Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are We All Too Busy To Eat Healthy?

Every couple of months I write some cry your eyes out post about how I am so busy. And I get some awesome responses from you guys in support, telling me to hang in there. I thank each and every one of you who has commented or even just read such a post. But as I continue to hit patches of busy-ness, writing more whining and complaining posts doesn't make for good compelling reading. Or even a cathartic writing experience.

I have yet again hit another such patch. While I have been quite busy at the office (which is a good thing), it is our current school situation that is the biggest culprit. My children and I now spend just shy of 12 hours of every week day outside of our home. And of my just over 12 hours spent in the home, 6-7 are spent sleeping, 2-3 are spent caring for the kids or preparing food and 1-2 are spent in other chore related ways, like emptying the dishwasher or making lunches. That leaves little time for the things that I love, like writing. No wonder I never talk on the phone.

So I have now carved out a love-hate relationship with food preparation. When I started this blog I was inspired by all that I read. I tried new things, even on a weeknight! But today making homemade food sometimes feels like a ball and chain. But what choice do I have? Muster up the energy to cook something simple like sausages and boiled veggies, or order food that will make us all feel sick. Last week I was exhausted fighting some cold and I couldn't even think of stepping foot into the kitchen. So we picked up some pizza. What a mistake. I spent the whole night queasy and I couldn't sleep. Some convenience. Yes, the kids ate with no drama-rama, but I have to imagine that their bellies were tender that night too.

I love the idea of a local, organic and non-processed diet. But I will not sit here and tell you that it is a sustainable lifestyle for most people. The vast majority of people lack the skills to make a non-processed lifestyle work with all the commitments they have in life. And my 'experiment' to prove that any family can eat all homemade foods has lead me to dozens of amazing and inspirational blogs kept by full time bloggers, stay at home mothers and home schoolers. That's awesome, but not all the tips really work for me. I am not home to try all these cool recipes out.

So after 18 months of blogging, I have come to one succinct conclusion. We are all just too damn BUSY! The modern American lifestyle is overstuffed with way too many activities and we have made room for them by cutting out things we really need to do like sleeping and preparing healthy food. And we continue to convince ourselves that we need junky convenience foods and faster smartphones in order to do more work and brain cell sucking activities like searching the Internet. But wait, are we convincing ourselves? Or is it the companies that are selling us the phones, computers and junk food?

Today, The average American workday is 7.5 hours. That makes sense, 8 hour day, 30 minutes for lunch give or take a few. That number has remained fairly constant over the years. In this link, you can see that weekly hours worked has remained the same since the mid sixties at about 40-41 hours total per week. That is actually slightly less than in the forties when the average weekly hours worked was slightly over 43 hours. But no huge difference over the years. Then tack on the average commute, which is today just shy of an hour per day, or over 100 hours each year. I guess I can keep on complaining because my work day is 9 hours each day and I can boast a whopping 2+ hours of commuting time each day.

The change in sleep over the last 100 years is much more dramatic. The average amount of daily sleep has gone from 9 hours in 1900 to 7 hours in the 1970's to just over 6 hours today. I myself admit to getting only 6 hours of sleep regularly. I shoot for 7 hours but don't really feel good unless I get a full 8 hours. The fact that kids are getting less sleep saddens me. Reports show that School aged kids today average only 9.5 hours of sleep each day when they should be getting more. That is less than kids were getting 30 years ago. Sleep is important for everything from physical repair to hormone regulation to supporting memory. I know all this, but so many nights I stay up writing this blog instead of turning off the electric lights and the ever portable iPad.

But naturally it is the time spent in front of TVs, computers and Internet capable phones that is so troubling. According to this study and the article published in Businessweek, kids are now using more than 8 hours of media per day. That includes cell phone and iPod usage, texting, Internet, gaming and TV watching. I don't even want to know how many hours I spend using media. It is virtually all day at work. And then between various personal Apple devices, I overdo it a little. The problem I find with this trend is not so much that we are watching so much TV or reading online, it is that we are not setting down the devices to prepare healthy foods. It is that we cannot turn off the computer to go to sleep. We seem so afraid that we will miss something. Surely this cannot be good for us. And our health is surely suffering from the lack of rest and the abundant 'convenient' food.

I don't mean to say that we should just utilize our time better. That's a cop-out like saying we need to eat less and exercise more to combat obesity. The biggest problem in being too busy today is that in order to stay socially connected in today's world we HAVE to be computer literate and text and stay up on Facebook. There aren't quills for letter writing, parlor visits or calling cards anymore. Companies are pushing you to not even get mail anymore by sending you your bill via email. We cannot live without technology. It is not going away. I don't think we will get any less busy than we are right now. I suppose it could get worse. It could turn into The Matrix.

I bounce between wondering if blogs like mine make a difference to anyone who eats the Standard American Diet and not having any effect whatsoever. Or does my writing into the ether just solidify a group of people who have all independently come to the same conclusion, that we are too busy and we need to make lifestyle changes in order to maintain our health? Are we visionaries? Are we cutting edge? Have we discovered the missing link that could save us from more health problems? Or are we the fringe? Are we the crazies? Are we the Miss Haveshams' still clutching our old failed dreams even as the world passes us by?

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we could all learn to live in balance. Do you think anyone will ever get that to catch on?

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays


  1. I think cooking food at home is fairly rare for many people. I think many people feel like they are too busy to cook real food, or they don't know how to cook (and don't want to learn). When I tell people at work that I cook almost all our meals and we only go out to eat occasionally, they seem to be in disbelief.

    You may have tried this already, but one thing that helps me a lot when I know my week is going to be busy is to cook a lot on Sunday. I'll roast a whole chicken in the oven and cook another protein (beef or pork usually) in the crockpot. I'll at least prep, but often cook 2-3 vegetables also. That way during the week I only have to heat things up, not begin the cooking/prepping process. It does take a chunk of time on Sunday, but it is worth it during the week. Lately I've been making a big pot of soup with meat and vegetables (meatball soup, chicken soup etc,) which lasts for 2-3 dinners, is a complete meal and is pretty filling.

  2. your blog means something to me. i'm just starting on the Real Food journey and I thank you for leading the way.

  3. Christa -

    You hit on a very important topic, one that you may recall discussing together a couple of times in the past!

    "Today's World" does make it hard to slow down, but what's the alternative? The World, and many of the people in it, are moving at an increasingly faster pace, trying to keep up and often choosing/using the quickest fixes possible to get through the day.

    It makes sense, except for the fact that much of the world is also wondering why we're so sick (and getting sicker), why we're so tired, why we're so stressed and, perhaps, why we're not happier. Looking to the outside, and relying on the warp speed evolution of society (evolving at a rate eons ahead of our innate capabilities), is simply not working.

    The solution really is to find the best ways to SLOW DOWN, connect with ourselves, remove any excess that we can.

    It can only help us. (Especially when the alternative is simply keeping pace/speeding up and burning ourselves out through a lack of balance!)

    And, hey, the irony is, if we actually take the time to slow down, we often times bring more clarity to our lives, which gives us direction and enables us to function more effectively and efficiently!

    Great post!

  4. One more point to consider:

    "Eat less, exercise more," while the mantra for years, is not the ideal path for attaining long term body transformation and health. The body can't be 'forced' into health and better fitness if the underlying principles for health aren't followed, and merely cutting calories to give the body "less food to grow with" isn't the answer.

    Excess fat storage is most often linked to hormonal imbalance (imbalance(s) in the body in general) and/or toxicity, as opposed to simply eating too much.

    Eat QUALITY, whole foods that suit your body's needs; reduce/eliminate processed foods; reduce/eliminate sugar; reduce/eliminate caffeine and alcohol consumption . . .

    Do all of the above in conjunction with regular exercise that promotes strength, mobility, flexibility, endurance, (the specific attributes you want to attain for the activities that you enjoy) . . .

    And the body, with its innate wisdom, will take care of the rest (while telling you exactly what you need to do! :)).

  5. I read your blog religiously and have gained so many insights not to mention recipes. I read 3 blogs and yours tops the list. I too thank you for writing about your journey. I read posts like this one and I get nervous that you'll stop! I know exactly what you're talking about. I struggle with food preparation every day. I go through periods where I get inspired what I can't sustain it. I, like many people, struggle for balance in my life and some days I am there but mostly it's a push-pull. I think for people who want balance, talk about balance, struggle for balance, that's our way of getting balance. We need to constantly realign.

    I appreciate your struggle and appreciate you taking some of yur precious time to write about it.

    By the way, speaking of winter veggies, I made a parsnip mash last night that was easy and delicious. And I enlisted my 7 year old son to help peel them. Peel, cut into reasonable pieces, steam for approx. 10 minutes with 2 cloves of garlic, when soft put them in the food processor with some olive oil (or whatever oil you like) a little salt and there you go. I have a dried seasoning called "dirt" (my son loves that it's called dirt) and I sprinkle that on top when I serve it.

    I love the winter veggies. Roasted acorn squash in the toaster oven. Also so easy.

    I hope you have a great week.

  6. @ Berry: I do the same thing! And if I don't...well the week won't go as smoothly for sure!

    @ Mr. Warden: I don't disagree with you. However, I feel it's important to point out that if one slows down it inevitably follows that one will be able to complete fewer tasks (not necessarily a bad thing, just a fact) and that certain activities may have to be eliminated. The question then becomes, "Which activities can I cut from my life?" Christa, I'm afraid, has cut sleep more often than not but we all recognize that's not sustainable. We have to work and care for our children and those things take as much time as they take for better or worse. Many of us sacrifice time with spouses which is also not recommended if you want your marriage to last and if you want to receive the emotional support so needed from your spouse to get through this hectic life to begin with! That leaves cooking and cleaning...(I'm not even going to go into time with friends or extended family or church or ballet, soccer and other extracurriculars we may or may not strive to include in our over-stuffed schedules!)You may or may not be able to hire someone to clean for you regularly or on occasion or just settle for a less than spotless abode. That leaves cooking...I think that whole food and fresh cooking is noble and wonderful and worthy pursuit...but I'm not going to deny that minute rice and microwave trays of salisbury steak and bagged salad kits are not appealing in their own way. And I refuse to judge anyone who simply cannot at this time manage to cook fresh all the time or even rarely. This is an impossible balancing act and we're all doing the best we can. And if you have to cook fresh two nights a week and do leftovers two nights and then succumb to lean cuisine the last night, well so be it! Just do what you can. Life is hard enough without beating yourself up for not being perfect. Sometimes we just have to redefine what perfection means.

  7. I am a working mom. It's hard. Fortunately my hubby is a chef so he takes care of the cooking and often prepares meals ahead of time for us for those nights he is working. But on those nights that we don't have something prepared I usually go the organic, healthyish annie's mac and cheese and diced frozen veggie, cut up fruit route. I don't think a little pre-prepared food is going to hurt them in the long run. You hit the nail on the head - it's balance - we can't be perfect all the time but we can strive to do the best we can most of the time. And yes, I feel like everyone thinks I am crazy when I balk at the private school my kid goes to feeding them a snack of saltines and welch's jelly yet they won't let my kid take a homemade gingerbread cookie in his lunch as a treat. Yes, I think we are a fringe but is that a bad thing?