The American diet

As I watched President Obama’s speech — in which he described the economic downturn as a “body-blow” to America — in Austin today, I was hit by the idea that what America really needs is a diet. Not just the kind where we eat more vegetables and trim trans fats (although that would be a good thing, too) but a total lifestyle diet. We’ve got to overhaul our thinking about money — how we make it, spend it and save it — as well as how we get to where we want to go in life — education, carbon footprints, the golden rule. After all, how did America get into this modern mess we’re in? Excess. Excess. Excess. And never raising our gaze to look over the horizon to tomorrow.

Everywhere you look now the mantra is how to save money, cut back and live within our means. Implicit in this is an acknowledgement that we weren’t before. Like a sugar addicts, we’ve been mindlessly polishing off cartons of ice cream in front of the big-screen plasma TV we couldn’t afford. Never thinking about tomorrow when the bill comes and we can’t button our pants. Meanwhile, we ask ourselves, “How did those extra pounds sneak up on me?”

It’s common knowledge that the resting state of a person is, well, resting. At least in America, anyway. We don’t move without motivation. We don’t change without pain. And we look upon doing the right thing — living in your means, saving for tomorrow, getting enough sleep, eating right, exercise, etc. — as square. But I ask you, where’s the rebellion gotten us? Gotten me? Gotten you?

I am just as guilty as anyone. I had to pay for my crimes, by which I mean pay off my credit card debt. (And I had to literally diet, too. I know of what I speak about the eating of the ice cream.) But now that I’ve decided to be a grown-up, a square (and live by example for my daughter), I realize that all that flailing about and rebellion from “The Man,” or whatever, was so much bullshit. We only hurt ourselves. We whine about how we’re deprived. We whine that we deserve it “just this once” or “because I work hard.” Bullshit.

We let our desires for things — the newest iPhone, fashion craze, tricked-out car, luxury home furnishings … whatever — own us. We let desire own us. We let the things we own, own us, too. We call shopping cardio. We call the new car “my baby.” Instead of the desire fueling our work ethic (to make enough to afford things, rather than borrow from tomorrow with interest), we rationalize that we’ll be good later.

Well, judging by the headlines and the lines at the unemployment office, foreclosure signs and the moving trucks headed out of town — later is today.

What I think is interesting about the changes people are making (myself included) is that in the end, people say it wasn’t so hard. Sometimes it’s even easy. In the end, you do the things your supposed to do — including eating your vegetables — because it makes you feel good, healthier, less stressed, saner.

I’ve never, ever been a morning person or a dieter. But since my baby was born I’ve had no choice but to get up pretty early every day. I can’t believe it’s true — but it feels like sleeping in to sleep past 6 am. And now I’m going on walks in the morning with the baby. And I try to eat healthy because everything I eat, she eats (because I’m breastfeeding). And this morning I thought, “This isn’t so hard. You just do it.” (Sorry, I don’t mean to borrow the Nike slogan. But it fits.) And that’s it. You just shut up and do it. You just get out of bed and do it. You just quit your bitching and excuse-making and lace up your sneakers. You just put down the candy bar and pick up a banana. You just stop buying crap you don’t need. You just do it. That’s all there is to it. Enough already! Do it!

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