being consistent is better than trying to force perfection and burning out. It’s as much a benefit to our mental health as it is our physical well-being. It’s not entirely our fault if we’ve been less active or have made less than ideal food choices lately.
Let’s think about the public health challenges we have faced this year which have contributed to our decreased activity levels. Maybe you were a gym member and found your gym closed for months during the pandemic. Maybe you had to trim expenses due to job loss or furlough, so the gym fees had to go. Maybe you are now working from home, cutting out walking into and around the office every day. Most of us also cut down on our errand running to avoid exposure. How many of you have seen your step counts decrease dramatically in the past few months?
Now, let’s talk about food. I recently ran into a friend of mine who is in the midst of a career change to become a nurse. One of the things she said struck me. In her training, she has learned how important your food choices are in managing your health. Indeed. It’s why I quote Hippocrates on my home page for this blog.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”Hippocrates
As far as public health challenges unique to this year in choosing food, there were many! In the beginning of the pandemic, I personally felt panic when I went into the grocery store. Empty shelves will do that. It’s bad enough that there wasn’t a roll of toilet paper or paper towels to be found, but when a grocery runs out of tofu, that’s really saying something. It was easier to stock up on non-perishable, processed goods to ensure we actually had food to eat, even if it wasn’t something we typically bought. It also reduced our need to go to the store so frequently.
If you just really needed to eat out, for a while, just about the only restaurants that were open were fast food drive throughs. Most of what you can find here, even if tasty, is hardly nutritious. Plus we literally sit in the car and feed our faces. And yes, I’ve been guilty of this myself. I’ve visited Taco Bell more often in the past few months than I have in the past 15 years.
So, what actually goes into your $3 value menu meal and your shelf stable processed groceries? The two most planted crops in the USA are soybeans and corn. That’s no accident. These crops are subsidized by the government, which makes it really appealing to utilize them in every way possible. This is how we end up with additives to processed foods like high fructose corn syrup and soy protein isolate. Malodextrin? That’s from corn. Dextrose is, too. Even our gasoline has corn in it. If you know someone with a soy or corn allergy, have a chat with them about how challenging it is for them to find prepared foods they can eat. Derivatives from these crops are pervasive in processed foods.
It really isn’t a stretch to say that processed foods are essentially subsidized by the government, which means they are cheap. A quick Google search about subsidized crops in the US will lead you down a rabbit hole of information and viewpoints on what is broken about this system. It’s really challenging to convince someone on a limited budget to buy whole foods when buying one apple can cost more than a bag of chips. When they can buy the whole family dinner at McDonald’s for what one meal costs at Panera. Cheap calories equals full bellies, and perhaps also hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. What seems like a ridiculous food choice to people with means is a very realistic choice for someone without. It was a conundrum I realized as a home health practitioner. Finding the answers to these problems will take a public health overhaul.
Say that you can afford to eat a healthy, whole foods based diet, and you work out on a regular basis. Maybe you even invest in protein powders to supplement your intake of this macronutrient. Did you know that the most frequently utilized ingredient in these powders was once a waste product? Whey protein is actually a by-product of cheese making. If you’ve ever made dairy cheese yourself, it’s the cloudy liquid left over when the cheese curds separate. This liquid is then processed and dried to result in a powder added to lots of supplements: whey protein isolate. Guess which industry is also subsidized by the government? You guessed it: Dairy. So whey, as well as its partner casein, are popular protein supplements because their production is subsidized. If you want to learn more about the negatives of the dairy industry, check out the non-profit Switch4Good.
Our food choices are not entirely dictated by us. They are shaped by a manipulated system. Beyond the government subsidies controlling our food supply and choices, there are teams of lobbyists working for the food industry to influence agency policies. Most of us know, our health really begins in the kitchen, but you may not know how much our diets are swayed by the food industry itself.
So as we enter 2021, realize that many of the things that kept us from being as healthy as we could be in 2020 were beyond our control. We should focus on what we actually can control, like eating more at home, eating fewer processed foods, and moving more. Changes don’t have to be over the top to be beneficial. The better and more consistently we care for our bodies, the less vulnerable we are to health issues. We should get outside as much as possible, because our souls could use a change from the four walls that surround us. And we should give ourselves some credit for surviving a pandemic.
Be kind to yourself. If you set fitness goals for the New Year, it’s ok to make them simple and realistic, like taking your dog for a walk every day. Consistency is key. This pandemic is still raging, so continue to wear your masks and avoid large social gatherings. The pandemic will end eventually. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.