I had my annual check-up this past month. I’m blessed with health — I rarely see the doctor for illness. I usually just go in to get yelled at for smoking cigarettes and obtain prescriptions for 800-mg ibuprofen, which should be considered a food group if you’re sitting in a truck for 10,000 miles a month.
I’m also fortunate to have a good relationship with my doctor, so I wasn’t offended when she pointed out I’ve gained about 20 pounds. We talked about some alternatives to dieting, because she knows me and knows I will revolt against anything called a diet. Dr. Angela also knows me well enough to suggest I do things in a slow, transitional way, because I’m old and a creature of habit and cranky — and if it’s hard, I won’t do it.
“Make small changes that become habits,” she says. “As you introduce these habits, one by one, they don’t seem so foreign and you gradually develop good habits in place of the bad ones.”
Angela takes time with me at every appointment to discuss some of the unique problems our lifestyle presents when it comes to eating and living healthy. She agrees the food choices aren’t the best, but says she believes just a few adjustments can make a difference when eating fast food and road food. “Obviously, eating fresh food is better for you,” she says, “but sometimes you just have to make better choices. If McDonald’s will let you have apple slices from the kids’ meals instead of fries with your quarter-pounder value meal, and you make that change, you’ve drastically cut your caloric and fat intake and gotten beneficial calories from the apples you wouldn’t have gotten with the french fries. Just doing that four times a week cuts two thousand calories from your diet.”
She also has advice for getting the best from the calories we consume. “Eat as much of a variance in color as possible,” she says. “And Skittles don’t count. A more colorful diet means a broader spectrum of vitamins and minerals. If you take the quarter pounder in the meal we were talking about and have them drop the cheese, and add a couple slices of tomato and lettuce, you’ve lost another 150 calories and several grams of fat from the meal and added a benefit of tomatoes and lettuce. And you can feel pretty good about that meal, and still afford to drink a small sweetened tea with it.”
On the subject of sweetening and diet drinks, she says this: “If at all possible, buy things you can sweeten yourself. Plain cereal, unsweetened tea, soda water. Using sugar is fine, because nine times out of ten you’re going to use about half what the manufacturer would have used. Presweetened items have a ridiculous amount of processed sugar in them. If you really like pop and need something fizzy, try mixing a heavy juice, like pineapple or guava, with soda water. It’s sweet, fizzy and has beneficial calories and vitamins.”
She ended our visit with a warning: “It’s not the food so much as the inactivity. You’ve got to get out of the truck and get some exercise. Buy a jump rope. Park a long way from the entrance of anywhere you stop. Do jumping jacks in the cab. Whatever you have to do, get some exercise. I like you Parkers, I want to see you around for a long time.”