The phrase “obesity epidemic” is thrown around a lot, especially in the news. Many facets of the American lifestyle can be used to explain our expanding girth –we have an abundance of processed foods we did not have before, our portion sizes are enormous, and we do far less physical labor. I can attest, however that income level definitely impacts diet.
I was a fat kid. Not chubby, chunky, or fluffy. I was fat and I knew it. Everybody around me knew it, and everybody felt they had the right to say something about it. This made me very self-conscious at a young age, and by age 11, I was already a veteran dieter. I never really lost weight long term; I mostly yo-yo’d. I grew a couple inches and got some curves, so I didn’t look so bad, but I still felt bad and continued dieting.
I was diagnosed hypothyroid when I was 24 years old. At the time, I had a decent job, and my mother was helping me with my medical expenses. After I began a regimen of Metformin, Cytomel, and Levoxyl, I quickly lost 75 lbs without even trying. I was exercising, sure, but not much. I was working out on a treadmill or an elliptical machine 2-3 times a week. That was after I had given up on losing weight. I had resigned to a life of Lane Bryant pants. When I was 21, I walked two miles a day at least three days a week and I spent 16 hours a week at the gym. I still managed to gain weight, even though I was on a vegan diet for most of that time.
Had I not been able to afford proper medical care when I was 24, I would probably be morbidly obese and even more depressed. I realize, of course, that most fat people aren’t hypothyroid, but it does happen, and probably more than most people would think.
Shortly after my initial diagnosis, however, I experienced the series of events that led to my poverty. I was more depressed than I knew or was willing to admit, and I got drunk at least twice every week and I ate nachos after the bars closed, but I still lost weight. That’s how messed up my body had been before my hormone supplements.
Over time, though, I have not been able to get the proper care, and my weight has crept back up. But there’s another issue at hand: what I eat.
When you have very little money, it’s too easy (and often necessary) to buy the 50-cent box of macaroni & cheese that can last for two or three meals if you’re frugal. Some food banks have healthy options, some don’t. Most of them overload you with bread and pasta. Many of America’s poor are fast-food restaurant employees, and they end up eating at these restaurants for nearly every meal.
I was quite moved by the recent news story about a woman being arrested because her teenage son “grew” to be 555 lbs. There are several reasons this story struck me. By age 14, this boy is well aware (if not hyperaware) of what he looks like, and I’ll bet he doesn’t like what he sees. By age 14, he should be somewhat capable of making some decisions about his diet. That said, if no one has reached out to the boy, he will continue to do exactly what got him to be 555 lbs. His mother had been warned and ordered to put him in nutritional counseling, but at her own expense. She claimed that she could not afford the nutritional counseling, and I believe her. She is a single mother working multiple jobs, so her son lacked not only supervision, but as a family they lacked money and time to buy lots of veggies at the market. It sounds to me like this boy was raised on fast food, but he just doesn’t have the metabolism for it. I don’t believe that his mother is a criminal or deserves criminal charges. I do believe that the boy should probably be in some kind of long-term fat camp, but not a foster home.
While I do not know the situation that applies to this particular family, it is well-documented that many low-income people live in neighborhoods without grocery stores that carry healthy, fresh food. Keep in mind that these are also neighborhoods where people frequently rely on public transportation.
My neighborhood is close to the ghetto, and I have two grocery stores within walking distance. One of those grocery stores is overrun by gangs, and the other one often has moldy food. I have had to return moldy/rotten merchandise four times. With life in the ‘hood, if the gangs don’t kill you, the rotten food at Albertsons or the creepy sausage at the neighborhood gas station will.
The best I’ve eaten in recent years was when I was on food stamps a few months ago. I actually got more with food stamps than I was accustomed to spending each month on groceries — $200. I was able to buy many fruits and vegetables, and even organic dairy. Now that I’m a Quitter, I’ve reapplied for food stamps, and hope I get approved. I actually lost nearly 20 lbs through exercise and just eating more and eating healthy. It’s much better to eat a lot of healthy food than just small portions of crap. I had a phone interview this morning with a woman at the Department of Social and Health Services. She was kind and helpful, and it’s possible that I will have food stamps by the end of the month if I have not yet secured employment by then. I will also (reluctantly) apply for unemployment. I do believe I am eligible since the job I was doing was not the job I was hired to do, but I do not take confrontation or rejection well. I need to do something tomorrow, though, so I’m not just lolling around on my fat ass.