August 24, 2019

We’ve got a national Eating Disorder.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and cannot possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.


Eager to experience a sampling of Americana, I entered a crowded diner for breakfast a few mornings ago and plopped down on the only empty stool at the counter.

Fortune smiled on me as I found myself seated beside an attractive blonde half my age. 

Before you regurgitate your own breakfast or have the good sense to click on something else to read, rest assured this tale isn’t going in the direction younger me might hope. I just wanted to get your attention. What follows is not a sordid fling at a roadside motel, but a different sort of debauchery with a comparable “ick” factor.

Lest I be accused of staring, I decided I better avert my gaze occasionally. Unfortunately for me, the horrors I saw while scanning the room more than offset the beauty beside me. Each time I looked away, the grotesque behavior all around me brought my eyes quickly back to the one sight in the entire room worth a second glance.

One child, already 50 pounds overweight at no more than 10 years old, devoured a breakfast abomination that began with a plate-sized chocolate chip waffle floating in a sea of syrup, an abandoned life raft adorned with a snow-capped mountain of whipped cream adrift in a muddy sea. Newsflash: if it’s topped with whipped cream, it’s not a meal—it’s dessert.

That’s it though, right? Oh no, compadre. As Al Pacino famously said, “I’m just gettin’ warmed up.”

You’re a responsible parent who demands your child at least consume a protein source with his treat meal, huh? I got your protein right here, pal. How about a side of thick-cut bacon marinated in some more maple syrup, because everything’s better with syrup? Just ask that responsible citizen, Elf. He even drowned his spaghetti in the gooey nectar.

My only explanation as to why this kid didn’t burst into flames, a comet triumphantly blazing around the room until his sugar-fueled glow burnt out, is that perhaps the three-day allowance of saturated fat in that bacon blunted the absorption of the sugar just a little. Yay, bacon.

You’ll think I’m making this last part up. Maybe you already do, and I certainly wish I was. The kid washed it all down with a large glass of chocolate milk. That double serving alone contained about 400 calories and 50 grams of sugar.

I’m not going to bother calculating the amount of added sugar in the entire grotesque meal, and I’d be guessing anyway since I’ve no idea how large that syrup sea really was, but I’ll wager a meal total of 200 grams wouldn’t be exaggerating, given that a single tablespoon of maple syrup packs a whopping 14 grams. To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends men consume a maximum of 37.5 grams a day and women 25 grams.

So, in a single disgusting meal like this, an adult man would be five times over his recommended daily sugar allowance and a woman would crush it by eight times. It’s safe to say this kid was pushing 10 times the advisable limit.

Of course I’m judging. This inept parenting deserves to be judged harshly. Any parent who would give in to their child’s whims to this extent is not parenting at all. 

They’re setting their child up for a lifetime of obesity and an early death, or at least reduced quality of life, from complications like diabetes and heart disease. They’re also burdening our healthcare system with the cost of treating these maladies and our economy with the reduced productivity of a sickly workforce.

I find myself about to embark on a new adventure this fall teaching physical education and health to primary- and middle-school-aged children. I’ll do what I can, but we all must do better.

Do our children even know the difference between nutritious foods and sugar-laden junk? Do they know examples of foods that might go on a healthy plate? Do they know the basic roles of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in our diets, and can they identify examples of each?

It’s not just anecdotal evidence like my diner debacle that suggests they don’t have a clue. There’s also plenty of real research that documents obesity climbing steadily over time for both adults and children.

We must do a better job of teaching our children about healthy food choices and insisting they limit their impulses to treat themselves at every opportunity. It starts with setting a good example for them to follow by cleaning up our own diets and getting off our asses and exercising regularly. We’re not just fighting to save our own lives; we’re fighting for theirs as well.

As for that blonde, even as old as I am, I might have actually had a chance. I’m no Derek Zoolander, but as I looked around the room, I quickly realized she was surrounded by slobs.

America at its fattest…er, finest, that is.


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