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America, I missed you and your deliciously bad-for-me food

I weighed myself two days after I got home, about 36 hours after I landed. I figured that would have given enough time for my body to equilibrate after the long trip home. Sitting in cramped quarters for six hours is not exactly good for you, and you tend to want to drink more fluids because of the dry air in aircraft cabins. Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised to have lost about ten pounds.

As most of you might know already, I’ve always had issues with my weight. When I was younger, the issue was body image. I wanted to be attractive to the opposite sex, so I fretted over an extra pound here and an extra pound there. Most of those years, my weight was kept in check by playing soccer and running. I wasn’t skinny by any sense of the word, but I wasn’t fat, either.

However, as I grew up, I got jobs that required a lot of sitting around and lengthy commutes. Fresh food was not readily available on my commutes, so I settled for drive-through food and whatever I could get off the snack machines if the days ran longer than expected. Little by little, I started to gain weight at an accelerated pace. Because of the long days, I didn’t feel like going for a walk or a jog when I got home.

It was all a recipe for disaster.

On my recent trip to Colombia, I had the opportunity to sample a lot of the food there. Unlike the United States, drive-through food establishments are very rare. Yes, there are Burger King and McDonald’s restaurants, but they don’t offer drive-through options. Also, they seem a little more tailored to the Colombian diet, with more salad and fruit sides than offered here. Even the non-franchise hamburger restaurants packed their hamburgers with vegetables. That, and the meat was a whole lot fresher.

They also have these lunches called “corrientazos” which consist of a meat (fish, beef, pork or chicken), a vegetable (salad, carrot slaw, cole slaw), rice in different varieties, a bean of some sort, and a starch (usually a small potato). The dish also comes with a side chicken or beef soup. It may seem crazy to eat a hot soup in the Barranquilla heat, but it actually makes a lot of sense. You get hydrated and you get salt to keep you hydrated.

The corrientazos cost about 2 dollars each, and included what I mentioned above plus a juice drink of some sort. Nutritionally, I think that they were very well balanced. You got protein, grain, starch and vegetables. They hardly had any fat, too. And what can I say about the taste? They were delicious.

In the month that I spent in Colombia, even with not going out for long jogs or walks like I do here now that I don’t have an office job, I still managed to lose ten pounds. Even with eating a personal pizza or a burger now and then, I now fit better into the jeans I left here at home, even fitting into some old jeans that I didn’t fit into before I left. (I was going to donate them, but now I’m keeping them.)

As soon as I landed in Miami, I went to a Cuban cafeteria-style restaurant and ordered some fish, rice, and plantains. I also got some soda and a dessert. In essence, I was back to America, so I was back to my old habits.

Like a junkie back to his dealer.

Like a junkie back to his dealer.

However, when I got home and weighed myself, I had a lightbulb go off in my head that getting back into bad habits maybe wasn’t the best thing. I didn’t want to lose the gains (or gain back the losses) that I had.

Since then, I’ve been trying to emulate the food that I had in Colombia and stay away from the American diet. I’m working to get vegetables and fruits back into my diet and have them and grains make up most of what I eat instead of fats and red meats. Again, it’s not easy. Bad food is ubiquitous in America, unfortunately.

I’ve also made a pledge to my wife that we’re going to be fully ready for our half-marathon attempt in October. It’s 13.1 miles that I want to finish and enjoy the finish, instead of being glad to finish and then just crashing in bed for 24 hours. I want to finish that race and go have some fun with friends and family.

We’ll see how that goes.

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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1 reply

  1. Yeah, keeping a healthy diet in the US is above and beyond the call of difficult. Our entire diet is a commercialized nightmare, where certain interests are promoted over the health of the populace.
    But then, I’ve long said, the United States of America has the best government that money can buy.
    Hence, why vegetables, fruits and other healthier foods are more expensive than our high fat, high protein, high sugar, low nutrient diet. I still remember ‘ketchup is a vegetable” successful lobbying. I recall lobbying for corn, promoting high fructose corn syrup over lower sugar in drinks. Promotion of large cattle, promoting beef over lower fat meats, suppression of sheep to the point where those raising sheep faced violence against them.
    Since we’ve returned from the Persian Gulf, we’ve hated US raised beef, as it’s tasteless, compared to every other meat we’ve enjoyed. What was subsidized there was far more healthier a diet.


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