Nutrition + College = Huh?

Nutritional health is something very near and dear to my heart.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very particular about what I deem worthy of ingestion.  I can give you a ballpark estimate of the caloric content of just about anything – within reason, of course.   I wasn’t always this way.  I used to feast unabashedly on anything and everything that caught my fancy.  Of course, one cannot overindulged for any length of time without suffering devastating consequences.  It’s that whole cause and effect thing.  It will bite you in the ass every time.  It certainly bit me in the ass.  Hard.  At my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 170 lbs. That may not seem like much to some, but put that much weight on my frame and, well, let’s just agree that it wasn’t necessarily my most attractive moment.  I’ve talked about my awakening before and the journey to meet my weight loss goals.  It wasn’t easy.  It took discipline, committment, lots of exercise, and constant calorie counting.  This may sound burdensome, but after a while the counting became second nature and part of my everyday life.  A true lifestyle change.  My new normal.

Losing the weight, however, was just one step in the journey.  The moment of truth would come in maintaining it.  It is something I am still doing and will until I take my last breath.  Hopefully, I’ve staved off the end by a few years with my due diligence.  Or maybe it will all be in vain.  There is always the possibility that I will get hit by a bus crossing the street, but the way I choose to look at it is like this:  I will not have to worry about looking fat on the medical examiner’s table when he’s cutting open my chest in search of which blunt force trauma did me in.  I say that alone is worth the sacrifice.

This bit of rambling nonsense brings to me to what prodded me into writing this blog entry instead of working on the next Man vs. Beast offering that my husband would rather be reading right now.  I am on the campus of a community college twice a week.  I come early in order to enjoy a bit of quiet time and finish up any straggling assignments I may have or work on some of my other writing endeavors.  Unfortunately, all this exertion of brain power makes me hungry.  Sometimes, I have the forethought to stick a couple of things in my bag to nosh on, as I run out the door in the mornings.  Sometimes I don’t.  Today was one of the days I didn’t.  By midmorning my stomach was gnawing at my spine, and I was forced to wander over to the poor excuse for a dining establishment this campus offers.

My husband would say that my disdain for this place is my elitist personality rearing its ugly head.  That I am spoiled and am expecting far too much.  I would say that I pay good money (cash, paid in full at the beginning of each semester) to attend this school, the least they could do is offer me a decent place to eat with some healthy, nutritional food choices.

How bad could it be, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you.

My first semester on campus during the lunch time hour was last fall.  I naively went in search of a turkey sandwich.  I like my turkey sandwich – and every other sandwich, for that matter – simple.  Meat, wheat bread, a little lettuce, a tomato or two.  No condiments, no added fuss.  Easy peasy.  I gave my order to the unpleasant lady manning the counter and was horrified by what happened next.  She plopped some mystery meat down on a greasy griddle, slathered two pieces of white bread with an equally mystifying oil substance, and then promptly slapped them down on the griddle next to the meat.  This was the conversation that followed:

“What are you doing?”  I asked.

“You ordered a turkey sandwich.  This is a turkey sandwich,” she said giving me a look I can only describe as demonic.

“No it isn’t.  I just want a plain turkey sandwich.”

“Huh?”

“You know, a sandwich.  I don’t want anything grilled.”

“We don’t have that today.”

What?

It turns out that this very nasty woman was right.  There was no plain Jane turkey sandwich on wheat anywhere in that place.  Every sandwich listed on the “menu” is prepared in this fashion.  That’s when I took a good look around and realized that anything that could be remotely considered healthy was relegated to a tiny area next to the cash register.  The pickings were slim.  Yoplait yogurt – not the fat-free kind (insert eye roll here) –  a pre-packaged container of a handful of grapes, a few slices of apple and a couple of crackers, those little single serving cereal things, and some unidentifiable muffins.   Though muffins cannot really be considered healthy once you factor in their overall calorie and sugar content.

I left and vowed to never return.

The problem with making vows like that is that you often have to break them out of necessity or desperation.  Desperation lead me back into that diner from dietary hell today.  I perused the “menu” tacked just outside the door and decided that I would sacrifice some carbs and allow myself the pleasure of a bagel.  I took my place in line behind a young man who ordered a hot dog.  Not my first choice for breakfast fare, but you have to remember that these are young people who have yet to grow any common sense.   I have faith he will learn the error in his way one day.  As I stood waiting my turn, I watched the gentleman manning the counter pull a hot dog out of a refrigerated unit, slice it down the middle, opening it up butterfly style, and plop it face down on the greasy griddle.  He reached into a bread bag, pulled out a bun, slathered the inside with mystery oil, and slapped it down next to the hot dog.

Deja vu.

Seriously?

“Can I help you?”

I realize that this question is directed at me.

“I’d like a bagel, please.”

He gives me the look.

Uh oh.

He turns to consult with his co-worker.  After a few seconds of whispering, they both turn to me and inform me that they are out of bagels.

“An English muffin?”  I saw that on the menu, too.  No better or worse for my waistline.  The substitution was acceptable.

They shake their heads in unison.

Are you kidding me?

“I don’t want anything then, ” I said in a voice that was probably a lot bitchier than it should have been, but really.  Out of bagels AND English muffins, but the guy in front of me can get his fill of fried hot dogs?

Out of pure desperation, I settled on a cranberry muffin and a full fat yogurt.  More calories than I wanted to ingestion for breakfast, but I suppose that was my penance for not leaving the house fully prepared for the day.

Credit: Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle

I cannot help but wonder why, in this day and age of increased awareness in health and wellness, that this diner, or campus for that matter, would choose to provide sub-par food that lacks any significant nutritional value.  I understand that this is a public education establishment and there has been quite a lot of fiscal belt-tightening needed to keep up the level of services provided to the growing student body.  I also understand that a good number of my fellow students are young people who largely have no idea that the candy bar and soda they are consuming for breakfast every morning will cause them catastrophic health problems down the road.  Health problems that you and I and every other taxpayer in America will end up footing the bill for in higher insurance premiums.

Youthful ignorance is a wonderous thing.

However, these young people who throw dietary caution to the wind do not make up the whole of the student body.  There are plenty of people like me.  People who understand that they are what they eat, and who want a healthy alternative to a fried hot dog and greasy grilled sandwiches and fries.  I’m not saying that they have to get rid of this junk food.  I would certainly never want to deprive anyone of their sodium and fat fix, but why should this be the only thing available.  Why can I not get a salad?  A plain turkey on wheat?  A fat-free yogurt cup.  I’m not even asking for the healthier Greek yogurt.  Yoplait is sufficient.  I will even pay a premium price for these choices.  As would a large number of my fellow students, I’m sure, if they were given the choice.

I understand that with healthy food choices, the mantra “If you build it, they will come”, does not always apply.  There are many who are satisfied filling their bodies with junk.  However, I’d like to think that with the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our country today and the health issues contributed to such, that more and more people are increasingly conscience of what they ingest and are seeking healthier alternatives.  I believe this school’s dining facility is operating way behind the curve and has a lot of catching up to do.

So I’ve identified the problem.  What to do about it?  Simply bitching about the lack of choices will not bring about change.  I think a protest is in order.  A picket line?  Crudely made signs spelling out our grievances?  A sit in?  Perhaps we can chain ourselves to the legs of the pool table that sits right outside of the little cafe.

That all sounds very reasonable to me.  But then again, as I sit here in the library and scan the room, I see my fellow students drinking Big Gulps, chomping on chips, and snarfing candy bars.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps no one in this school wants to eat a salad but me.

Perhaps my husband is right and I am indeed an elitist snob who expects for too much from society as a whole.

I hate it when he’s right.

Things I learned this week (August 22 – 26)

So, here we are again – another week successfully muddled through, with virtually no collateral damage.  That makes for a good week, in my book. 

For those of you that pay attention to these things, there are only 27 days left until the official beginning of the fall season and only 120 shopping days left until Christmas. 

I’m looking forward to the beginning of fall, myself.  Though, I don’t know why.  I live in Texas.  Mother Nature tends to forget about us down here in the Lone Star State when she is handing out seasonal weather.  I’m starting to think that she doesn’t care for us all that much.  Or maybe we are being punished for something.

Rick Perry, perhaps? 

Just saying.

I learned this week…

Megan the Wise

…that my daughter is wise beyond her years.  She sat down at the dinner table and out of blue said, “So many years gone by so fast, huh?”  She’s had a lot of these little zingers lately.  I’m not sure how she became so mature or if it is even a good thing, but her frankness warms my heart.  I am so blessed to have her in my life.

…that even at my age, and with more than a few semesters under my belt now, I still get butterflies on the first day of school.

…that an educational institute’s library is still one of my top five places to people watch.  The eclectic group of individuals who choose to begin their quest for higher education at a Community College make for great character inspiration, as do the facility that are determined to teach them.  I spent two days this week taking it all in and playing my favorite “what if” game.  Perhaps I will share some of the things I witnessed with you in my next blog entry.

…that even though I am not a proponent of war, I am thrilled to see Gaddafi’s regime come crashing down.  Those of you old enough to remember Lockerbie, Scotland will surely share my view.  [If you would like to read more about the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, you can do so (here), as well as (here).] Now, the question is:  Will the liberated Lybians embrace this opportunity for a new beginning, free from oppression, or will they squander it away, allowing an even bigger evil to rear its ugly head.  I guess time will tell.

Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images

that I found this little tidbit regarding the founder of IKEA very interesting.  For those of you who don’t know, I loathe the Swedish furniture maker with the strength of a thousand suns.  I have no real problem with their products, per se.  I will readily admit that my favorite writing chair is from IKEA – though my choice of decor tends to lean more toward traditional than modern.  My biggest problem with the store is in its design and layout.  I don’t appreciate being herded like little lab rats through a never-ending maze while enduring the endless stupidity and rudeness of those packed like sardines around me.  I want to get in, get what I need, and leave.  An impossibility in IKEA.  Oh, and don’t get me started on the floor.  I have never left that store without an ache that runs from my right knee down to my right big toe.  Never.

…that I was mistaken in my belief, or perhaps hope is a more adequate word, that the middle school parents would have a better grasp of pick up and drop off rules.  Their children may have matured over the summer, but sadly, they have not.  Yesterday, I saw a white Chrysler 300 (with pimpin’ rims) parked backwards – complete with illuminated reverse lights – in the moving (in the opposite direction) carpool lane.

…that the weather folks on the nightly news are just screwing with us.  We might have fallen for the arbitrary 98 or 99 degree high temperature prediction stuck in at the end of the ten-day forecast, the first few half-dozen times, but now it’s just cruel to dangle such utter nonsense – complete meteorological fabrications – in front of our noses.  Haven’t we suffered enough?

10 day forecast courtesy of http://www.weather.com

…that adaptation is born out of necessity.  A couple of weeks ago I came back from vacation to find that most of the stationary bikes at my gym, including my beloved #3, were gone.  “Out for repair”, the pimply boy behind the counter told me.  I was forced to get my cardio workout on the elliptical.  I am surprised to report that I don’t hate it.  I’ve figured out how not to fall off and how to adjust it to fit my short, stubby stride.  As always, I judge the success of a workout by the amount of sweat dripping from my body and the level of numbness I feel in my legs when I’m finished.  The elliptical delivered on both.  This does not mean that it will replace the spinner as my workout apparatus of choice – I am a biker, through and through.  *HA!  I made a joke there.  See?*

…that though I searched high and low, I was unable to find any new reports of bear attacks.  However, I did come across another Great White shark attack.  This time off the coast of South Africa.  I don’t wish to belittle such a tragedy with insensitivity, but I must conclude that this surfer was either demented or had never watched the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  Every episode I’ve ever seen features dumbasses shark enthusiasts in boats off the coast of South Africa surrounded by large numbers of these predatory fish.  You can read this surfer’s story (here).

…that insects can elicit the occasional awwww moment:

Miroslaw Swietek/liveScience

Okay.  Perhaps that was being a tad too generous, but you have to admit that the above photograph had you leaning in a little closer to your computer screen, musing, “What is that?”

My work here is done.

And to think I saw it all on Mulberry Street

Well…not really, but I always did like that particular Dr. Suess offering. 

So, today was cardio day.   I’ll be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.  I waged a war within myself on the drive in from the office.  Go.  Don’t go.  Go.  Don’t go.  It would be so easy to drive right on past the exit.  Of course, just as I made my mind up not to go, a nagging little voice inside my head said:

“Hey, stupid.  Key West.  Swimsuit. Gym. Go. Now.”

I took the exit, changed and went in search of my favorite spinner.

Ocupado. 

Sigh.

This is one of the drawbacks to exercising in a public gym.  People.  They don’t seem to grasp the unwritten rules I have decreed upon them.  Bike number three is mine. 

Mine. 

Not the dude with the swirly tattoos and flat billed hat. 

Mine.  

Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, society demands that I conduct myself with at least the illusion of decorum.  That means it would be unacceptable for me to pull him off of bike number three and scream “MINE!!!” in his face while kicking him in the stomach.  I will have to make do with shooting him my best stink eye – to which he is oblivious, of course.  

Being a grown-up sucks. 

In spite of the foregoing, people are what get me through days like this when I have absolutely no desire to be sweating like a pig, riding a long imaginary road to nowhere.  Of course, I don’t want to interact with them, just watch them and then only as long as they stay off of my cloud and keep their distance.  Under the right circumstances, it can be a lot like watching lions in their natural habitat from the safety of the covered jeep. Utterly fascinating with a hint of danger.

Now set their movements to music only you can hear and you have workout motivation gold.  It’s better than watching Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  What?  Never heard of Richard Simmons?  Google him.  You’ll never be the same.  My music choices vary from day-to-day, mood to mood.  Some days I’m in the mood for some 80s hair band rock or The Police, other days a little Elvis mixed with a dash of the Beatles and a side of the Stones do the trick.  Today, it’s random shuffle day and up first is Gnarls Barkley’s Smiley Faces.  This song indeed makes me smile – and want to bust out with the Carlton right here in the middle of the gym.  I will refrain for the sake of the children and the elderly.

As I listen to the infectious beat, I settle into the rhythm of the bike (after grudgingly getting on bike number one) and take my first good look around.  It’s like gazing out into the Serengeti, a vast array of specimens lie before me.  All of them going about the business of getting their fitness on in their own special way.  Over in the back corner, you have the predator species better known as the hard-core body builder types.  They prance around their marked territory, grunting and groaning as they pump iron.  No one daring to venture any nearer than necessary.  Until…oh wait…what is this?  My music changes to Britney’s Oops! I Did it Again just as a female wanders into their midst.  Not just any female, either.  It’s my favorite buxom blonde, who I’ve not see in quite some time.  A rare treat, indeed.  It takes them a minute to notice, but slowly, one by one, they become aware of her.  Perhaps because she is now lying supine, legs up and spread wide as she proceeds to do several repetitions on the reclining leg press machine.  Men are such simple and predictable creatures.

In the center of the room, amongst the more user-friendly machines, you will find an eclectic group of grazers.  They are a lot like me – dedicated but not enthusiasts.  Just trying to either lose the bulge or keep the bulge at bay.  For the most part, they aren’t all that interesting to me.  Just drones flitting from machine to machine.  But as Florence & the Machine’s haunting vocals of Howl fill my head, something odd catches my eye.  I do a double take.  Surely my eyes have deceived me.  They haven’t.  Coming towards me, through a space in the crowd is a man – a man who the 1970s have surely thrown up on and he’s failed to notice.  Or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Why else would he consider going out in public with that ridiculous terry cloth sweat band wrapped around his head and those white tube socks pulled up halfway to his crotch?  And, as if that weren’t bad enough – and that alone was pretty frightening – his shorts were on the wrong side of too short, leaving little to the imagination.  Horrified beyond words by this sight, I take a big swig from my water bottle and pray the bitter bile that is tickling the back of my throat will recede.

Forty-five minutes in, I am treated to another Florence & the Machine tune, Drumming Song, and I pick up the pace.  As the sweat streams down my back in earnest now, I catch sight of a class beginning just beyond the glass windows that enclose the room with the dance floor.  An aerobic class with dance overtones, it seems.  They remind me of those little furry rodent things – Meerkats, I think they’re called – all lined up in nice neat rows.  I watch as they begin to move in unison – well almost in unison.  Some are quite coordinated, their movements flowing and graceful.  Others not so much.  They are awkward, stunted even, and struggle to keep up as the intensity of the class builds.  This seems to me to be a classic game of survival of the fittest.  The stronger ones will dominate while the weaker ones are destined to be trampled upon and left for dead in piles of panting goo on the shiny wooden floor.  I shudder at the potential carnage.  I vow to never step foot in that room.  I would surely be picked off by the stronger members of the pack.  A coordinated dancer, I am not.

So, finally the bike’s screen tells me that I’ve accomplished what I didn’t think I could do today.  I’ve made it through the entire hour of spinning.  I wouldn’t say it passed quickly.  An hour is an hour, after all.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider getting off at the thirty minute mark.  But I didn’t and now it’s over.  I head to the locker room to collect my things on legs that feel a little like numb Jell-O – not that I know what numb Jell-O feels like, but I can imagine – feeling quite pleased with myself.  I round the corner and BAM!  I am accosted by a sight that I should be used to, but sadly, I am not.

Naked lady.