Friday, October 19, 2012

Budget guilt. . . the balancing act of a middle class housewife. . .

I don't know how other families and homes work - but I know how ours works. . . . my husband makes the money and I spend it.  Now that might sound fun, but it isn't.  I balance the budget.  I am the one who has to take my husband's income and make it pay all our bills, buy food, things the kids need, and hopefully find a way to pull some aside for a rainy day.  Balancing the budget always depresses me and puts me in a bad mood.  The kids even know it, they come around the corner and see my budget spreadsheet up on the computer and I hear whispers, "Don't go in there, she is paying the bills.  She his going to be in a bad mood."

Now, I can't complain about my husbands pay for I know he is overpaid for what he does.  Also, we both decided at this point in our children's lives that I need to be home, for that explanation click here.  With that being said, like many other middle class families we struggle.  We live by a budget.  We have to make choices over what we really need vs what we want (thus the reason I don't have a cell phone).  Cost of things we need really have outstripped income increases, plus we now have decent size student loan to pay off.  Take all these things and add four kids and we end up with a very tight budget.

A couple of months ago my husband lost a week of pay.  His work decided to change when payday was so instead of getting four weeks pay for September we only ended up getting three weeks of pay.  We were notified in July that this was going to happen, so we had a little time to prepare, but for a family like ours that lives by that budget we found we had to make some changes.  August to October have been rough months for us and I am so thankful that thus far (knock on wood) nothing major and unexpected happened.  I decided to re-evaluate the budget and see what we could cut out or reduce.

In looking at our budget I found that we could reduce our food expenses.  I always feel guilty if someone finds out what we spend on food a month.  Being overweight I know that people live under the conception that a gobble down massive quantities of food.  Most of the time I don't, but I am still self conscious about it.  Before I changed our budget we were spending around $200 a week for our family of six.  Most months, paycheck wise, have me purchasing four weeks of food thus I budget $800 for those months.  There are two months in the year we we get three paychecks in a month and on those months I have to budget for six weeks of food, thus $1200 a month.  That just seems so high and I felt like a guilty, fat cow for spending that much on food.  There had to be a way we could cut that down, right?

At that point I changed our food budget to $150 per week, or $600 per month on a normal month.  I just knew I could find a way to make that work for us.  I am a dietitian so I should be an expert at making a healthy and balanced menu that fit into that budget.  I do want to add here that our food budget contains more than just food.  Our food budget is what we spend on cat litter, dog and cat food, cleaning supplies, paper products, furnace filters, light bulbs. . . . .our food budget is our living budget and doesn't strictly include food.

I do want to say here that my husband and I find it very important to feed our kids as healthy and balanced of a diet as we can.  We try very hard to make sure they get veggies, have fresh fruits, enough calcium to make their bones grow.  We find it very important to show them a variety of foods and cuisines.  I enjoy cooking (when I have the time).  Cooking is really my hobby.  So, with that in mind I set out, determined to feed six people healthy meals on $150 a week!

August, September, and October I followed this budget.  I had this new budget put into my budget spreadsheet for a full year, because I just knew I could make this work!  I knew I could!  Now, here at the end of my third full month I have realized something. . . .I can't do it.

Yep, I am admitting failure here.  I can't find a way to feed all six of us here in Lithia, Florida on $150 a week.  I mean, I could have done it had I compromised some of my principals on feeding my family.  We could have eaten Ramen Noodles for dinner.  We could have had boxed mac n cheese more (and I am talking Save A Lot brand, not Kraft.)  I could have feed them bologna sandwiches and Bar S hot dogs.  Doing these things would have allowed us to fit in that budget.  I came close to fitting in that budget even with the menus I made, but the balance just wasn't there.  My girls actually told me at one point that if they had to eat another PB and J sandwich for lunch that they would run away. 

I was sad this morning as I changed our next years worth of budget to reflect this failure.  In Michigan I could feed us all for $150 a week - heck usually less.  Down here in Florida I purchase way less "extras".  I don't know when I purchased ice cream last.  Honestly can't remember.  I did by a box of FlavorIce Popsicles at the beginning of the summer, but normally we just make our own popciles if we want some.  Popcorn and apples really are our snacks of choice (and when I say popcorn I don't mean microwave popcorn, I get the bag of kernels for $1.79 at Wal-Mart and we pop them).  I was just so demoralized over not being able to do this on that budget.  It seems like everyone else can feed their families on much less money than I spend.

So, being the geek I am, and really trying to find some way to not change that budget number, I started searching for average food costs and what a family our size should spend of food.  Even with our $800 budget we don't get everything we need.  Personally, I choose to go hungry vs eating the fruit that our kids love so much.  Milk and cheese are saved for the kids and I take my calcium pills.  I have to be doing something wrong in order to be spending so much money on food for my family since no one else I know seems to spend that much.

After looking at meal plans and menus, that really contain more expensive items than we even purchase I finally came across something that made me feel better, a USDA chart of what people/families should be spending on balanced menus in the United States.  These charts use several different menu plans that were set up by the USDA.  The mixed together the different costs of these plans and the needs of people in certain age groups and they figured out how much a family/person would have to spend in order to meet all their nutrient needs.  Being me I am sure you can guess what I did.

OK - so my family of six on my old budget spent $866 a month on food (I took our entire year food budget and divided by 12), and the new budget I had made put us at $650 a month on food.  Looking at the charts and the different levels of feeding your family (thrifty, low cost, moderate cost, and liberal), the USDA had determined that to feed a family of six a healthy, balanced menu (having to purchase all food like we have to - we have no garden and we do not hunt) we should be spending from $897 to $1781 (I took the family of four with the ages of one twin and Evelyn and added the single cost of the second twin and Gable).  So, even with our more expensive budget (that again isn't just food but includes everything we need to live) we still do not spend what the USDA says we need to spend to feed our family a healthy, balanced diet.  This honestly made me feel better about what I was spending.  I don't feel so guilty about having to change our budget to be more reasonable for our family. 

I do feel sad though.  I know when we were living on that $150 a week budget there were things we had to do to keep our kids from being hungry that weren't the healthiest.  When the meal was over, we were out of bananas and apples and the kids where hungry we resorted to more bread and butter or bread and mayo than I would have liked.  I will say, I know a lot of people who have to spend less money on food than we do (like we did these last few months because of that lost week in September), and they don't have the luxury of being able to go in and go back to the higher budget.  We only had to do this for a few months, for many people this is their life.  I can totally understand how being poor can lead to obesity. . . . . apples and bananas fill you up with less calories than bread and butter or bread and mayo - yet a three pound bag of apples down here is $6, while a loaf of bread at Wal-Mart is $1.50, and margarine is around a $1 a pound.

Needless to say I feel less guilty putting our budget in November back to what it was in June, and I don't feel as bad about what we do spend because it is important to us to feed our family a healthy diet (and I am thankful that most of the time we have the luxury of being able to afford to feed them healthy foods).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gratitude. . .

The last year and a half of missing Grandma has been hard.  She is not someone I will ever "get over" - she was too big in my life for that.  It still seems, a year and a half out, that on a daily basis I think of her and miss her.  Not having her around to talk to really is like losing a piece of myself.  With that being said, at this point I just feel a tremendous amount of gratitude.  I feel so grateful that I get to grieve for her.

Now, please don't think this means I am glad she is gone, because I am not.  If I could get Grandma back the way she was 10 years ago I would do just about anything to do it.  The last couple of years for Grandma were hard for her.  I wouldn't want to elongate that for her - not being able to see or hear - being scared because she couldn't see or here - and being frustrated because she couldn't take care of her family anymore.  I know how hard that was for her.

I feel gratitude because I had someone like her in my life.  I know many people who have lost those they loved.  They grieve.  They miss that person very much.  I myself have lost people I cared about and I miss them, but somehow the loss of them was different from the loss of Grandma.  Grandma was always that one person who could bring me joy and happiness.  She was that one person who always made me realize everything was going to be OK.  She was that one person who accepted me for who I am.  She never criticized who I was (although she did let me know if she thought I was doing something that was wrong).  From the time of my birth she was my rock.  When life was hell and crazy and I had times where I didn't know if I could continue another day Grandma was always there and the same.  Grandma's house was my haven - filled with joy and love because she made it that way.

I feel gratitude because I know not everyone has someone in their life like my Grandma.  It was a privilege to have her in my life.  In my prayers I thank God for giving her to me and even though this grieving process sucks, even though there are moments where the pain is still so strong I can't even stand, I know how lucky I am to have had someone like her in my life.  I am so grateful to be able to grieve for her.  True saddness would be living my life and never having someone like her in it.

Thank you God for giving me my Grandma. . . .

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gabe's menu idea - meatless. . . .

First - before I get much further - I want to say I have a beer in me and no dinner (and it is 10pm) - so I hope this comes out coherent! 

Last week Gabe said, "I want to become a vegetarian."  Now - I like meat.  My husband likes meat.  I find I need some protein or I really don't feel very good, but I saw that line as a challenge.  Anyone who knows me and knows our "Eating like the World" expedition (which is way too expensive to do in Tampa, Florida) knows that I try to jump into these food challenges with gusto!  I love looking for and trying new recipes.  So, I decided to try to go vegetarian for the next two weeks (OK - it is only 12 days).  Then I told the family. . . . .

Evie cried and said, "I will DIE without meat."  Nick said, "Ummm. . . . I like meat."  Lucy just started crying.  Ellie ignored me (if she pretends to not hear what I say than it won't be true).  Gabe - he had my favorite reaction of all. . . "What?  No!  I just meant I wanted to eat canned peaches for dinner every night." 

So I researched foods and here is the menu I came up with.  A few recipes I have done before, but many are knew.  Some of recipes would take chicken well if the family revolts on me and demands meat (grocery shopping Lucy told everyone how "mean" I was because I wasn't going to let her eat meat anymore!).  I will let you guys know which recipes are yummy!

Sunday - Salad
Monday - Creamy Avacado Pasta
Tuesday - Portabella Mushroom burgers with French fries and veggies.
Wednesday - Black Bean Burritos (my birthday!) and carrot cake
Thursday - Spinach Soup with Beer Bread
Friday - Three cheese EggPlant Lasagna with homemade garlic bread
Saturday - Cacio e Pepe Pasta
Sunday - Black Bean Burgers with homemade french fries
Monday - Portabella Phillies with chips.
Tuesday - Broccoli Pesto Pasta
Wednesday - Spaghetti Aglio
Thrusday - Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Feta
Friday - Grandma's Casserole (not vegetarian)
Saturday - Goulash (not Vegetarian)
Sunday - Braised chicken, pasta, green beans (not vegetarian)

I had loads of desserts I didn't make this last few weeks so I just put them on this menu here and there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The new witch hunt. . . . . .

When I was younger I heard of the Salem Witch trials, where people went around and hunted down those who they believed where witches.  In my lifetime I have seen several other witch trials.  For a while it was those who were homosexual.  For a while it was those who smoked.  Now it is those who are obese.

I come at this blog from two different perspectives that have kind of merged together to give me my opinion on weight, health and obesity.  Those who know me know that I am a dietitian.  Yep - I graduated with distinction from Purdue University, had I had Purdue's equivalent of Summa Cum Laude.  I have practiced the field for over 10 years.  I know how bad obesity is for the human body.  On the other side of the coin I come at this as someone who has been overweight my entire life, according to weight charts, and now I am obese.

I will say first of all that being obese is not healthy.  It just isn't.  My biggest issue is just how much emphasis is put on those numbers - weight and BMI.  After reading about Jennifer Livingston and the email that was sent to her I feel I really need to write this blog.  I need to write it for those who struggle with weight and for those who have never had to struggle with weight.  I need to write this as a medical professional who sees that this country is heading down a dangerous path where people are going to be forced into costly and dangerous surgeries, and where inadequate health care is offered to those who are considered obese.

We, as a country, need to stop focusing on a number.  BMI, weight, ideal body weight - that is all a bunch of garbage in my opinion.  They are guidelines and should be used as that, not set in stone goals that everyone needs to focus on.   These are good tools to see how someone is doing - but they should not be used as the end all be all.

Here are a few things I have learned in my practice.  First - BMI fluctuates dramatically with small changes in height and weight (this is especially true in children).  I can't tell you how many panic-ed parents I would have to see who were told there 3 year old was fat and needed to be put on a diet because their BMI put them above the 95%-ile on a growth grid, and then when you analyze it you find they were about to shoot up in height.  

Second - obesity is more complicated that it just being a choice that someone has made (as the person who wrote to Jennifer Livingston stated).  Do obese people eat more than they should, well heck yes.  That is how your body has excess calories to store as fat.  We all know that, but at the same time it is more complicated than that.  Someone who is overweight may make very healthy food choices yet they can still be overweight.  Someone who is overweight my exercise on a daily basis and do their best to live an active life.  To be honest - with the exception of the morbidly obese people I have met, most of the people I know who eat like garbage and never/rarely exercise are super thin people.  A lot of people who are functionally overweight/obese have metabolisms set so low that it doesn't take much to exceed the calories they need in a day - even when they do exercise.  I can say from experience, it his hard to function on 800-1200 calories a day without being totally starved.

Going along with the above statement - "choosing" to not be obese anymore is more complicated that choosing to no longer take part in other unhealthy "choices".  You can wake up one day and decided to quit smoking or drinking, you can't wake up and say "OK, I am not going to be obese anymore" and the just not be obese.  Unlike quitting smoking or drinking - you can't just stop eating.  If you stop eating you die.  It would be like the alcoholic who continues to drink yet controls the amount he/she drinks.  It takes a lot longer than just deciding to do it.

Third - going back to numbers again - those numbers should be a GUIDE.  I am five feet tall exactly.  My ideal body weight should be from 90 to 110 pounds.  The lowest weight I have ever seen as an adult was 114 pounds, and you would think that is when I should have been my healthiest.  Well I wasn't.  My body hated being that weight.  Every time I stood up I would get light headed, and occasionally pass out.  When ever I was stressed my body would dump too much insulin into my blood stream and I would have a seizure caused by quick drops in my blood glucose levels.  I was the most un-healthy I have ever been in my life.  My body was happy and healthy right around 130 pounds.  At 130 pounds I "overweight".

Fourth - you never know why someone is overweight.  Never.  Maybe that person you saw just had a baby and is working on losing that weight.  Maybe that person you see actually just lost 100#'s and is working hard to lose more.  You don't know.  I know before I had kids it was much easier to lose weight.  I could spend 2 hours at the gym everyday.  It was much easier to keep calories super low and monitor what I eat.  After kids there are times where they day flies by and I realize it is 6 pm and I have eaten nothing.  Instead of just having a piece of chicken and dry rice I have to prepare a variety of foods for my children to try.  My, for a long time, was on preparing gluten free/casein free meals so my son could eat something.  There is no way I could spend two hours a day at the gym.  Finally, I know for me I spent 51 weeks on bed rest between my three pregnancies.  51 weeks laying there watching myself get fatter and weaker.  It was worth it, because if I hadn't done that I wouldn't have my four children, but it was hard and my body has not ever gone back.

Fifth - some people lose weight easier than others.  Yep - this is true.  I know, a calorie is a calorie and if you just cut back on what you eat and exercise more then you can lose weight.  That is true to a certain extent, but every body is different.  In general, those who are younger have an easier time losing weight.  In general, men have an easier time losing weight.  But on top of those things - some peoples makeup just makes losing weight harder or easier.  Some bodies, once a person starts cutting back on calories and increasing activity, automatically lower what they need to function on.  Thus, you can get a person who is eating less and exercising more and still gaining weight.  I know people who just decide to lose weight and they just lose it.  Small changes make a big difference.  I know others who work and work at it and still don't lose any weight.  I even know people who try to gain weight but just can't - no matter what they do.  Every body is different.

Sixth - no matter what there will still be some people who are overweight.  There are people - like me to be honest - who will never have a BMI less than 25.  Their body is not meant to be there.  It is not healthy for their body to be there.  I have a photo of my Great Grandmother and my Great-Great Grandmother (her mother) - they weren't morbidly obese but they were not small people.  They were active, hardworking people but their body was meant to be more stately than what a doctor's chart would have dictated they be.  This is what scares me about using that BMI as the end all be all for determining the health of a person - it should be a guide not a set in stone marker.

Here is what I think we should do - focus on health.  Eat right.  Yep - eat right.  Eat 3 meals a day.  Eat 5-7 fruits and veggies.  Limit simple sugars and high fats.  Try to eat fresh foods.  Get some calcium for your bones.  Then, exercise.  Get a good pedometer (the Omron HJ-112 is my favorite), and yes, make it a good one that doesn't count jiggles as a step, and make sure you walk at least 10,000 steps each day.  Make it a goal.  Find an exercise you like and do it 3-5 days a week.  Jogging, bike riding, swimming. . . be more active.  Have regular physicals.  Check your blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.  Use that along with your body weight/BMI to determine what your health is.  Try to stop smoking and drink only in moderation.  Focus on your health not the numbers on a scale!

Here is what really scares me - and this is a true story.  The former insurance company my husband had has implemented a new system this year (I still have friends who have this inusrance).  At the start of their year you were weighed and analyzed.  Each employee has six months to get their BMI down to the number they said you need to be at.  If you do not get your BMI down to that number then you have two choices - you undergo gastric bypass surgery or you have to take the more costly insurance that doesn't cover as much.  I have a friend who is about 50 pounds overweight.  She is very tall and large framed.  Even when she was thin she wasn't in that "BMI range" that the insurance wants her to be in.  She would look very unhealthy at the weight the insurance company demands her to be at.  So her six months are coming near an end and she has not lost those 50  pounds, thus she must either choose between gastric bypass surgery or the inferior insurance.  First - how is this legal to force someone to have a major surgery?  Second - losing 50 pounds in 6 months is a lot of weight - and in my opinion, very difficult to lose in a healthy way.

So this is the way I see it going.  People and the medical community will still focus on the number on the scale or your pants size.  Going out in public obese will be an ordeal - and God forbid an obese person try to go to a restaurant (I have already heard possible bills making it illegal to sell obese people fast food or junk food).  Instead of trying to get a population healthy we will be persecuting them and forcing them to undergo dangerous surgeries, or dropping them from health insurance all together.  I just see this going down a path that is just as unhealthy as the path we are on now. . . .