Eating (and Moving) in the 1960s

I’ve been thinking some about how we ate and moved when I was a child.  Countless people have thought about and argued about why Americans have become so overweight over the years.  Some say it is because we are less active than we used to be, others point to all the unhealthy processed foods, others say it is just the greater calories consumed and point to larger portion sizes, and others talk more about the types of foods we eat (and the attempt to get us to eat low fat which didn’t exactly work out as intended).

I personally tend to feel it is a combination of things.  I was born in the 1950s and I don’t remember much about that that time. But, I remember what it was like to eat and live in the 1960s and early 1970s (I graduated high school in 1972).  It would be easy to look back and say that we moved more then, and that portions sizes were smaller and we didn’t eat as many processed foods.  And, to some extent, that is true.  But, truthfully, in some ways, I think we do better on some things now than we did back then.

Before I talk about food, though, I want to mention a bit about movement.  In some ways, when I was a child, there was more activity than I see now. We did play outside after school and I remember riding on my bicycle around the neighborhood.  I also talked to and from school most of my school career.  High school was a mile away.  So, yes, I did go outside a lot after school.

And, yet, really it wasn’t all that active.  There weren’t nearly as many after school activities then as now and other than boys on sports teams, there wasn’t a lot of activity other than PE at school and maybe playing outside.  I took swimming lessons in the summers as a child, but that was about it. By high school, there wasn’t really any activity except PE and walking to and from school.

It is true that there were fewer labor saving devices.  My mother hung wet clothes on a line in the backyard. But, adults didn’t really exercise back then.  I never really saw anyone just walking around the neighborhood, let alone someone running.  And, adults didn’t go to exercise classes or go to the gym.  It was true that my Dad liked to be active outside and would work in the yard.  And, he and my mom would go water skiing sometimes.  But, really, the idea of adults needing to do any exercise was not one that I ever heard anyone even mention.

As for food, yes, in some ways eating was healthier then, even when eating snacks.  I remember when I was old enough that my parents would allow me to have a Coke most days of the weeks.  This was, however, a 6 1/2 ounce Coke.  Later, they would sometimes let me have a 10 ounce Coke, which seemed huge to me.  I would put it in the freezer and let it just start to freeze, then would punch a hole in the top with an ice pick and slowly drink the Coke.  It never occurred to me to even think to have more than one.  It just wasn’t done.  Occasionally, I was allowed to stop at the drugstore on the way home and have a Coke float.

And, having a Coke was my big snack on most days.  Cookies, candy, and stuff like that were really more occasional.  And, when we did have them, it was small portions.  A couple of cookies, not the whole bag.  Eating out was not very often.  We sometimes ate a nearby cafeteria in a nearby shopping center.  This was in no way exciting as this food was very like the food we would eat ate home.  In other words, boring.  The big excitement at the cafeteria was to get a bowl of Jello — on good days, they had the cherry flavor.

Rarely, we would eat out somewhere else.  There was a nearby hamburger stand and maybe a few times a year we would get a hamburger and fries.  Another few times a year we would eat out somewhere else.  There was a pancake restaurant we went to once or twice a year.  A seafood restaurant that we went to very rarely.  Eating out was really a special occasion, not something we did every few days.

When I was about 12 years old, a Jack in the Box opened nearby, next door to the local movie theater.  I was enthralled by it, particularly the tacos which seemed like the best food ever.  But, even back then, it was a very occasional thing to eat there and I would have a couple of tacos.  The serving sizes of the food and the Cokes were very small by today’s standards.

So, looking back on it, we just didn’t consume much food outside the house (except for school lunches).  We lived across the street from a convenience store and I would sometimes go over there and spend some of my allowance to buy candy or another snack.  Again, this was all small portions by today’s standards.  Oh, and schools didn’t serve junk food.  If you bought a school lunch it was basically food similar to what you would eat at home.  No pizza, no fries, no soft drinks.  Schools served milk.  I’m not saying the food was all that healthy by today’s standards.  But, the point is that it wasn’t food that you would particularly want to overeat either.

At home, one big difference between now and then was that we pretty much ate defined meals and there wasn’t much snacking.  There was a little snacking on the weekends, but the operative word there is “little.” And, mostly my snack was a 6 1/2 ounce Coke.

Yet, what we did eat at meals was in some ways not all that healthy.  My usual breakfast on school days was Frosted Flakes.  I didn’t like milk on it (still don’t like milk on cereal) since it would make the cereal soggy.  My mother would insist, though, that I have a glass of whole milk with my meal.  I don’t remember anyone ever really suggesting that the sugar in the cereal was unhealthy.  Occasionally, we would have other less sugary cereals, but I didn’t like them.

Unusual for that era, my mother always worked so she wasn’t making my breakfasts during the week.  I was content with just the cereal and milk.  Weekends were different though.  We usually had bacon and eggs, occasionally with sausage patties.  This would also be with either biscuits (I would sprinkle cinnamon sugar on them) or toast.  We usually had a choice of butter or margarine and I preferred margarine at the time.  And, of course, the toast was white bread.  I don’t recall even being aware that there was anything other than white bread.

For lunch, I sometimes would buy lunch at school.  When I didn’t, it was usually a bologna sandwich on white bread.  On weekends, we would occasionally have something more exotic, like a BLT.  And, sometimes we would go to family events where everyone would bring food, often casseroles and things that were really high fat and full of refined carbs.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but dinners in our house were a bit unusual.  See, my parents both worked for a meat packing plant.  Until it closed when I was 17, my parents never bought meat at the grocery store.  They bought all their meat from their employer, at a discount.  The result was that we had broiled steak for dinner 5 or 6 days of the week, usually a T-Bone (my favorite) or sirloin.  Growing up, I just thought that was normal.  One time I remember having a friend stay for dinner and she was agog to be served steak for dinner.  She kept exclaiming how unusual it was to have steak for a regular meal during the week.  I thought that was strange, since we had steak every night during the week.  One reason I think I was later not a big beef eater was that I got so tired of beef over the years.

Once a week we would have chicken, though.  This was always fried chicken.  I don’t think I had a concept of serving chicken any other way.  And, one other day on the weekend we might have something different.  Maybe fried fish (again, I didn’t really have a concept of fish being served any other way) or occasionally a ham or something else.  But, quite often, that 6th meal might be more… steak.

Along with the steak, my mother would always serve 2 vegetables.  Most of the time these were canned vegetables.  One reason, I think I’ve had trouble getting into vegetables as an adult was that these vegetables were overcooked, soggy, and just not very appetizing.  My mom liked English peas and spinach which I decidedly didn’t like.  I didn’t like the squishy texture of the peas or the sliminess of the canned spinach.  It would annoy my mother when I would “eat” the peas by swallowing them whole so I didn’t have to suffer through the squishiness.

One vegetable I did like was okra.  This was because she would serve fried okra. This was good.  I could almost forget that it was a vegetable.  Of the canned vegetables, the best ones were green beans and carrots.  They were overcooked, but the texture was better than with the peas or spinach.

On weekends, though, we would sometimes have my absolute favorite vegetable — a baked potato.  This was in the days before microwaves so it took a long time to cook a potato.  During the week, my mom didn’t really have time to make baked potatoes, but would sometimes do it on the weekends. Another occasional vegetable was corn on the cob, which was slathered with butter and  lots of salt.

And, of course, we had bread.  Everyone was given at least one piece of white bread, sometimes two.  It was common to use the bread to help mop up the food.  (I was fastidious about eating and always ate one item of food at a time, and didn’t like my food to touch so I never used my bread in that fashion).  I would eat my bread slowly, spreading some margarine on it.  Occasionally as a treat, I would make (or my dad would make for me) cinnamon toast.

Usually, we didn’t have dessert unless we were visiting family for an occasion.  My mother made these great blonde brownies, but that was only a few times a year. And usually there wasn’t much eating after dinner.  My mother would often have some grapefruit in the evening.  I would sometimes have that.  We had apples around the house (I usually didn’t like them) and some oranges.  I was just not much of a fruit eater and my mother didn’t insist.

Looking back on it, part of what seems strange to me was how limited our diet was in terms of the food that we ate.  Or, to put it another way, there were some foods that I just never ate until I was an adult or almost an adult.  For example, we rarely had cheese.  In fact, I don’t really have any memory of having cheese at all.  I remember in high school going out with someone who suggested I try a cheeseburger.  I had never had one as I thought cheese sounded yucky.  Well, I went ahead and tried the cheeseburger and couldn’t believe what I had been missing.

Another thing that we never ate was rice.  When I was about 10 we went on a vacation and we ate at a buffet that served white rice.  I tried it and thought it was awful.  It wasn’t until years later that I ever tried rice again.

Pasta was also not really something we ate.  Very occasionally, we had spaghetti and meatballs and I remember my mom making spaghetti sauce from scratch.  This was time consuming and not something often done.

Another thing we didn’t eat was salads.   Occasionally there was a salad made with iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and some bottled dressing.  But, it wasn’t often and I had no notion of any kind of greens other than iceberg lettuce.  None of those salads were particularly appealing and it wasn’t until years later than I learned a salad could actually be good. (Like the incredibly yummy salad I had for dinner tonight with homemade balsamic vinaigrette).

Two reasons for why I wasn’t really overweight back then was the fact that we didn’t do much snacking and we didn’t eat out much.  And, when we did eat out, portions were small by today’s standards.  A 10 ounce Coke seemed enormous to me when I would have one at home.  At restaurants, if you ordered a soft drink, you didn’t get free refills.

Another thing is that food just wasn’t as, well, yummy as it seems now.  I was reading the book Salt Sugar Fat the other day which is about the processed food industry.  One of the things it talks about is how the food industry uses salt, sugar, and fat to hook people into eating more and more food.  It talks about food manufacturers always trying to design food for the “bliss point” for sugar, which is the point that the is exact amount of sugar that gives you the most blissful taste.

Back then, processed food did exist, but it seems almost primitive compared to now.  There just weren’t the tastes then that exist now in most processed foods and restaurant foods.  Food was plainer.   Even in restaurants most of the food wasn’t all that much more exciting than the food we ate at home.  One reason Jack in the Box was such a revelation was that the tacos were so out of the ordinary.  We occasionally would have a TV dinner at home (usually Mexican food) and they weren’t that good and took a long time to cook (no microwaves).

There was just less temptation to overeat when you were going to a cafeteria that might serve fried chicken and mashed potatoes and English peas, food not much different than you could eat at home. And, the fact we didn’t snack all that much also made it easy to rein in the calories.  Treats were, well, treats and not every day items.  And, servings were small.  With all that, even though I did drink Cokes and a lot of the food we ate wasn’t the healthiest and I had no concept of there being anything wrong with sugar or refined grains, I still kept my weight mostly in check.  And, so did most everyone else that I knew.

Of course, there would come a time when I would grow up and leave home and started eating more adventurously which wasn’t always to my benefit. More about that later…

Unofficial 150s

At long last, weighing at home in the morning (so no clothes), I weighed in below 160.  It varied from 159.2 pounds to 159.8 pounds, most around 159.5 pounds (yes, I weighed more than once since I was so pleased to see it).  I know it will be above 160 at my Weight Watchers weigh in since I actually have to wear clothes when I weigh in there.

Still.  The last time I weighed in at home in my 150s was weigh back in March, 1999.  I remember that time well.  I was working with a personal trainer on a weekly basis.  I owned a home gym and she came and worked with me every week.  We had the gym set up in our spare bedroom.  Then, we decided to sell our house and took the gym down while the house was on the market.  And, when we moved, we were too far away from that trainer.  I intended to find another one.  But, as so often happens, once I got out of the habit of daily exercising and eating right, things went downhill.

I have a spreadsheet I’ve kept on and off over the years where I recorded my weight during various attempts to lose weight.  That spreadsheet shows a gap between March and lat June.  By then I was back into the low 170s.  Once we got into the new house I did start exercising on my own, but I didn’t make much progress, actually gaining another 8 pounds over the course of a year.  There were a lot of changes going on in my life at this time.  Our son was 5 years old when we sold that house.  A year later my weight was in the high 170s and I was now a mother of 3 — during that year we completed an international adoption of two children.  I weighed weekly over that year, except for the 2 weeks we were out of the country.  And, for the next few years my attention really focused more on family things rather than losing weight.  I would periodically try to lose and record some weights.  I would go back to the Weight Watchers at times.  But, now really progress.  The weight just kept creeping up from that point.  I never had a sustained loss until I went back to Weight Watchers in 2010.

And, now this is the first time that I’ve gotten back into the 150s.

 

I’m Shrinking, I’m Shrinking

I realized today that I really am getting smaller.  Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it, but it is happening.

Around the house I mostly wear workout pants so don’t really see the change in my size.  A couple of months ago, though, I realized that my size 18 jeans were literally starting to fall off me.  So, I dug around in the closet and found some size 16 jeans that I had bought back when I was losing weight in 2011.  I started wearing them some, even though at the time they were a little tight.  I didn’t wear them a lot since they sit really low on the hips.

Size16

This may make me seem ancient, but I confess that pants that sit low on the hips always make me uncomfortable.  I feel like I should be tugging them up to my waist.  I can handle the mid rise ones, but don’t like those that seem like they will fall off (or show more of your backside than you would like) if you bend over.  Anyway, I realized a couple of days ago that the size 16 jeans were too large.  In fact, I found that I didn’t actually have to unbutton or unzip them to take them off.

Today, I was at the hairdresser’s and I realized as I walking that they were literally about to fall down.  I kept stopping to tug them up.

When I got home, I retired them.  Well, I put them away.  I guess I should have thrown them away.  I did finally throw away the size 18 jeans.

I then looked in the closet and found my size 14 jeans and tried them.

Size14

I had tried them on a couple of months ago and I could barely get them zipped and couldn’t breathe at all.  I had remembered wearing them before when I was in the low 160s so thought I would have to wait until I got back there to wear them.  But, with the 16s not fitting, I tried the the size 14 jeans (yes, they are a curvy cut, but still) and they fit perfectly.

I was really happy about that, particularly since I am able to wear them now at a few pounds higher than when I was able to wear them before.  I think that my body fat is a little better than it was then.

Of course, the bad part is that I’m in the high 160s and only just now getting into a curvy size 14.  On the 3FC forums, sometimes people talk about what size they can wear.  I’ve seen people of similar height weighing much more and in a smaller size.  I think part of this is my body shape.  I tend to carry a lot of weight around my belly button.  My waistline has always been large.  The other part is that I have high body fat.  According to my scale it is somewhere between about 42% and 43% now (I know the scale isn’t that accurate, but I know my body fat is a lot).  I’m sure that someone of my height and weight, but who was 25% body fat would wear a much smaller size.

All of which reminds me.  Back when I did WW the very first time, I was given a body measurement chart that you could fill in periodically to see how your measurements where changing.

I kept a copy of the chart from when I started Weight Watchers and the first page of it is below.  The columns are:

1-head

2-neck

3-upper arm

4-chest

5-forearm

6-wrist

7-waist

8-hips

9-upper leg

10-knee

11-calf

12-ankle

13-height

14-weight

15-clothing size

 

WW measurements

Now, bear in mind, that this chart was started about 25 years ago.  What is interesting to me is that I weighed 167 then and at my weigh in last week I weighed 168.  Anyway, back then at 167, I wore a size 16.  Now, I can easily fit into the size 14 jeans.  That seems to indicate a mild vanity sizing change.  In reality, the vanity sizing change is much greater.  That is because back then (in my mid-30s) I was much “smaller” at 167 than I am now at 168.  At that time, for example, my waist was 33 7/8″.  Last week I measured my waist and it was around 37 1/2″.  Back then, my hips were 42 1/8″.  Now, they are at least a couple of inches more.  (I need to go and do a full set of measurements.  I usually do it every 10 pounds or so, but hadn’t done it while I’ve been using the walker).

The point is that my 167 pound body then had a waist almost 4″ smaller than now, but I wore a size 16 then and now — even with the larger weight — I can wear a size 14 (at least in those curvy jeans).

Another interesting thing in the chart was that I didn’t get solidly into a size 12 until I was at 143 1/2 pounds.  Now, that would be within my goal weight since my current goal weight is 146 which is the top of the normal weight range.  Back then, though, my goal weight was 125.  The other thing is that back then it took me only 4 months to get from 167 to 143 1/2 pounds.  I suspect it will take me more than 4 months now to get to that weight.  I’m hoping to get to 146 by the end of the year but doubt I’ll be there in October.  The other thing is that while it took me 4 months to get from 167 to 143 1/2, it took me 2 years to get from 143 1/2 to my low weight of 119 pounds!  Of course, in there I had a couple of times when I regressed and regained some of my lost weight.

Less of an Older Me

Last Friday was my birthday.

Birthday1

Me, having a birthday.

I actually spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about whether to say how old I am on this birthday. The thought of this birthday came up for me when I started this blog. Well, to be honest, before I started it. Should I put my age in my About Me? Should I include pictures in my weight loss history where it would be apparent I was a child, well, a long time ago.

“You don’t look close to 60,” said the sonographer who was doing the Doppler ultrasound to determine if I had a blood clot in my leg.

This was a few weeks ago, so I responded, “I’m not 60, not for a few more weeks anyway.”

She answered back, “I said you don’t look close to 60. You don’t look close to 59 either.”

It was the first time that someone not in my family had referred to my approaching birthday. There are some birthdays that are more momentous than others. I remember turning 18 which was surely important. I never had that birthday where you suddenly can legally drink. The law changed from 21 to 18 while I was being 19 one summer. 30 was a good birthday. 30 seemed to mark that line into real adulthood.

40 was interesting. Some see 40 as the beginning of being an older woman. 40 is certainly not old for a man, but society is a bit more cruel to women. In my case, though, 40 didn’t feel old at all. That was because I was pregnant with my first child who was due the day after my 40th birthday. I couldn’t possibly be old if I was about to give birth!

By the time I was 50, I had 3 children. That baby that had finally shown up 8 days after my 40th birthday was about to turn 10. We had adopted two more children who were soon to turn 8 and 13. So, 50 was certainly middle aged, but I didn’t really feel old either, not with kids that age. Life was busy and good. (Weight loss was, alas, not happening. I was somewhere in the 180s then). And, regardless, I still saw life as full of possibilities.

But, 60. Well, 60 is different. I don’t really feel older than I was many years ago. Yet, at 60, you realize that there are certain things you won’t ever do. There are paths that weren’t taken and never will be. While there are still many choices left in life, you become more aware that you have to make those choices carefully as you don’t have unlimited choices. Time is marching on. It isn’t that you can’t do new things. I most certainly can. It is that you feel a need to make those new things count. To make sure the choices are the right ones to make. And, to realize, that some things are just never going to happen. In general, those aren’t things I really want to happen. I’m not going to climb a mountain or sail around the world and I really don’t want to. Still.

I have this semi-joking, semi-serious debate with my son about whether I am now “old” given this most recent birthday. I see my mother who is 90 and, well, compared to her I’m not old. Not close. But compared to, say, my children…I can see the argument.

Talking about this particular birthday is really not off topic for this blog. This blog is not just about the less of me part. It is also about the part of me becoming a better me. And, part of that is realizing that this “better me” is now 60 years old.

I have one picture of me thin, when I weighed probably in the low 130s. I eventually lost down to about 117 pounds so this was not even my low weight. But, I look at this picture and like how I looked.

At about 130-135 pounds shortly before I got to my goal weight of 125 pounds.

At about 130-135 pounds shortly before I got to my goal weight of 125 pounds.

The thing is that even if I magically got to that weight tomorrow, I wouldn’t look like that picture. In that picture I was 35 years old. After I started regaining weight, I kept the thin clothes that I was wearing in that picture for years. I finally got rid of them several years later, when some part of me dimly realized that you can’t get back there again. Oh, I could lose all the weight again (I haven’t, but I know it is possible). But, I would never be that 35 year old person again.

When I hit my goal weight, or get below it, I will surely be a better me, but I won’t ever be that 35 year old me because that time is gone. And, that is really more than OK. That 35 year old was single and didn’t have children. I wasn’t even dating and had bought a book about having a baby without a man (all about single women having artificial insemination). I had basically decided that I was unlikely to ever find someone I wanted to marry, but I was well aware of that biological clock ticking away. At 35, I was an adoptee who had never laid eyes on anyone biologically related to me and I had spent years fruitlessly searching off and on for my first mother who gave birth to me.

My life is so much better and happier 25 years later. I am so glad to be the 60 year old with my husband and children. I am glad that, eventually, my search for my first mother was rewarded and I found her and my half-siblings. I wouldn’t go back to being that 35 year old even if I could. I want the me that I have now, even with another 27 pounds or so to lose. The better me really is the me that I am now and that I am becoming at every moment.

Me, on my birthday, 34 pounds thinner than my high weight.

Me, on my birthday, 34 pounds thinner than my high weight.

Marriage and Motherhood

I posted the first three installments of my story here, here, and here. This is Part IV, which brings my story up to date.  This is the part of my story that I didn’t like writing because it is about me regaining after getting down to a low of 119 pounds.

When last I left my story, I had gotten to below my goal weight of 125 pounds and was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers.  My maintenance period had been different as I had unrelated jaw surgery and couldn’t eat solid food for several weeks.  Just when I was able to eat any solid food I wanted to, I was sent out of town on a two week long business trip.  I was really tired of the soft foods I had been eating. Couple that with eating out 3 meals a day and it is no wonder that I gained.

I came back from the trip up about 5 pounds on my home scale.  I was embarrassed to go back to Weight Watchers.  I worried about what people would think.  This was sort of silly since my weight gain really wasn’t visible. Also, I could have just gone to a different meeting.  But, that didn’t occur to me.  Instead, I decided to lose the gained weight and then go back.  This was a very bad decision. I didn’t go back to Weight Watchers for years. [Read more…]