Food, Exercise and Diet: The Meaning of "Once in a While"

BlogHer Original Post

I've been pondering the idea, What does "every once in a while" mean, anyway? Who else has noticed how all the official guidelines, they're loosey-goosey, they dance around, they're rarely specific. So while we're at it, what does "eat sparingly" mean and how often can we have "a special treat"? Me, I can follow rules, just tell me what they are, pl-ease!

So here's my thinking.

It's common knowledge -- isn't it? Or is this part of the problem? -- that health-wise, some foods are more healthful than others. We know that our diets should include "more" of X and "less" of Y. But how "much" more is "more" and how much "less" is less enough?

I'm especially stuck on ideas around "every once in a while." I can't help but remember my grandmother, who'd slip her small fingers into a bag of chocolate chips conveniently stored at the front of the top drawer in the kitchen. For her, every once in a while meant five or six times a day. Right.

So right, that isn't what they mean by "every once in a while." But when I try to calculate for my own life, I find myself thinking, "So can I have an ice cream cone every day? Every week? Every month? Every year?" How often is every once in a while?

And a few weeks ago, I saw something that dumped homemade cookies and cakes and baked goods into the "processed food" category. "What"? I roared. "I made those cookies myself. I use Land O Lakes butter and good chocolate and I buy King Arthur flour. How dare you compare my homemade cookies to a Twinkie?"

But the idea is sticky, and it's planted itself in my brain. When I made pumpkin bread this morning, for the first time, I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour. It's a small step.

But honestly, it all makes my head spin. And that's me, who has the time, intellect and inclination to think about health and nutrition issues. And that's me, who, because I cook, I bypass the hundreds and thousands of food marketing messages that bombard most people's lives. I suddenly understand the potentially perverse affect of nutrition labels on commercial food products. The neat little number-filled box makes the product seem "known." It must be okay to eat, otherwise it wouldn't have that box.

This is the conversation I hear inside my head, questioning both the words and the guideline, twisting the words to mean something else.

"Make smart food choices," they say. I think, "Smart? What's smart?"

"Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk products," they say. I think, "Fruits are listed first, I'll eat bananas all day, that'll be even better."

"Try to choose whole grains" they say. I think, "Okay, okay, I'll try, I really will. But I already know that whole grains are more expensive, they're harder to find, they take longer to cook, they go stale faster, blah blah blah. But I tried, didn't I? That's all they asked was for me to try. Please pass the white bread."

And notice how there's no one saying, "Stop drinking soda. Stop eating candy bars. Stop eating all products with refined sugar. Stop eating all foods made with non whole-grain flour." Really, when it comes down to it, isn't this what we should be hearing, really?

"Exercise regularly," they say. I think, "I'll take the advice to heart. My new plan is to work out once a month, religiously, every month, no matter what. That's 'regular', right?" But no-no-no-no-no, when they say, "Exercise regularly," they mean -- get this, people! -- every single day, or at minimum, most days, that means four days out of seven. "Okay, exercise regularly, four days out of seven. THEN I can have chocolate cake?"

Okay, some times they get a little more specific about exercise. "Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week." I think, "Aim for? Okay, I'll 'aim' but what if I'm not a very good shot? Half an hour to an hour? Cool, I can do just 30 minutes, that's half as much. I win."

Who writes this stuff? I just want the bottom line. I just want them to say, straight out. No more skirting the issue, no more hesitancy.

But at least the people writing this stuff are, you know, writing for an anonymous, composite public. But doctors? They know us. They're supposed to help. I just want one to say, "You weigh too much, you need to lose 30 pounds now."

You see, in the last four years, I've gained back the 30 pounds I lost with Weight Watchers in 2002. In 10 years of yo-yo weight gain-weight loss-weight gain, I've had at least 25 doctors' appointments. But no doctor said, "You've lost weight, Alanna. Is that healthy weight loss?" No doctor has said, "Alanna, you've gained 30 pounds. What's going on in your life? You are at risk of heart disease, diabetes, bone issues and more. Get the pounds off now, while it's just 30 pounds to lose, not 50 or 130." Weight? No one's mentioned it, even though, as an otherwise well woman, it's the one thing -- the one single thing and perhaps even the single-most important thing -- I can do to improve my health, both right now and in the future.

I'm writing all this half tongue in cheek, and I know we each need to decide for ourselves what's the right balance.

But then I remember my sister introducing me to Dr. Phil -- this was pre-show, back when he was nobody, but she'd seen him in a magazine or somewhere. He had the habit of listening to someone's description of a situation and then asking, "How's that working out for you?" Well, all this nicey-nice and do-it-your-way thinking, how's it working out for everyone's health, for your health, for my health? Not so well.

And I'll tell you, it's a real question in my life. How often is "ever once in awhile"? How little is "sparingly"? And are these the right guidelines, anyway, and who says? I'd love to know what others think, how you create the "rules" in our own life.

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg favorite meal this week was filled with spices, Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant. 'Twas oh-so-gorgeous.


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