Real Help, Not Platitudes

If someone asks me for advice, I want to give them good advice. I am more concerned, I hope, with offering help that will work, not just words to make them feel better.

A thirty-something friend posted a photo with a caption that said, basically, “I’m out of shape. I have to change this.” And in all honesty, she was right. She knows this. She wants encouragement to change what could be a future health problem.

And what did friends say to her?

“Oh, it’s okay to be large.” “You look like me!” “Ewe not fat, ewe fluffy.”

The issue isn’t whether she is fat; she knows she needs to lose weight before she has high blood pressure or heart disease. She wants to be able to keep up with her young children. She wants to fit into the clothes she wore just a few years ago. She doesn’t want the arthritis, cancer and phlebitis that so often plague women when they carry too much fat.

It doesn’t help to dismiss her concern because it makes someone else uncomfortable to regard themselves in the same light. Of course she’s a beautiful person and yes, she looks lovely and neat at all times. But she is concerned about her health. No one is going to call her a slob because she gained weight with each pregnancy. That is not the issue. She is asking for encouragement to do what she knows she must do.

When someone says, “I need advice and helpful words here. I know I have to make a big change,” and the person they address comes back with, “But there’s no problem,” it dismisses the importance of the friend’s concern. It pushes their pain and anxiety away because it hits too close to the heart.

I am not against good food. I write a cooking blog! It includes down-home, Amish and Mennonite style recipes that are not always low in fat or sugar. But there has to be a balance. While celebration meals should have feel-good foods like cakes and pies, they are not the fare for everyday. We have been trained by the marketing world to crave excess sugar, fat and salt. They push convenience foods, processed foods, fast foods at us that spoil our palates and our natural appetites. Food products are marketed to be fun or satisfying, rather than nutritious and life-sustaining.

It’s just one example of how we have ventured unheeding from the path God set before us. In the last one hundred years or so, there has been a push to exploit the growing literacy of North America with advertising. We are mere innocents abroad, enticed by bright lights and primary colours. It is an increasingly artificial environment, and we end up shilling for those who are destroying us as we discourage others from getting back to a natural state of living.

I was appalled and even shocked when I saw the recipes women were sharing on facebook and other social media sites. The level of nutrition was almost nil. It isn’t just empty calories, it is negative calories, taking away nutrition from other foods we eat. Honestly, I don’t think anyone has ever said to me, “What’s a good recipe for fresh green beans?” Instead I hear, “Do you have a special cake recipe that will use vanilla pudding and canned cherry pie filling? I saw one last week…” If I should have such a recipe, throw a bucket of cold water on me, because I must be wandering in a fevered daze.

You will not have good health by eating poor food choices. You will not have good health dragging around excess weight on your body. If you can lose it, you should. If you have a medical condition that keeps you from losing – and I know a few people who do – at least try to keep from gaining more. Don’t give up on good nutrition and exercise just because you won’t buy a size six ever again. Even people with limited mobility or who are wheelchair bound can learn to exercise effectively. And those are the people who really must be more careful with their diet; there’s no giving up and giving in.

I have fought to regain my health after cancer and fibromyalgia. I still struggle, and there are days I want to snap and say, “I’ve had enough! If I’m going to feel sick and miserable anyway, then I’m going for the Doritos and snack cakes.” At least I could sedate myself with refined carbs, right? But my mother died at 61, of a blood clot. She never won the battle against potato chips and ice cream and double helpings of mashed potatoes with gravy. She loved poutine, the French Canadian heart attack on a plate. (It’s masses of french fried potatoes, with cheese curds, topped with beef gravy.) Sixty-one is too young to die. She left behind a stunned family. Her parents never recovered from the shock.

We do not belong to ourselves in this world. We, as Christians, belong first to God. He gives work into our hands, and self-indulgence can have no part in it. We ourselves may not be strong, or brave, or driven, but His Holy Spirit guides us when we pray. He places us in families, among friends, in communities, where our work and thought are important. We owe it to God and to others to be the best we can be. We are expected by Him to give everything.

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10 thoughts on “Real Help, Not Platitudes

  1. I completely agree. I have a left knee that is degenerating and my right knee has a torn acl that cannot be fixed because of the issues with my right. I was so miserable and in so much pain that it hurt to move so I stopped. I recently joined a low impact water aerobics class. 2.5 months in, I have lost 22 pounds and have muscles again. There are days when it still hurts to walk but I need to keep going. This blog post came at a really good time for me. Thank you.

    • My joints are succumbing to osteoarthritis. Yet that means it is more important to get exercise and keep weight off. I was just discussing water aerobics with a friend who has some health issues, and she is feeling very enthusiastic about it after trying it on vacation. Another friend in Alaska took it up to lose weight, and she became an instructor.

    • I thought you might, as you have had some of the same struggles I have faced – the work of good health never stops.

  2. Oh dear, oh dear–where to start? So much good stuff in your post, Magdalena. I wrote my app to appeal to younger people–to get them to farmers’ markets and buying fresh produce. I included “entry-level” recipes to get them started. Sales have been, shall we say, disappointing. I’d like to think I mis-judged the market, but what’s more likely is that veggies are just something that are in a can until they are in a microwave. Our national dietary tragedy is brought to us mainly courtesy of the big ag and food corporations. My rallying cry is “Buy Food–Not Packages!”

    • I wondered about your farmers’ market work recently – the app is such a good idea! But as you say, those that need it won’t use it. Worse than the canned vegetables, I think, are those packets of frozen veggies in sauce – all artifical flavours, colour, corn starch and sugar. We need to re-educate people on what food should taste like – sort of what Jamie Oliver has been doing.

  3. In the context you describe I think you are right. I would also tell the person what has worked and not worked for me in the situation. However, I usually don’t give advice about diet as I have gotten so many unasked for advice about this myself. I am heavy set and even with good food and exercise I am on the heavier side. I don’t suffer from being heavy at all, I am in good health and I am able to exercise as much as I want but people don’t realize that. I get sometimes good and wellmeaning advice but often I am afraid advice I do not need. That is why I never give advice about weight if not clearly asked.

    I totally totally agree on the importance of eating as little processed food as possible. I love that at least a couple of weeks a year we have a farmers market here in town. What vegetables there are! Absolutely fabulous and most of them are organic. I love getting produce like this but most of the year you cannot. Then it is the supermarket instead and their food which is not as good because it has been shipped and flown in from all over the place. Other than sausages and bacon I cannot come up with any processed food that I buy on a regular basis.

    • I think I was appropriate, emphasizing health issues, not appearance. We all have different body types, and some people will naturally be more full-bodied than others while still being healthy. Bu this young woman was acknowledging that her body shape indicated that she was risking health problems. Things may have changed in Europe in the last ten years, but most Scandinavians I have known were quite conscious of good nutrition and exercise. I encouraged her to adopt a more balanced diet and start to get some regular exercise, not to worry so much about her appearance, but to focus now on preventing hypertension and heart disease later.

  4. Applause here. It is so sad seeing the number of people having to use electronic scooters to shop and often ( often, not always) when we look in their carts we see these refined carbs. And I know I could easily do the same if I we were not praying our way through retraining our tastes – we have been doing it for years and are finally getting close. We have a big incentive – our son’s health – and also having watched loved ones pass away from diseases related to their food addictions. Did you say anything to this friend on Facebook?
    Joanie

    • Many people do not know that the refined and processed food they choose is not nutritious. Many do not understand the correlation between calories and weight. And so many have given up caring about their health that they just eat whatever is appealing. My husband couldn’t lose weight until he became aware of the nature of the snacks he liked to eat in the evening. Giving up television meant giving up snacks, and soon a regular diet of three meals a day, with good nutrition choices, and an increased exercise programme paid off. I would love to sit and watch movies every night, chowing down the potato chips or oreos dipped in sweet tea, but I know I will pay for it in two ways – headaches and digestive upsets now, weight gain and loss of mobility and health later.

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