Posts Tagged ‘healthy eating’

I’ve been working on this post for almost a week I think since commenting on another blog about this topic, but it’s been hard for me because I don’t really know what to say but I want to say something about this.

For those who don’t know I struggle with depression. For me, it’s primarily caused by my other health issues and with that it’s something that sort of comes and goes, and typically it’s bad when my other health issues are also bad.

When I get depressed though, it makes it really hard to stick with eating healthy or working out, or really anything else related to my health.

And probably one reason I wanted to write about this is because I see it minimized so often. People treat making poor food choices when depressed as an issue with emotional eating and discount the difficulty it poses with fitness because working out is supposed to help depression, and these comments don’t really represent my experiences with depression and healthy activities.

The biggest hindrance with depression for me is that when I feel very depressed, I just don’t care about myself, I don’t care about my health, I don’t feel like it’s worth it or it matters to put in effort to do something for myself, and I don’t feel like I’m worth that effort. This part never seems to get brought up. I approach fitness and other healthy behaviors from a place of self-love. I believe that working out should come from loving your body not hating it. Hating my body or hating myself has never been an effective motivation for me to work out or do anything else to take care of my body. And part of depression, at least for me, is feeling worthless. When I feel terrible about myself, it becomes really hard to put in effort to do thing that I’m doing for my benefit.

I don’t struggle with eating healthy when I’m depressed because I’m eating for comfort/emotional eating. I struggle with it because I just don’t care about anything and I don’t feel like I’m worth the effort and usually the less healthy food choices are the ones that take the least effort.

For awhile for me it seemed like the biggest impact for me was on my diet, but that I was still able to push myself through a workout despite it. But actually last night I did an OHP workout and was feeling really depressed and it did not go well at all. I mean, I made it through the main lifts and lifted the set weights for the workout, but didn’t really do any assistance work and just the whole time did not want to be doing it at all. For all the reasons I’ve already mentioned.

And I hear a lot that it’s stupid to not workout due to depression because working out helps with depression- and I’ve certainly experienced that a lot before. But it also doesn’t always. It certainly doesn’t always have any immediate noticeable effect. I did not feel any less depressed after my workout last night than before. And even if it helps, it’s typically not a cure. Maybe the depression isn’t as severe if you keep working out regularly, but for most people it will still be there, and if the depression makes you not want to workout, that is a hell of a thing to fight through all the fucking time.

And I wish I had some advice to finish this post off with, something I could tell other people struggling with this that helps, but I got nothing. I clearly have no simple solution to this because it’s something that I still struggle with.

I want to talk about something that has been bothering me and that is the moralizing of eating. Not food (that is a different issue), but eating itself. This comes up in terms of the “why are you eating?” pieces of advice around identifying if you are hungry or bored or stressed or sad or eating for any reason other than physical hunger. And let me be clear that I have no problem with this topic or advice on understanding why we eat or crave certain things in and of itself.  What bothers me is simply when this is treated as if we all have some moral imperative to only eat when physically hungry. That it is some sort of sin to eat for any other reason. And that, I do disagree with.

I am all about understanding our relationships with food, understanding why we eat, why we crave certain things, and just all around being better in touch with our bodies and minds. I talked before in my post on intuitive eating that I tend to crave sugary drinks if I get dehydrated and that is really just me being dehydrated and what I really need is water (though I could get this through either plain water or other drinks). Along a similar line I’m all about understanding why I am hungry or craving any particular thing at that time. I think the more in touch we are with our bodies and minds the messages they send us the better off we are.

I also believe very strongly in my life in prioritizing what my time, energy, and mental focus. And I’ve talked a lot here before about how fitness is not my top priority in life, and neither is eating or my body size or any of that.

This means, that sometimes what I’m eating or why I’m eating is not my priority at that time. And I for one am done feeling ashamed of that. I stress eat sometimes. And I know that it’s because of stress, but it also takes energy and some mental focus to go through the “I just want cookies because I’m stressed, I’m not actually hungry” and resist eating the cookies. No, not a lot of energy or mental focus,  but when I’m rushing against a deadline to get a paper done, or proposal submitted on time, or anything else like that, my priority for all my energy and mental focus is on getting that done as well as possible on time. And that means, no, I’m not going to commit the mental resources to avoiding munching on some cookies while I do it. Because at the end of the day, not eating cookies is not that important to me. I don’t really give a damn if sometimes I eat cookies when I’m stressed. I do not think that is a moral failing, a character flaw, or some sort of sin.

And if eating some “junk food” when I’m stressed about getting something important done for a deadline is the reason I’m fat, I still don’t give a fuck. I’m still ok with the fact that I ate those cookies and I’m still ok with being fat.

So on facebook the other day this article was shared on my feed titled Why Judging People for Buying Unhealthy Food is Classist. I wanted to comment a bit more on this topic because people who say that it’s not expensive to eat healthy and that poverty is no excuse annoy me so much.

For a little background, if you don’t already know this about me, I’m a social worker in the metro-Detroit area. I’ve worked with a number of non profits in this area and others, and have done community organizing work in Detroit and other poor areas across Michigan. All my personal and work experience has been in Michigan. I have some of my own experiences I draw from regarding poverty and food, but the vast majority actually comes from work experience.

First two points that  I originally was going to put at the end, but really need to be emphasized:

Poor People Deserve Little Luxuries/Enjoyments As Well

Being poor is bad enough, it is absolutely unfair and cruel to expect anyone to live based purely based on survival with no regard for enjoyment. Maybe that means having cable, maybe it means getting some candy, a cake, or some other food they don’t NEED but want at the store. Someone who is poor, including those using SNAP, have just as much right to buy some foods for enjoyment over pure survival needs as those who are not poor.

Mind Your Own Damn Business!

Really, everything else could be ended with this. You have no right to know all about poor people’s lives and choices just because they are poor. They owe you no explanation for every choice they make. And it is classist from the start to think their choices are any of your business to pick apart and judge just because they are poor.

So with those two points covered, let’s still move on to the issue of whether it is cheaper to eat healthy foods.

What is Healthy?

So right away one problem we need to acknowledge to start with regarding judging poor people for buying “unhealthy” foods and insisting that eating “healthy” is cheap is that “unhealthy” and “healthy” foods are not well defined and will vary a lot from person to person. I’ve written a bit before on issues of “what is healthy” (and a bit here). One thing that stands out to me is that for “healthy” homecooked meals on the cheap there is often a reliance on boxed pasta- it makes sense, it’s cheap for the number of calories and how filling it is, and you can do a number of things with it, and include smaller amounts of veggies and meat. For me though, my first thought for pasta is “so many carbs!” I think I eat pretty healthy. What I eat is primarily fresh vegetables, dairy, and meat (mainly chicken breasts or bacon)- and that is relatively expensive. Especially the meat. I actually eat less meat than I should to hit my protein goals but it’s too expensive to eat too much of. Plus none of this keeps long, so I have to deal with going to the store more often and risk wasting food from spoiling if I overpurchase- both of which increase the cost, or potential cost, of these foods.

Also important to keep in mind that even if you consider a food healthy, a healthy diet needs variety. Lentils are a cheap healthy food that gets brought up often, besides some issues I will go into more detail on soon, there is also the “who wants to eat lentils everyday?”, and also that eating the same one food day in and day out is not healthy. A healthy diet needs variety. And there is context to consider for “healthy”- take for example a parent living in poverty, feeding their kids lentils is certainly not healthy if the kids won’t eat them. Kids need to eat, so healthy is going to have to be within what the kids will eat, and also it’s not cost effective to buy and prepare food that is going to end up going uneaten.

The line between what is “healthy” and what is “unhealthy” for foods is not as clear cut as many like to pretend it is.

Food Cost and Availability Varies by Location

The subtitle here really sums it up, and applies most to judging people over distances for how they spend money on food. What you can purchase at your local grocery store for a certain price is not what all people can purchase from their closest grocery store for that price. This is especially important because people living in poverty often live in areas very different than people at higher incomes. And as contradictory as  it seems, groceries are frequently more expensive in poor areas! (Especially in food deserts because stores can cash in on lack of options.)

This especially goes for those who brag about how little they spend on groceries who are saving by having a vegetable garden (which is great if you have the time and resources too, but you need to acknowledge the cost of that, the time for it, and that not all people have the ability to supplement groceries with growing their own food).

It’s More than Just The Cost of Food

The article linked in the beginning addresses this- it’s not just about how much the food costs, it’s also access, time and cost to purchase (transportation to the store), time to prepare the food, cost to prepare the food, and access to means to prepare the food. People who have never lived in these conditions take these things for granted, but these are not givens for all people.

Grocery Stores:

Let’s start with access to stores, cost to get to them, and time to get to them. If you are not already familiar with food deserts, you should do some reading on them. These are areas that do not have ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts.  Detroit, for example, until relatively recently did not have any national chain grocery stores within the city. This recently changed and there is now a meijer at 8 mile and woodward and a whole foods in midtown. If you aren’t familiar with Detroit, chances are that sounds better than it is to you, since most people don’t realize how large the city of Detroit is.

An image of Detroit's relative size showing you can fit San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan within the city of Detroit (proper, not metro area), which I added approximate location of Whole Foods and Meijer onto (the red polygons).

An image of Detroit’s relative size showing you can fit San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan within the city of Detroit (proper, not metro area), which I added approximate location of Whole Foods and Meijer onto (the red polygons).

Prior to this there were of course local grocery stores, but just having access to a close grocery store does not mean access to fresh, healthy foods. I’ve been in stores years back in Detroit that sold rotten produce, spoiled meat and dairy products, and would even change expiration dates on those foods to try to sell them after they spoiled. People who lived near these stores would not shop at local stores for anything other than canned goods. Anything else people have to travel out of their area for, and speaking personally I don’t remember ever grocery shopping in Detroit as a kid- we always drove outside the city for grocery. I shop in Detroit now, at the previously mentioned meijer. But on the topic of not assuming your situation is everyone’s- many people are still shocked to learn the meijer in Detroit closes everyday at 11pm. It is the only meijer I know of that does, all others are open 24 hrs. So there is a meijer in Detroit now, but it also has more limited availability than those in the suburbs. Even with changes including (but not limited to) these two chain stores opening in the city, there are still many people who have to travel significant distances to a grocery store.
If I were really accurate when talking about my grocery budget I would be including not only the cost of the foods, but also the cost of my car and gas to get to the store. And the time it takes me to make food would include the time it takes (averaged out for what I can get during a trip) for getting to the store and back. For those who do not have a car, then it’s the cost and time of travelling by bus. Having a car is a huge benefit for access to groceries. I can travel further for groceries if need be than someone who does not have a car, it doesn’t take me as long, and I can fit more groceries in my car than if I was carrying them to and from bus stops and had to carry them on a bus. And in places like Detroit, public transportation is not reliable. It can take a long time to travel short distances, the longer the travel time the more it limits what you can purchase, and you need to work around bus schedules which is harder depending on your work hours. I looked up a hypothetical of how long it might take me from a particular area to a grocery store and the time given was so ridiculous I could bike that distance faster, and I have biked to the grocery store before (not in metro-Detroit), but that ignores whether or not someone has a bicycle, if they are already taking the bus for some other reason (like going straight from work to the store to home) such that changing transportation methods adds time, if they have a disability that makes them unable to ride a bike that distance, and lastly but very importantly, if they would have to go through areas that are not safe to walk or bike trough if they did that. Some folks think I’m crazy for the areas I walk and run, and for the community organizing work I’ve done in Detroit (that involved among other things going into communities, talking to people, and getting chummy with local gang members!), but contrary to the opinions of some folks I don’t just ignore safety issues. But I use some common sense (or street smarts might be a better way of phrasing it) to assess relative safety, and there are areas I will avoid for safety reasons- top of that list is places where all the houses are abandoned. Which is like every street around some areas of Detroit.

When you can just get in a car and drive to a local grocery store and pick up groceries, that is a huge privilege a lot of people do not have, and that is often overlooked when people talk about how cheap eating healthy is.

Having a Kitchen:

You also have to take into account having a kitchen and appliances or not. The article mentions a woman who is homeless who has no access to a kitchen- this is one of many possible reasons someone may not! Even people who have homes do not always have kitchens at all, or basic appliances like refrigerators or stoves. I previously worked with a non-profit that provided donated fridges and stoves to low income people who didn’t have them- the waiting list for those items was massive and donations do not keep up with the need. Eating healthy without those things is very hard, and again, something many people take for granted having access to.

And just like the real cost of my groceries includes transportation to get them it also includes the part of my utilities that goes toward these appliances. I’ve also known people who had a stove and fridge but didn’t run them because it was cheaper for them to save the electricity of having those hooked up and running and just eat fast food. Whether or not the food from the store is cheaper, if it’s too expensive to have the fridge and stove to store and prepare the food, it doesn’t really matter that much.

The Problem of Solutions Created by People Unfamiliar with the Problem

The article addresses this.

Even organizations designed to help frequently get it wrong. I worked for an anti-hunger organization whose pricing was so out of touch that I — while employed by them — was unable to afford to make their recipes regularly.

In fact, I decided to do a challenge where I ate only their recipes for a week. These recipes were marketed to low-income families as cost effective ways to eat healthier. A week’s worth of groceries (for two people) for this challenge cost $150. My partner and I had previously been spending about $25 a week because that’s what we could afford.

Most people who are not actually having to survive on these low budgets don’t really realize what it’s like. And then when you have people not living it creating the advice, it doesn’t match up.

Of course there is also the problem in here that people working non-profits are paid such pitiful wages that many workers rely on the same services and programs their clients do to get by! Not entirely on topic of this post, but people should be paid enough to afford more than a little over $100/month for groceries for two people. (Even SNAP for one person when I received it was $200/month, and my current grocery costs for just myself are well more than that even.)

Stop Thinking Poor People Are Just Too Stupid To Know Their Own Lives

One of the themes running throughout all of this is the underlying issue of people assuming they know better about circumstances they are not living in that the people who are. Which is also based on the stereotype that poor people are stupid and can’t be trusted to make logical decisions about their lives. People are very quick to jump to the conclusion that poor people just lack their knowledge of the better options out there, rather than jumping to the conclusion that maybe there are factors they (as someone not living in the situation) simply aren’t aware of.