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Eating Healthy? Fat Chance

Columnist Marsia Mason asks: Is government intervention the only way we'll lose weight?

Like most women, I have food issues. I guess I should amend that to say "like most people," because we all seem to be struggling with too much of this and not enough of that. Sadly, it's a bigger issue for women because society judges us solely on our looks. We are either Angelina Jolie or the Goodyear blimp.

When I was a child, I was a picky eater. Lima beans scared me. I don’t know why. Ditto with orange marmalade. The thought of eating a gelatinous, sickly sweet dollop filled with shards of orange peel was enough to send me hiding under my bed. The only food groups I embraced in those days were candy, white bread and Coca-Cola. Yet I was microscopically small. I was a tiny, culinary nightmare. Now, I eat veggies and fruit, limit my Cokes to once or twice a week, and still gain weight.  

In high school, I ate my first serving of broccoli at a Chinese restaurant in Philly. I was shamed into eating it by my peers, who were incredulous that a 16-year-old had never gotten down with a broccoli spear. Thus, the dreaded green vegetable entered my mouth and my life. I began to try all kinds of other cuisines and greens and found most of them to be pretty palatable, some even delicious—except lima beans. I still shunned them whenever the succotash was being passed around.  

Fortunately for me, lima beans and succotash are foods from another era, a time when green beans were actually gray beans from overcooking and if we ate veggies at all, they came in a can or were frozen. So, with all of the fresh produce we have access to now, why is everyone overweight? Probably because the most delectable foods in the world—rich in butter, deep-fried to a crispy golden brown, dipped in luscious dark chocolate—are all bad for us. But we will not resist and we won’t deny ourselves.

Back in June there was a one-and-a-half day gathering in Washington, D.C., called the National Soda Summit. I love Coca-Cola, so I began making plans to visit this summit, envisioning the many different soft drinks I would sample, the soda-related anecdotes I would share with other Coke fiends, the memorabilia I would collect.

Then I read a press release about the real issues being debated at the summit. This was not an opportunity for a cranky columnist from Mo’town to wallow in carbonated beverages, but a pow-wow of big city mayors and public health officials, determined to find new and exciting ways to scare the general public into giving up their Big Gulps and Mega Slurps. As if that would solve the problem. 

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City was the first mayor to stick his neck out and propose banning the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. As far as I know, that proposal is thankfully on the back burner after much well-earned derision from ordinary folks who don’t like being told what they can and cannot drink. Besides, this is America! If we want to dally with Dr Pepper, dang it, we will!

But I'm worried. Does that mean chocolate is the next evil to eliminate? Only two squares per day, Ms. Mason, but only if you prove to have a real medical emergency. Will the government limit French fries to 10 per serving? Dole out pizza slices on an “as-needed” basis? Granted, there are foods that should have been banned years ago, like those neon orange “circus peanuts” and Velveeta. Headcheese and tripe are also of questionable worth to humanity and could disappear with few gastronomic complaints.  

Apparently, we really DO need our government to ration out our sugary beverages, because we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic and it would seem we just cannot say "no."  I don't like the label "obesity epidemic" though, because the word "epidemic" is usually used in conjunction with a true illness like measles or mumps, not willful overeating.  

Let’s stroll down Main Street and look at our healthy-eating options. We’ll start at . Open the doors, walk in, and get socked in the face with the Wawa smell. It rivals the ’s distinct aroma for staying power. Right away, you will notice a cold case filled with celery sticks, cut-up fruit and hard-boiled eggs. Good healthy stuff, right? More than likely, if you’re looking for something to nibble on, it’s not going to be a hard-boiled egg. Still, Wawa gets an E for effort. Their healthy choices are front and center, avoided by all.  

Our next stop will be the various sandwich shops, all offering big, bigger and biggest sandwiches. Again, it’s your choice, but don’t forget the chips, washed down by a liter of diet soda. Cruise on into the . Sure, you could just get a bottle of water, but who am I kidding? As if anyone can pass up an inexpensive, warm, salty twist of dough. Mo’town also has Chinese now and some really good sushi at Akira. We have , a , a and the much-loved .  

In other words, there are no fast food joints in the heart of town. We have a good selection of dining options. At each establishment, there are calorie-conscious selections—but how often do we make them? Let me cut to the chase and give you the answer: Hardly ever!

Despite a healthy diet, I’ve been playing ping-pong with the same 10 pounds for most of my adult life. Give up dessert, lose weight, get complacent, gain weight. It has taken me five years, but the 12 pounds I dropped have reappeared on my thighs, jiggling merrily. Some of that comes with the territory of middle age, but I know I could get skinny again if it weren’t for the nighttime ritual of dessert: ice cream if it’s summer, chocolate any other time of the year.

Our country is suffering in many different ways, economically and socially. Is the stress from our fast-paced lives in the 21st century why we don't want to deny ourselves anything, from gargantuan sodas to deep-fried Oreos?  

If I knew the answer to that one, I'd be a size 2. Now let's eat!

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