Monday, July 8, 2013

Processed Food: No Different Than Airbrushed Models?

How A Classmate Depicted Me (left) & My 7th Grade Boyfriend (right)
Before embarking on a whole, healthy, organic lifestyle, I struggled terribly with body image. I crumbled under pressure to look as skinny and flawless as the models and actresses in the media, and my friends who were as skinny as the models and actresses. When I was 12 years old, a boy at school said he wanted to draw a picture of me and my 7th grade "boyfriend" to hang in my locker. I remember standing along the counter in the back of the Math Room with him while he sketched a typical male stick figure (my boyfriend) and next to it a female head with long hair atop a not-so-stick-like figure. I was mortified. He was amused. Having had thicker thighs for as long as I remember, this was the first time I can recall being completely aware of society's view of the body - and in society's eyes, I was fat. What I can't remember though are many times between then and the beginning of my organic journey that I didn't  hate my body, and in turn, myself. I blamed my parents for giving me "fat genes", I bullied myself daily for not looking like my friends, I sought help from doctors, fad diets, weird trendy cleanses. I exercised all the time - all. the. time. I struggled through my college years, many nights sitting home alone feeling too "fat" to be seen at a party or choosing the elliptical over a keg race. All these years, despite my efforts, the question remained: Why? Why me? Why am I not losing weight? Why can't I look like them? Why am I so depressed? Why can't I just be happy?

It has been a long and rocky road since that day in 7th grade. It's taken a lot of failure, a lot of research, a lot of commitment  and most importantly a lot of change to the way I view myself,  treat my body, manage my health and choose my food. 

This post is part of a series of posts that will touch more upon how I overcame these struggles and misconceptions through an organic lifestyle and what I've learned and continue to learn that has lead me here to you. (Be sure to check back as I publish parts 2, 3 and 4)

First though, I want to discuss food and body image. The relationship between food and body image is clear: our body is a reflection of what we feed it and how we treat it. And that is the problem: WHAT we are feeding our bodies is far from what we should  be feeding our bodies; and as a result we are overweight, undernourished, and unhappy with the way we look. What happens next? We beat ourselves up for carrying this extra weight around, right? And this attack is perpetuated by messages we receive from the media. So, we sit on our couches eating the chips and drinking the diet soda that the beautiful people in the commercials are eating and drinking with their beautiful friends, and we get fatter and unhappier and wonder why we don't look like that from eating those things and it needs to STOP. 

As human beings, we are drawn to attractive things in the world - beautiful sunsets, beautiful people...beautiful food. Scientists have proven this, marketers utilize this, and we fall victim to this...everyday. And yes, I do say "victim" - because, at least in part,  it isn't our fault; we are designed to be lured toward these aesthetically pleasing, though potentially toxic, food items. Take note - I say "in part". At the end of the day, in a world swarming with marketers aiming their best pitches at our innate weaknesses, it is up to us to be well-educated, well-aware and well-disciplined shoppers and eaters. We need to learn to see through the presentation and manipulation down to the heart of what really makes up these foods (which is usually, quite literally, nothing..nothing but addictive ingredients and empty calories).

You know what foods I'm talking about, guys - those beautifully topped cupcakes, shiny little pretzel sticks in pre-portioned pretty-colored bags, perfectly square and seasoned crackers, pink painted donuts, and the frozen dinners processed and packaged to look like a perfect place setting every time. 

Let me fill you in. As Michael Pollen explains wonderfully in his best-selling book In Defense of Food, we are no longer consuming high-quality nutritious food. Instead, we are consuming beautifully packaged, highly processed "edible food-like substances".  We are tricked into believing that this is what real food is - that this is what food ought to look like. Just as we are made to believe that every woman should be 5' 10" and 100 pounds. It's no different (and often times the same marketing giants are campaigning both ideas). Google "photoshopped models". See for yourself the efforts put forth by these companies to influence our idea of "real" beauty by removing flaws, airbrushing away any imperfections,  and adding an artificial glow to their skin. 

Let's do the same test on our food, grab any old bag of pretzel sticks (it doesn't matter which one they all look about the same). Alongside those, open a bag of Mary's Gone Crackers - Sticks & Twigs Pretzels (my absolute favorite go-to for a little crunch and dipper for my Organic Lemon Kale Hummus) Your typical pretzel stick is smooth, shiny, perfectly salted. Each one identical to the next. Each one equally empty of nutrition. Now, look at the second bag. See the grains, feel the chia and caraway seeds...appreciate the imperfections. Some are longer, shorter, saltier, drier, lighter, darker, curvier, crunchier - not one the same as the next but each one healthier than any highly processed pouch of pretzel clones on your grocery store shelves. 

To really drive this home, let's take a look at what exactly is in those processed pretzels, shall we? (Right) 
Okay, we have: Enriched Flour (a.k.a processed white flour)....Niacin... Thiamin Mononitrate (Yum!)... Riboflavin... Folic Acid... Salt... Corn Syrup... Ammonium Bicarbonate (Your favorite, right?! Mine too!)... and Malt Extract.
Chalk full of toxic chemicals and empty calories. Not to worry though - it's fat free! Well, until those 23g of refined carbohydrates turn into fat. Here's a great article explaining that process so that you will never be duped by marketing schemes again!

Lesson here:
Be skeptical of foods (and people) that "look too good to be true" and read your labels- 99.9% of the time it is packed full with preservatives and processed ingredients precisely put there to prey on your human instincts and weaknesses. Don't fall for it. Stimulate your innate appreciation for beauty and color and seek our radient red-beets, carrots, leafy greens, papayas, berries, parsleyyams, yellow pepper, red pepper - recolor your image of what real food looks like.

You & your body deserve whole, natural, organic foods - rich in nutrients. Take care of your body & your body (and mind) will thank you tenfold.

How have you risen above these pressures? What do you find most difficult? Share your stories in the comments section below!

Keep it real,


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