It’s now late February, which means the folks who “resolutely” started clogging the gym after Jan. 1 have long since bailed, freeing up the machines for us regulars.
It’s also a great time to spread the brass tacks all over the damn floor.
America is, in the medical parlance of a close gastroenterologist friend of mine, a fat country. The black community suffers from the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity in the country.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think all black folks have to go out like that.
I worked at a hood high school where the cafeteria served students taco slime and nacho cheese on a bed of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, so I’m intimately aware of the roles that poverty, food deserts and bulletproof-glassed Shrimp Huts play on our community’s health. It’s an epidemic long overdue for attention.
But I’m writing to you moderately well-heeled black folks who still deal with this, even though you have access to and can afford good groceries. It’s a deep, multifaceted issue that I can only touch on here.
Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s PBS documentary, Soul Food Junkies, offers a historical perspective into our relationship with the food that’s wiping us out. Packed with interviews from doctors and academics, the doc is framed around Hurt’s father, whose refusal to improve his diet contributed to his death at 63 from pancreatic cancer, which hits us exponentially harder than other ethnic groups.
Those of us with family hailing from the South (read: most of us) are likely kindred in our view of a large soul food dinner with family. The irony is that we good Christian folk gather ’round to pray for “nourishment” from food that’s killing us.
Unfortunately, many of us pay for the gastronomic sins of our parents. Pops bought us a doughnut for breakfast before school daily. Mama took us to Wendy’s for dinner once a week. Considering that my idea of athleticism was how vigorously I could smash the “B” button on my Nintendo controller, puberty ushered in a chunk-butt phase that was stifled, albeit temporarily, by a growth spurt in 11th grade.
Of course, our food—cheap, fatty, sugary, salty and processed—is the primary culprit of an obesity epidemic that transcends race. A look at the menus of Applebee’s, TGI Fridays or any other s—tbox ‘Murican restaurant makes it crystal clear that we also struggle with moderation on top of an apparent fear of anything resembling a vegetable. The reason folks visiting from other countries step off an airplane and are immediately aghast is that they don’t have our diet.
At my early-20s worst, I couldn’t stand looking at pictures of myself. My own journey of working through that came from two “come to Jesus” moments.
The first came late in college when I was at one of my favorite dives, scarfing down a Philly steak sandwich topped with hot sauce, ketchup and ranch dressing. My guy Leland saw me and said with his traditionally earnest (read: a—hole) demeanor, “You know you gon’ die young, right?”
The second moment came about six years later, when the woman I loved packed up and moved to Chile and I got laid off from a job I adored, all in the same two-month period. Instead of sinking my sorrows into a fifth of Chivas Regal or a bucket of Häagen-Dazs, I got a gym membership and hit the treadmill. Seven days a week. I lost so much weight after six weeks that my friends wondered if I was sick.
However, I realize that exercise and a decent diet don’t come naturally to many (if not most) adults. I don’t expect most people to break a good sweat six days a week like me or to have a diet so lame that they wanna blow their brains out. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of taking that journey:
1. Motivate yourself with your own image. Stare at yourself in the mirror in the morning when you’re at your skinniest. See what you don’t like and mentally dedicate yourself to fixing it. That’s the easiest part. But if you can put in all that work to get your advanced degree and build your career, you should apply it to your body as well. This s—t ain’t checkers, n—ga.
2. Start off slowly. No need to go overkill with diet and exercise right out the gate—that’s how you fail. Start off with a nice walk a couple times a week, then turn it into a jog. Then do it more often, and for longer.
3. Don’t go it alone. Creating a salubrious diet and workout plan can be scary, but if you dedicate any time to VH1 reality shows, you have the goddamn time to hit the Internet to scour the virtually endless resources on the Google. Chances are you have a friend or loved one who’s also spending too much time keeping up with the Kardashians, so yank them off the couch, too. Two is better than one.
4. Don’t keep junk in your house. Willpower is a fickle beast. The ficklest beast, actually. Don’t tempt yourself.
5. Don’t eat “diet” foods. That’s a weak shortcut that will not give you nearly as much joy as the real thing. Eat what you love, only in moderation.
6. Embrace the hard reality. Political correctness and compassion have to go out the window at some point, because kindness doesn’t drop pounds.
Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.