One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident

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Too Poor to be Healthy?

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“An obese mother-of-two who lives on benefits says she needs more of taxpayers’ money to overhaul her unhealthy lifestyle. Christina Briggs, 26, says she hates being 160 kilos but she can’t do anything about it because she can only afford junk food. Meanwhile, exercise is out of the question because she doesn’t have the funds to join a gym.”

Does she have a fair point OR is she not taking responsibility?

I’ve seen this story floating around Facebook for some time. I just read the comments shaking my head — can people be any more critical? My word!

Then someone asked, “Well, what do think?

So, here goes my stream of consciousness on this subject:

I find the connection between living healthy and income level to be really, REALLY disturbing. I grew up in a poor, single-family home yet most, geesh, all of our meals were cooked at home. Some may have come from a box for convenience, sure, but we ate a lot of things you can buy in bulk when on sale like pasta, rice, beans, chicken legs, etc.  We never got “sugar cereals.” They were always a treat when visiting Grandma and Grandpa. Breakfast was usually the no-name bagged cereal that were like Cheerios or raisin bran. Sometimes we had milk, sometimes it was the powdered crap you’d get from WIC.  Regardless, you know what? When you rarely eat things like Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes, puffed rice actually tastes good. It was one of my favorites growing up believe it or not and mom, never, EVER let us sprinkle sugar on top.

There is no doubt the things our culture defines as healthy (organic, whole grain, grass fed, antibiotic free, non-GMO, etc.) are more expensive but the last time I checked you don’t NEED to eat those things to live healthier or to lose weight. Produce from a local farmers market is a heck of a lot cheaper than organic stuff at Whole Foods, and you can argue with me all you want, but that’s still a better option than whatever packaged junk you may be currently eating. Not to mention, there are hordes of canned and frozen vegetable options that are already cheap or routinely go on sale at discount places like Walmart or Aldi.  My family eats about four bags of frozen broccoli and two bags of frozen peas a week. You know how much each one costs? At most $1.25. I’m pretty sure I haven’t spent more than 99 cents on a bag of frozen peas ever, and both my kids love them straight from the freezer or warmed in the microwave.  They are cheap, easy and tasty.

Have we forgotten how simple things can be?

I’m not sure where Christina lives and there’s no denying different areas have different access to things but I would love to spend an hour with her in a regular grocery store so we could talk about how inexpensive and versatile things like beans really are. They are convenient in cans and pretty cheap during sales, but a bag of dried is even more economical! All it takes is a little prep on the weekend and you can freeze bags of beans for months.  Same with brown rice and certain cuts of meats are routinely on sale (like chicken thighs and pork chops) all of which can be portioned out and frozen. Even whole wheat pasta is just as cheap as the regular stuff anymore and when it goes on sale I stock up so I rarely pay full price anyway. 

If my income would suddenly drop, there are a few conveniences and indulgences I would give up for sure (almond milk, cage-free eggs, coconut oil, more expensive cuts of meat) but overall my approach would be about the same.  I don’t clip coupons because I find most of them to be for junk I don’t want or need (except household cleaning products).  Instead I shop in bulk when I can, stock up when things go on sales and avoid lots of processed foods that I may become dependent on. My goal is to buy inexpensive items I can use in many ways. For example: I stopped using store-bought salad dressing. It’s expensive and full of extra ingredients I don’t need to be eating. Instead I make my own dressing out of a little oil, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. All things that I can use in countless other ways as well.

As for beverages, I see ZERO need to ever spend any money on them. No soda. No juice. Nothing. Milk and water are all I want my kids and I to consume in that department. I’ve seen lots of data that says soda consumption is highest among lower income people and I’ll never understand it. Why waste your money?  Sure, indulge here and there but that shit is expensive!  If it wasn’t for The Husband I’d spend exactly 0% of my income on soda. (The kids and I are slowly persuading him to give it up! His consumption has been steadily decreasing!)

At the heart of this problem I see a lack of education and motivation. I really think most folks like Christiana believe what they are saying because no one has shown them a better way. They are being bombarded with ads for junk foods while simultaneously being told they should be eating organic, non-GMO, whatever or they are KILLING their families.

There is no middle ground and that’s disconcerting.

As for the gym membership comment, well, that’s just silly. The last time I checked, walking is free but again, this is stemming from the same problem as the food. We like to think the choice is only between sitting on the couch or spending hundreds of dollars on a gym membership. We tend to forget all the options in the middle. Especially when we are stuck in a place of helplessness.

I was actually considering closing the comments on this because I don’t want to provide yet another area for folks to bash this poor woman — the comments on Facebook are simply deplorable. That being said, if you have something constructive to share, please do. I think she is giving attention to a problem that needs be addressed.



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Discussion

There are 45 comments so far.

    Mehgann

    October 13, 2014

    I think you make an assumption when you talk about walking being free. It kind of is. But, for example, where I live, walking is dangerous unless I drive somewhere to do it. How sad is that?!?!?! But it’s true. I live on a winding hill in a high traffic area, and walking beginning at my front door is truly not a safe option. I make other choices, but I can see how it might be difficult for someone who is not as proactive or educated as I am to do that.

    That said, I’m not making excuses for her…there are plenty of exercises that can be done at home, indoors, for free, but it can be difficult for someone who is not accustomed to exercising on her own to think of these things or to know how to use proper form, etc. I don’t know what the solution is, because I think it is due both to a lack of motivation AND a lack of opportunity.

      Michelle

      October 13, 2014

      I agree with all you said. Earlier, I had to drive 25 minutes for my daughter and I to go for a mile and a half walk! Where there is a will, there is a way :) Some people just don’t have the support system and the knowledge to know anything better.. that’s all.

      RoniNoone

      October 13, 2014

      Ohhh support structure! I’m glad you brought that up.. totally forgot to address that!

      Mehgann

      October 13, 2014

      I totally agree with both of you on everything. Like I said, I’m not making excuses, I’m just pointing out that it isn’t as easy for the poor and less educated among us. Not to mention the time it takes to exercise…when you’re poor, so much of your energy goes into sheer survival…spending time on your health is second, third, or hundredth on your list sometimes.

      RoniNoone

      October 13, 2014

      Also a good point!

      k.smith

      October 14, 2014

      YES, EXACTLY.

      RoniNoone

      October 13, 2014

      Sure, I get it but jumping jacks in your living room are free or pushups on your counter. My point is, life doesn’t have to be black or white… gym membership/no gym membership. You will find an excuse or you will find a way.

      Cindy

      October 15, 2014

      ‘Find an excuse or you will find a way.’ sounds pretty black and white to me. But that aside, this message of ‘you’ll find an excuse or you’ll find a way’ is not what is projected in your blog posts to the general public at all. If it was I seriously doubt that you would have the readership that you do. So, naturally I’m confused with the hard line you take when it comes to poor people losing weight.

      RoniNoone

      October 15, 2014

      I take that hard line with myself… not just “poor people”. What I mean is we (the collective we) in a many facets of life (not just health) look for a way when we make whatever we want a priority or we find an excuse so we can be ok with walking away. That doesn’t make it right or wrong and I don’t think it is black or white, I think it’s a reality of being human.

      Angel

      October 14, 2014

      I agree with you about the being able to walk part. When I was traveling, often times I noticed a complete lack of sidewalks in the area I was in. I would want to go for a run (not on a treadmill at the hotel) and find that it was just about impossible to do if didn’t want to run in parking lots. The walkability of many cities is rather scary.
      One other thing is that I used to work in the downtown area of a major city. The options for people living actually “in” the city for food was tiny, at best. There was literally nowhere within a 2 mile radius of where I worked where you could get regular grocery store food. If someone did not have transportation, lugging some stuff home on the bus doesn’t sound like a fun thing to do. She would coordinate to maybe do a once a month shopping trip.
      I’m with everyone else; I don’t want to excuse her. However, maybe instead of money, there should be education on how it is possible to exercise and eat well. It would have to be a major priority. Should it be her first priority? I can’t answer that.

    Tricia Coniglio

    October 13, 2014

    I think you are right. There is a serious lack of education in the food /health department. I always hear how a bag of chips is cheaper than a tray of broccoli. I would say a stalk of broccoli is a more valuable choice and a few slices and dices are free.
    But we all know that even the bag of chips isn’t the centerpiece of a meal just as a stalk of broccoli isn’t. It is cheaper to buy a few items for a meal than it is to go to fast food or a restaurant. Organic is definitely more expensive but either way, I think better education would help tremendously.

    H

    October 13, 2014

    I did not read the story about this woman, so I’m unfamiliar with her particular situation. I agree with all of your points for most of us–my food budget is very tight and I do exactly what you’ve said. But I also have a fully stocked kitchen, time to cook, and the means to get to a grocery store. Obviously it’s easy to believe that with just some basic education and cooking skills, the poor (too!) could eat healthy. But when you really learn about the lifestyles of some of the working poor, it’s hard to overlook that they often do not have the funds to stock up when things are on sale OR they are working multiple jobs with absolutely no time to get to grocery stores (or they require buses to get there–which also makes it harder to stock up on things on sale since you have to carry everything) let alone time to prepare dried beans for the week OR they live somewhere where they do not have even the basic cooking utensils to really cook things. As in–they’re cooking on a hot plate. OR all of those things. My point is that I think most people can and could do better, but I try to have compassion for their situation.

      RoniNoone

      October 13, 2014

      Me too! So many people just dismiss people like this when they could build them up and show them a better way that, although may be more work, is worth it for themselves and their kids. I feel sorry she feels this way and I feel sad that our culture just keeps supporting this way of life.

      Rebecca_Kate

      October 13, 2014

      Thanks H! This Facebook article seems like cheap click bait at its finest and this article came across as super judgmental to me. I really appreciate your comment and hope we can all remember some compassion.

    erin

    October 13, 2014

    Black beans (from dry) and Quinoa (bought in bulk from costco) and roasted carrots (2 T of coconut oil again bought in bulk at costco on sale) … I love how you said we need to look at this in a “simple” way. Things really dont have to be so complicated.

      Anne

      October 14, 2014

      I think this reply contradicts itself. Buying from Costco is not an option for many low-income families because Costco is not located in or near where they live AND Costco and similar stores have a membership fee which can be hard to pay up front even if it pays off over time. I once lived in a “food dessert” and didn’t eat a single vegetable or piece of fruit that came from my neighborhood store. My family would stock me up when I went home (to a comfortable, middle-class area).

      The issue of poverty is complicated. There’s no getting around it. When we try to say that what we do would be easy for others to do if they had the “will” or they had the education, it implies that they are to blame, which is not productive. The book “Nickle and Dimed” where a reporter lives the life of a low-wage worker is enlightening, and I recommend it for anyone who thinks even small changes to lives in poverty are simple.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      Thanks for the recommendation!

    MW

    October 13, 2014

    I haven’t read the article, but wanted to share a link to this post by one of my favorite food blog authors. She did the SNAP challenge for a month and made some interesting observations. http://www.budgetbytes.com/2014/10/snap-challenge-final-thoughts/

      RoniNoone

      October 13, 2014

      Thanks! That was great!

    Lauren

    October 13, 2014

    I read a book a few years ago that talked about how it’s not just access to healthy foods but having the means to cook them. Some lower income families live in motels or other inexpensive places and may only have a microwave and or/limited cookware.

    That being said, this woman has obviously died hair and numerous tattoos across her chest (and possibly elsewhere), she also has her lip pierced. I know first hand that those things aren’t cheap. If she lives in a place where she can access those things she may have access to foods/activities that she is choosing not to use.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      Good point! Would have never thought of that!

    Emily

    October 13, 2014

    I’m assuming she isn’t from America since they used kilos as her weight unit. If that’s the case, then produce abroad is absolutely much more expensive than it is here.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      She’s not. If I remember correctly she’s from Manchester.

    Michelle

    October 14, 2014

    I did read the article, and another factor is that she’s considering “healthy” to mean lower fat/calorie versions of what she’s already eating. Heck yeah those are more expensive! Low-fat junk food is still junk food. I think there’s a big issue here that many people have, and it’s how they are defining “healthy,” and the fact that the most cooking skill they have involves opening a package and heating it up.

    The people i know who have been successful in long-term weight loss are people who learn the skills to cook for themselves. They also focus on real food. A dozen eggs, a bag or two of broccoli, and a few potatoes costs less than $10, and it can feed a family of 4, and they wouldn’t feel hungry an hour later. Spend the same money to feed the same four people some hamburger helper, or those meal-in-a-box kits, and if it even stretches that much, they’re hungry really soon afterwards. Not to mention that one meal offers valuable nutrients, while the other offers mostly empty calories, shady industrial ingredients, and a blood sugar thrill ride that will send them scavenging the pantry within an hour.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      I agree and I think that’s where education comes in! Not everyone had parents to show them the way.. there is a serious lack of experience when it comes to preparing our own food nowadays.

    N

    October 14, 2014

    I do not know where she lives, but a big problem in poor neighborhoods is what is called “food deserts.” This is a lack of proper grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods because stores don’t want to open there. Consider how much you buy when you go shopping. Now think of taking all of that home (or even half that) on a bus with you and the kids. It makes it more understandable that a person would just get whatever was easiest, which is usually a convenience store.
    The gym thing- our culture promotes exercise as the holy grail and it’s understandable that someone could think this is a necessary part of getting healthy. We can say to her just take a walk, but who’s going to watch the kids? Maybe they can’t go very far, or there are other health issues. We don’t know the situation and yet so many people plastered this all over facebook with horrible judgments about her. Time is often a privilege (even a little bit) but we’re so used to having it, that we can forget that others do not.

    How do we even know if the article is true? It’s just a picture with an inciting headline. It’s propaganda and thousands of people fell for it. If a person is too poor to eat healthfully, maybe we can find ways to help rather than judge her.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      I did a bit of digging it is true but of course blown out of proportion to get attention but I think talking about it starts to bring to light some of the underlying problems of our culture that keep supporting this mentality.

    Patty

    October 14, 2014

    I only read your post and neither the article you refer to nor any comments yet.
    My first impression is to agree with your points. The more I think about it though the answer isn’t always as simple as you pose. There has to be some additional emotional aspect, similar to your “diet cycle” that needs to be broken through. Also one needs to develop an immunity to advertising and the temptations they present.
    Also when living paycheck to paycheck it is difficult to stock up and take advantage of sales when they happen. Not that it is impossible, it takes a great amount of planning and I believe that is a skill that should be taught in home ec. classes, but at least for my children it is not. That is why I include my kids when shopping and teach them myself about finding the best buys, and I show them how certain stores are much more expensive than others (Stop&Shop vs Aldi for example).

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      It never as simple as we think it is, is it? If it was there wouldn’t be a problem. :)

    Mary

    October 14, 2014

    I really have to get up on a soapbox here and point out that many of us, even those who grew up “poor,” really don’t know at all what it’s like to live in an area that is overrun by violence, with no grocery stores other than little stores that do not sell fresh fruits and vegetables, where taking care of your family’s most basic needs (read: survival) and working at multiple jobs to put any kind of food on the table and a roof overhead, mitigates one’s ability to devote time (a luxury) or energy to prepping food and exercising.

    I’m not saying that small changes can’t be made to improve quality of life, but please let us not assume from the safe perch of our comfy, white, middle-class lives that we have a clue what that kind of life is like.

    The photo with that article (which I did not read) is sad, because it is meant to do nothing more than incite indignation and disgust (“if you can afford to dye your hair and get tattoos…”) and completely takes away from the very real problems of endemic poverty and from the dismal lack of education and alarming lack of support that is needed to eradicate it.

      RoniNoone

      October 14, 2014

      All good points and I think you are right in a lot of cases but not all. There are lots of people who can make HUGE improvements in their well being and health with a little bit of education.

    Tiffany Walker

    October 14, 2014

    One of my thoughts is that there are possibly other issues which interfere with the poor choosing to eat better as well…depression, a sense of hopelessness about their life and their options. Junk food/processed food can be like a drug for many (raises hand), and similarly addictive. You know the motto of a certain potato chip company…you can’t eat just one? How many of us have eaten half a bag of chips or a whole sleeve of cookies in one sitting? For those in an unhappy situation, this could be a form of self-medicating, the only thing they feel they have to look forward to. So I think there is more to it than just education, though I agree with your points as well.

    Janis

    October 14, 2014

    A lot of it may be lack of education, but I think it’s also that when you’re poor and struggling, that damn Starbucks pumpkin spice whatever is the only thing you look forward to in your whole day. It’s the one pleasant little bit of enjoyment you get, and one that you can get easily and conveniently. To ask someone to give up the only bright spots in their day when the rest of their time is filled with struggle is a hard thing.

    It’s a cheap, easy, addictive little pleasure for people whose lives have little pleasure. That’s more powerful than food deserts or lack of education, I think. :-(

    Betsy

    October 14, 2014

    I think this is a pretty excellent response to these types of articles: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/if-only-poor-people-understood-nutrition/

    Maria B

    October 14, 2014

    Amen, Roni.

    Janis

    October 14, 2014

    Still thinking about this … I think such a huge part of it is also just the general hopelessness. If you don’t believe you will ever get free of the muck of poverty, that you were born poor and you’ll die poor, then you really don’t have ANY reason to scrimp on things like hair dye or tattoos or junk food.

    I remember when I had been out of work for a long time and thinking to myself that I had to economize like mad, and I did. But there was a little kernel of belief in me that things would get better eventually. That enabled me to respond to my situation more constructively: as a temporary emergency that had to be dealt with decisively. A fire that had to be put out NOW … because I knew if I could, it would stay out.

    But if you’ve been living in the fire forever, and you really don’t see a way out … then why the hell should you scrimp on little things that bring you pleasure? You’ll die on fire anyway, and you’ll die without your little bits of enjoyment as well? Who needs that?

    If you see no way out of your struggle, of course you’ll spend money you shouldn’t on little things that aren’t necessary. Why bother scrimping if you’re just going to die poor anyhow? For me, the fire was a four-alarm emergency. For someone else, it’s just normal life.

    And it’s worth noting that I’ve known people who were not poor who had this mindset as well, with far less excuse for it. They’re far more extravagant and suffer far less for it because they have safety nets.

    Dsydl

    October 14, 2014

    She actually lives in the UK and not the US, where social welfare system is very different. You probably could not even consider the amount of money she gets from the government small. I saw a picture of her on the Internet in front of a cabinet full of English biscuits and other snack. Total lack of education and respect for one’s health.

    Julia

    October 15, 2014

    Great article Roni; it’s something that doesn’t get broached much.
    You’re right though, *convenient* or *trendy* healthy food is more expensive than convenient junk food, but it’s just as cost effective to shop for frozen/canned (sometimes even fresh) veggies and bulk beans, rice and proteins. :)
    I hope this woman is able to educate herself, there are so many resources online.

    Keri

    October 15, 2014

    I kind of agree with your points and I kind of don’t. I did just purchase two bags of grapes at Wal Mart for $14. Produce is crazy expensive compared to Ramen noodles and Little Debbie. However, frozen and canned veggies can be quite cheap. Preparing everything from scratch for a working mother is very challenging and many times unrealistic. I work full-time and am a full-time college student, and eating healthy doesn’t happen unless my husband and kids cook right now. I can’t even imagine being a single mom. I’m on the fence on this one, but just wanted to point out how friggin expensive grapes are. LOL!

    Susan Oakes-Hauf

    October 15, 2014

    Huh. This woman can afford takeout, tattoos and hair color but not vegetables and fruit? Also, one doesn’t need a gym membership to go on a walk. I find this article (the original one, not your blog post) infuriating.

    Jackie

    October 19, 2014

    You’re completely right. Very well said.

    Paula

    October 19, 2014

    It takes effort, not money to be healthy. The cheapest place to buy bananas in my area is the Kwik Trip gas stations, not the Market Place. I find the least expensive food is the healthiest. Rice, frozen veggies, fruit, oatmeal just to name a few. Exercise? My local library has every home DVD workout available. Free. Some folks use NexFlix for a $9.99 month fee it is much cheaper than any gym I know. We go to the local parks for walking. As for poverty, it is a very serious issue with no easy answers.

    Louise Venison

    October 20, 2014

    I’ve recently discovered your blog, and I really feel the need to comment on this. Christina lives in the UK, and under the UK benefits system, a single mother of 2 is provided with a home and a significant amount of money. There is another photo on the original news report that shows her with her cupboard full of unhealthy food, which she claims is all she can afford because healthy food is too expensive. However, anyone familiar with food brands in the UK will know the food in her cupboard is mostly well known brands, at the top of the price range. My belief is that Christina volunteering for this report has nothing to do with weight, health or food, and everything to do with trying to get more money out of the state for doing nothing.

    Jody

    October 22, 2014

    I think it all comes down to readiness, she is simply not READY to take that big step towards fitness yet. We’ve all been there….the point at which you just say NO.MORE.EXCUSES and you start portion control, start exercising, start taking control. She certainly does not help her case by flashing tatoos and dyed hair color, etc. I wish her well.

    MD Weight Loss and Cosmetics

    October 27, 2014

    You are absolutely right, there is no connection between social status or money and living healthy. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit is way cheaper then going to a fast food every day. Now, if you don’t want to make the necessary time to make sure you eat healthy…that’s a whole new discussion.