“Shake It Off”


No this isn’t a picture of me using this low tech device, but it is an image of the fat jiggling machine that I used at the YWCA when I was in my 20’s. I thought it would be fun to start writing about all the gadgets, classes and advice I continued to hear about when considering exercise. I start with this machine, precursor to all sorts of fad inventions since then.

I went swimming at the Y, doing many laps for about one hour. When I was done, I would sit in the steam room or the sauna, not to lose weight but because they felt wonderful. But this machine was always calling to me, suggesting that it could help me achieve a more “toned” body. “Toning” was and continues to be a goal much touted in magazines. I think it means “no jiggling.”

You stood in front of this machine, wrapped the belt around your “trouble spot” and turned it on. The belt vibrated, making your “trouble spot” jiggle. Yes, counter intuitively, this jiggling was supposed to eliminate jiggling. The machine was extremely successful. But the success was in shaking loose money from the YWCA, not in jiggling off fat!

“Say What?”


As if in response to my question about different scientific advice about diet, the New York Times science section this morning featured the headline “Are Eggs Bad for You? Maybe.” While a new study seems to suggest that increased egg intake produces additional cholesterol which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, the article was full of cautions. For example it says “the study findings are observational and cannot establish cause and effect.” Well that isn’t very helpful! To confuse matters further the study author states,”We don’t want people to walk away thinking they shouldn’t eat any eggs. That’s not the right message.” By the end of this article I had no idea what the right message should be.

If you have been alive for more than a few decades, you have lived through countless contradictory advice statements. First no fat is best. Then full fat is healthy. Then no meat. Then some meat. Then no salt. Then some salt. If I had kept track of all the suggestions I have read over the years it would begin to resemble Ripley’s “Believe it Or Not.”

So I go back to my life long habit of eating lots of fruits and vegetables because I like them. I avoid alcohol because it makes me sad. I limit sugar because it gives me lows after short highs. I eat lots of whole grains because I like to chew. I broil fish because I don’t like greasy fried food. I call it my “I eat to nourish myself with things I like to eat” diet. Do you think I could market it as the latest fad?

“Allergic to Advice”


Food allergies are serious business. Some of them can actually kill. One of our favorite pastors died from eating something with peanuts in it which produced anaphylactic shock. My daughter’ father had a frightening reaction to fried rice which had some shrimp mixed in and I had to take him to the hospital for treatment. My daughter had hives break out from a tiny bit of shrimp, so we know she inherited the allergy.

But the medical community came up with advice for new parents about twenty years ago, cautioning them to delay introducing foods which commonly caused allergic reactions including peanuts and eggs. They maintained that waiting would reduce allergic reactions in children.

Today the pediatric community took back their advice. It turns out that postponing introducing these foods actually INCREASED the number of peanut allergies in children rather than decreasing them. Apparently having a variety of foods after four months actually gets babies’ digestive systems used to them instead of producing an allergic reaction.

At the same time doctors are telling us that all our cleaning and sanitizing has made things worse for people. Dirt actually helps kids get immunity to germs rather than giving them germs. Even the five second rule(if it is on the floor less than five seconds you can eat it)turns out to be true.

I have learned to take most food advice with more than a grain of salt(including watching my salt!) Has anyone else found advice contradicting earlier advice?

“No Accounting For Taste”


My husband can’t stand the taste of cilantro(also known as coriander in other parts of the world from the U.S.). I love the taste and would like to include it in many dishes I cook. My compromise is to have a little bowl of it for me to add to my servings. It turns out that about 10% of the population worldwide thinks that cilantro tastes like soap. Knowing that certainly makes me sympathize with his dislike of the herb.

My granddaughter is a “supertaster,” a genetic trait that allows her to taste differences that I can’t notice. For instance she tasted the metallic effect of the muffin tin on her muffins, something I was oblivious to. She can distinguish between foods that taste identical to me. Many foods, therefore, are too strong for her to enjoy.

In addition to these inborn differences in taste, many of us have aversions to specific foods. I had a terrible response to the feeling of little tentacles in my mouth from the calamari in an otherwise wonderful paella. I haven’t tried it since. It’s the texture of lima beans that I can’t tolerate. My husband dislikes bananas for the same reason though he enjoys them baked in banana bread.

One of the most intriguing thing about tastes to me is the different reaction people around the world have to different foods. What one country loves–roasted insects–another country(here)finds disgusting. The meat consumed in the United States appalls Hindus. Raw fish appeals to many and horrifies others. Heaven help the family that brings two different eating cultures together!

Bon appetit, whatever you are eating in your home today.

“A Cold War Panic”


It seems that periodically the United States gets in a panic about the weight or fitness of its children. Towards the end of the 1950’s, such a concern surfaced about the physical condition of American kids. Bonnie Prudden, then a dancer and exercise advocate had designed a set of exercises that she tried on European and American children. She determined that American children were trailing far behind their European peers. By extension, then, they must be falling behind Soviet children. In the Cold War era, there was a constant emphasis on keeping up with Soviet children, whether in science knowledge or in fitness..

Commissioned by President Eisenhower, a set of exercises were devised to get kids fit. Sadly, once other government agencies became involved, the exercises took on a military character. These new goals, such as climbing up ropes and doing multiple chin-ups were borrowed from skills needed by combatants, but not necessarily needed by children. So suddenly I, who was very fit in the usual sense of the word,  found myself deficient when tested by these measures.

And tested I was, once our high school physical education class undertook to evaluate us all, boys and girls, tall and short, against the same standard of “fitness.” Sadly these tests, at which I was a poor performer, somehow changed my idea of my own strength and ability. From thinking I was a fit, agile and strong girl, I came to see myself as weak when measured by these standards. I climbed numerous stairs both at home and at school, walked a couple of miles a day, did household chores and carried my siblings around, proving I had appropriate strength. But since I couldn’t shinny up a hanging rope, I felt like a failure. I have never put much faith in the government’s exercise programs since.

“Picky Picky”


Ironically, many adults who are now trying to cut back on their eating were once small children who had to be coaxed into eating. I am sure that some scientist could study a correlation between the two, but I will simply make the observation. “Picky eaters” are nothing new, though what they “pick” to eat has changed over the years.

My best kindergarten friend, Dude(his dad was named Bud, by the way) would only eat two foods, Gerber’s vanilla pudding and hamburgers. My mother had no patience for such demands and couldn’t believe that Dude’s mother went along with this routine. As I have mentioned before, picky eating wasn’t an option for us. My mother cooked one dinner and that was that. We were hungry and we ate what was there. In fact when I was first married I maintained that I liked all food since I had never really had a chance to form preferences. The only food I knew I hated was lima beans. Fortunately my father loved them and was only too happy to eat more than his share at dinner time.

As an adult I have been delighted to try all sorts of foods. I think that my childhood exposure to many tastes has helped. I know adults who still stick to just a few foods and even seem to take some pride in being “picky eaters.” A neighbor won’t eat leftovers. A friend’s husband won’t eat food in sauce. I wonder if their mothers catered to them the way Dude’s mother did. Wisely they married agreeable women who go along with their demands. As for me, I still seem to answer the question “what’s for dinner?” with my mother’s tired reply. “Food.”


“Fresh From the Laboratory”


Throughout my childhood and teen years, I kept noticing new foods that didn’t resemble ones I was familiar with. The first jolt was seeing Wonder Bread. Supposedly it could “build strong bodies 12 ways,” but I was most intrigued by its ability to be squeezed into tiny balls and hurled across the classroom. My mother refused to buy it, maintaining that they had taken everything healthy out of the bread and she used to say “I WONDER why they call it bread.”

At the same time, some of my classmates arrived with strange sugar deserts in their lunch boxes. Among them were Hostess Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes. Sadly, having these in your lunch became a status symbol. But my mother refused to “waste the money on that junk,” and we stuck to regular cookies.

The strangest invention of all was Tang, soon to be advertised as the drink of the astronauts. My mother did succumb to our pleadings to buy this wonderful invention. She warned us that it would probably fail to live up to its advertising. Sadly, she was right. In no way did it taste like orange juice, and it even fell short of the kick from orange Kool-Aid, a much cheaper powdered drink. That unfinished Tang bottle hung around for months.

Today kids are used to invented foods from Pirate Booty to Gogurt. But they were a rarity in my childhood, and I remember the disappointments of each one.