The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

August 8, 2010

Dixie Fat — and the fight against it

I'm losing the weight, and so is the rest of Vicksburg.

Mississippi has been the fattest State in the Union for six years in a row, and I am a science experiment that proves  it is not genetic.

I was horrified a few weeks ago at my doctor’s office to learn that I had gained twenty pounds in the seven months since I moved here.  I was no twiggy to begin with, but this was a shock.  Furthermore, for the first time in my life, to my horror, I learned my cholesterol was slightly elevated.  Before this, I had always had low cholesterol.

My husband has not had health problems related to his diet.  Neither has a woman  I met today, June, who explained to me that her husband’s cholesterol must be down because, “he puts so much grease in his body, all the cholesterol slides out of him.”

That somehow did not work for me.

I know why.  I won’t blame the state for putting food in my mouth, but it is easy to slide into bad habits.

Here are the bad habits around here that became my own insidiously, until I decided to change them:

  1. Mounds of Meat — in New York ,  I ate a lot less meat.  My husband is a real carnivore — a dead animal at every meal.  I can’t eat like that without consequences.
  2. Gallons of Grease — in Mississippi, the salad bars are almost all ice berg lettuce and shredded cheese.  There are no arugula salads tossed in a light vinaigrette at most restaurants.  Vegetables are cooked in bacon fat, where they are served at all.
  3. Sacks of Sugar — Southerners like things  sweet.  There are a million sugary treats,  and I (call it research) tried them all.
  4. Insidious Inertia — for the firsts two months of summer, I had a non-stop sinus headache.  The heat makes any activity at all sweaty and exhausting.  I was never much of an exerciser before, but as  it was,  after eating dead animals, greasy vegetables, and cake, I  would not want to lift a finger.
  5. Shock and Stress — this was not specific to Mississippi but to me.  I am in culture shock.  Everything in my life has changed.  This blog is  a product of stress.  So were some of my fat cells.

They warn college students against the “freshman fifteen.”  Let me warn all people moving south against the “Southern seventeen.”

The good news — I have lost eight of those twenty pounds, and the rest are coming off, too.  I am steaming my own veggies, eating rice, avoiding foods from restaurants.  I am not yet cool enough to go out training for a marathon.  I am, however, increasing my physical activity.

This past week, CNN ran a story on local hero Linda Fondren, who decided, after her sister’s obesity-related death, to make weight loss a community issue.  Here is the CNN report from August 5th:

“…Fondren, 54, wants to move her state from the fattest to the fittest. For the last four years, she has led her hometown of Vicksburg in its battle with the bulge.

Being the fattest state ‘is not a good heavyweight title to hold,” she said. “I felt that people needed to be challenged.’

Fondren remembered how her sister had been too embarrassed to exercise in a gym with men. So in June 2006, she opened an all-female workout facility, Shape Up Sisters.

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The gym was a success — it now has more than 600 members — but Fondren eventually realized that she needed to expand her reach if she wanted to slim down her community.

She says part of the problem in Vicksburg is that being overweight is so commonplace it is often considered the norm.

‘Most people … they do not know that they have a weight problem because we live in an environment where everyone almost looks the same,’ she said.

So in October 2009, Fondren kicked off Shape Up Vicksburg. The initiative challenged residents to lose weight while giving them the tools they needed to reach their goal….”

Ms. Fondren has opened her gym for free one day a week, started fitness groups  in churches, including my own, and she is committed to getting the high-high-high fat foods from restaurants in town changed to more moderate-calorie dishes.

CNN may choose to give Shape Up Vicksburg a cash award to continue its work, and it’s no wonder.  Linda Fondren is inspiring.

However, it takes this kind of  concerted effort in a place where the culture is  conducive to unhealthy behavior to make better choices.  I’m fighting the  Dixie Fat, and I’m winning, but  in, say, Okinawa, after seven months of steamed fish and rice, I think I would be sliding, like the cholesterol out of June’s husband’s body, out of my oversized clothes.

That’s it.  I should have moved to Okinawa.  The culture shock would have been about the same.

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