Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Crossroads and Conscience

In my nearly eternal search for dietary health and sanity, I've been trying a non-diet of clean foods with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables while slashing my intake of processed foods and limiting carbohydrates like bread and pasta. Rather than focusing on deprivation, I'm striving for balance and for learning to savor foods that are both healthy and delicious.

This afternoon, I headed to the supermarket for more raw vegetables for a salad and a few packets of frozen vegetables. But coming out of the frozen food section, I found myself staring at the bakery area. I felt the near-magnetic pull of bagels.

As I stood wrestling with my conscience, two different neighbors wandered by. The first smiled and admitted to a special trip to the market to satisfy her yearnings for a fistful of Hershey bars. Chocolate! I stared at her. She has kidney disease. Chocolate is high up on her list of forbidden foods. I wanted to say "But you know better...."

But there I was, checking out the bagels.

Another neighbor cruised by, not noticing our friendly greetings. He looked past us, muttering -- was it to himself or to us? -- "I came to get some cookies for a pig-out!" A pig-out??? He has diabetes with eye complications and cardiac problems. 

What was this: death wish central?

And it made me think how often we sabotage our best efforts at healthy choices -- for the momentary pleasure instead of long-term benefits or to calm the anger or anxiety or a myriad of other troubling feelings that are, nonetheless, never quite stilled by guilty treats. Or maybe some simply are tired of trying so hard to avoid health disasters when these are looming so insistently. Sometimes we just give up trying so hard or trying at all. 

So the diabetic man got his stash of cookies. I saw him later sitting in his car, about a block from his home, hunched over his loot and eating cookies quickly, furtively, in a binge that may or may not escape his wife's attention.

But blood sugar and potassium levels and weight are figures that don't lie. And those toxic lies we tell ourselves:

"Just this once..."

"A little won't hurt..."

"It doesn't really make that much difference..."

But it does make a difference.

A little can lead to a lot.

And this once can go on and on.

Our time, our window of opportunity to turn things around isn't infinite. Our chances to improve our health and prospects for a more mobile and vigorous old age are dwindling with every cheat and treat and positive change deferred. 

I looked at my neighbors. They're in their seventies and are starting to have severe health problems as a result of their chronic conditions. I'm only a year away from that perilous decade with some health challenges of my own -- high blood pressure and pre-diabetes -- that could grow into major life-limiting/life-threatening health problems unless I commit to a new way of eating and living.

And I wondered: what were we doing to ourselves -- seeking out great quantities of cookies and chocolate and bagels?

A little step toward health today might help to prevent a devastating choice tomorrow. 

A painful flashback hit me: just this morning, when I accompanied another neighbor Phyllis (whose kidney disease is an inherited malady) to her kidney dialysis session -- a painful ordeal she undergoes three times a week -- we saw a familiar figure emerging from the treatment area to the waiting room. The woman, in a wheelchair, looked considerably younger than either of us but has already lost a leg to diabetes and had been getting kidney dialysis for some time. Phyllis looked puzzled. It was only 6:15 and people were getting hooked up to the machines now. No one would be finished for some hours. We looked at the woman and her husband who was pushing the wheelchair. Their faces spoke of quiet grief and resignation as they left the building. Phyllis exhaled slowly. "She is quitting dialysis," she said quietly. "She hasn't been wanting to continue for a while..." She bit her lip. We both knew that the last person who made the choice to quit dialysis was dead a week later.

Sometimes, of course, health catastrophes are totally out of our control. Illness can strike regardless of the choices we make. 

But at some junctures, we can choose to fight for health with wise, life-affirming choices. There are small crossroads in our lives, moments when one healthy choice can lead to another or one poor choice can also lead to another.  There are times when we can step back, let our yearnings for health and vitality prevail over the toxic quick-fix. There are opportunities we have to do something different and better for ourselves.

There are times...

I put the bag of mini-bagels back on the shelf and walked quickly away.



  1. Good for you, Kathy. I'm fighting that fight myself and trying hard to go to the gym to get stronger and more fit and to eat more sensibly. I'm not at the spot of total deprivation (which I'm not sure is so healthy unless that food is really "poison" to you). But I'm being smarter, trying to track things better so I can enjoy when I enjoy and not be eating it furtively or with guilt. It IS so much harder when you are older, I've learned. And since I'm feeling rather well these days, I'd like to be around here a while longer!

  2. It is so painful to see those in our daily lives make such harmful choices. I have a long time friend who is morbidly obese, just diagnosed with diabetes, and this weekend ate chunks of cake, saying, "I'll just take an extra pill." It is the emptiest, most frustrating feeling to see people killing themselves with lack of self discipline. Good for you, my friend- good for you.

  3. Oh the struggle. I am well familiar with that of which you speak. I never had a problem with "problem" foods when I was younger. Thankfully, until my late 40's or early 50's, I always ate a very healthy diet. Then with remarriage and menopause hitting at the same time, my lifestyle changed as my metabolism also changed. I've fought to gain a more balanced footing for twenty years. I applaud your efforts. Keep at it. I'm on the same journey. Mine has a bit of different slant to it. I'm not drawn to carbs and sugars, but I am lazy and hate to shop, chop, and cook. That is what I am trying to change: my habits of doing what is convenient and easy.

    It helps to know others are on the same journey. Keep you vision of health before you. That is what I am striving to do.

  4. Thanks for delivering an important message without sounding preachy. You are absolutely right, we either have to turn our diets around sooner rather than later or pay the piper with ill health. What we ate at 20 is not what we can eat at 50 or 70. Too bad the media never puts forth this message and instead bombards us with McDonald's commercials and junk food pitches.

  5. We're all on the road to a better life. Some of us longer than others.

  6. It is a hard struggle, and you are not alone. I try to eat cleanly, too. One thing that I have found is that after about a week, the cravings usually are much less. But, oh, that first week is difficult! And then to decide to enjoy one treat on a special occasion - it sets me up for the cravings all over again. Gah. But every time I get hungry is a new chance to get on - or stay on - the right path, and so I soldier on. Good luck to you and all of us who struggle.

  7. Been there---Done that... I ignored my health for so many years... I was beginning to have health problems with my blood sugar among other problems.... I think the light bulb finally went off in my head saying: "If you want to live a long and healthy life, you need to take care of yourself". Don't know why it took me so long to realize that.

    These days, I work hard at eating healthy, getting some exercise, drinking LOTS of water, getting enough rest, etc.... I do eat an occasional 'no-no' food --but since I write down everything I eat, I keep a good balance of what goes into this ole mouth!!!!! ha....Tain't always easy--but it's a lifestyle for me...

    It does frustrate me seeing very over-weight people in the grocery stores (many of them in those push carts since they are too large to walk)--buying candy, junk, unhealthy foods. I just want to say something --but never do...Afterall, it is truly none of my business... But--it does hurt seeing people doing this...


  8. Yep, we all struggle with the day-to-day choice between momentary pleasure instead of long-term benefits. But at least we all gave up smoking!

  9. It's always a dilemma, Kathy and we each have to find our own way and balance. My youngest sister can't say no to things like biscuits so just doesn't buy them, other than very occasionally. DH and I prefer the way of moderation - lots of fruit and vegetables, little meat and as few processed foods as we can manage. I make my own bread and an occasional cake and we allow ourselves just a few squares of chocolate or a single glass of wine as a treat, rather than the whole bar or half a bottle we might have consumed in the past.

  10. Oh, Dr. Kathy. I'm glad you put them back.

    This was a touching read.


  11. As I was reading this I couldn't help but to think of the different family members who do the same thing. Diabetics that eat entire cakes and laugh about it. It's like they are laughing at death. Having had breast cancer 2 years ago at the age of 44 to which I have no idea how I got it I'm now buying mostly organic vegetables, fruit and chicken. I will say that I can tell a difference in how I feel when I eat the organic food and there is also a tremendous taste difference that once you eat an organic banana you won't be able to eat one that isn't. Same goes for carrots, sweet potatoes and even chicken.

    I also thought about my mom who smokes and has COPD. She can't breath and yet she continues to smoke. Oddly enough, I'm allergic to cigarette smoke and I get sick when I'm around it. I stayed sick as a child. I grew up in a doctor's office! I used to beg mom to quit smoking. The doctors told her that I would get better if she quit and yet she just couldn't quit. She has came close at times. I even bought her the new electronic cigarettes but it didn't help. It is heartbreaking.....

  12. Dear Kathy, this posting of yours spoke to me for many different reasons. One is that I celebrated an important--to me--birthday on April 1 and began celebrating it two weeks before and continued for six weeks afterward. And so I put on weight and was over my lifetime goal when I went to Weight Watchers this past Saturday. I'm aware that being overweight is not good for my joints or my heart--both of my parents died of heart failure--or my back. But as with the people to whom you introduce us in this posting--my cravings got the better of me. I think it's all part of magical thinking. At heart there is a child within us all and we think, "Just this once won't matter." Or, "I'll get medical news tomorrow that will show everything in my body is better." I'm a master at magical thinking and I know how it can hamper my living in the present.

    Thanks so much for this post. It will help everyone who reads it. Peace.