Monday, January 21, 2013

The health mandate

My snack drawer is full of wonders. There are Japanese crackers and chewy candies. There are Oreo cookies. There are popcorn bags ready to be popped in the microwave. There are containers of applesauce. There are pita chips to accompany the hummus that is hiding in my refrigerator. There are cups and plates and bowls. There are utensils.

There is no lack of sustenance in this room of mine. It's something I've maintained for myself no matter where I'm living. In my old dorm room during my first two years at college, it was always the bottom shelf of my wardrobe. In London, it took up the top compartment of my chest of drawers. It is in a similar place now, supplemented by my own mini-fridge in the opposite corner of my room.

It's enticing, it's beckoning me to eat and be unhealthy. Especially with the great deal of popcorn at my disposal, how can I resist the urge to bathe my lips in buttery goodness?

That's the eternal question, isn't it? If so much is available to me, why don't I just partake in all of it - at once?

I guess I've battled with this issue for quite a while. I struggled with wait as a wee one, wanting to constantly snack when I wasn't eating meals. I'd convince relatives (who came home from work at different times of the day) that the person who had come home first had neglected to make me dinner. Some nights I'd get away with having two meals.

I was unhealthy. I cultivated gross eating habits. They were perpetuated throughout my young teenaged years. Into my young adulthood, I still don't have a firm grasp of nutritionally balanced meals.

Though I've studied the subject, become aware of the health ramifications of eating an unbalanced diet and watched relatives and friends suffer from unhealthy habits, I've always been in denial about my own nutritional state.

I haven't been "overweight" since I was 11 years old. Once I stopped eating fast food several times a week, the scales started to balance. I was looking and feeling healthier. Never quite up to the standards of my five year old self, the little girl who was so thin that her childcare service providers asked her mother if her daughter was eating enough.

I was eating enough. I would learn to eat even more. My metabolism slowed down long before most people face that eventual fate. I had to come to terms with it when I was entering my most awkward years.

And now, so much later, I'm still struggling. Not because I'm back living the life of an overweight individual, but because my history has dictated that I enjoy unhealthy eating habits. I like the most buttery popcorn and my favorite vegetables are the least healthy among them (so much sugar in corn, so much starch in potatoes), not to mention I have to remind myself not to drink soda at each meal because when it's available, often I'll have it even when I'm not craving it.

Often I'll let these issues slide, reminding myself that this may be the only time in my life when I can eat like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me without the health ramifications. Since I don't see my waist growing much, nor my weight fluctuating all that strikingly, I assume it's nothing to worry about.

But I'm not looking out for myself.

I feel as though the universe has been trying to remind me of this quite a bit lately. Recently I started watching the movie Amour (nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year), and was taken aback by the depiction of a woman who suffers from a stroke one afternoon. The attempt to salvage her mobility and speech is attempted through brain surgery, but somehow the plans go awry and she is left with serious disabilities that strain her life with her equally elderly husband,

Admittedly, I didn't get very far in the film. I just couldn't handle it. My mother had a stroke when I was 11, and since then images of strokes have never sat well with me. I live within a constant state of paranoia, worried that eventually I may suffer the same fate she did.

Only recently, I became aware of the incidence of strokes in younger people. Aubrey Plaza (of Parks and Recreation fame) was the victim of a stroke when she was in college. She was lucky to be among friends at the time of her attack, which made for a quick transportation to the hospital. She has since fully recovered, but not without physical therapy work to regain all her proper human functions.

Then this morning I was reading an article in the OC Register about two high school students who both suffered from arteriovenous malformations (according to the Register, "a congenital condition involving an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain). They had strokes at different times and have since recovered. They are being reported on because of the human interest aspect of the story - that they went to their high school winter formal together.

It was a sweet article to read, but what struck me about it wasn't the human interest aspect, but the fact that these two people who are younger than me have had strokes.

In other words, I really have no right to think I needn't worry about a stroke, even if I am only 20 years old.

So I'm a little frightened. And leave it to fear to strike the most sense it to me. While a couple of years ago I promised myself I would stop eating meat, now I must make an even bigger sacrifice for my own benefit: I must promise myself I'll be more conscious of everything I eat.

For most, giving up meat is terribly hard. For me, no longer eating French fries and buttery popcorn is the hardest sacrifice to make. I've grown up thinking of these foods as ordinary, comforting even.

I know that in time I'll start to feel differently, but after being raised as an unhealthy eater, it's hard to look forward and consider those food items only occasional treats rather than staples. Maybe this speaks terribly to my willpower, but it's for this reason that I feel so strongly about changing. I worry for myself, but I know that I have the power to change.

In the coming weeks, I'm going to try to turn around my health. In addition to staving off potentially life-threatening illnesses, I hope I can feel and look better than I've ever felt or looked before. I may not exactly update this blog on my progress (since there's no quantifiable measure of success), but I hope that anyone who reads this will stand by me anyway. I need all the support I can get. Junk food is one of my greatest weaknesses, but with confidence even I can overcome it.

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