From the Archives: Christmas Cigarettes

December 11, 2007 | 25 comments
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Imagine that universally-respected researchers had determined that most of the people in your community eat too much sugar and fat, and are at serious risk of developing diabetes, hardened arteries, and other ailments associated with poor diet and inadequate exercise. If you were to live in such a community, how much sugar-filled and fat-laden goodies would you give your neighbors at Christmastime?

Much of the food we eat has negative utility — the world would be better off if it were packed into trash cans instead of our arteries and derriers. For that reason I now throw away junk food. For example, after a party, when the cake and ice cream have served their purpose (drawing people together to celebrate) I believe the best end for the remaining half of the delicious cake is to wallow in a landfill. (I suppose that it would make decent compost for a garden, but I have neither garden nor compost pile.)

We are complicit in each other’s poor eating habits; it’s not coincidental that oversized pants aren’t randomly distributed across families or across nations. It seems we must take responsibility for the ways we make our neighbors less healthy, just as we must begin to recognize the impact we have on each other’s consumption habits (excessive debt and bankruptcies aren’t randomly distributed, either, but that’s a topic for another day.)

At least this is the dilemma I’m chewing as I consider what to give to our neighbors along with copies of Mr. Krueger’s Christmas.

[Note: The original discussion of this post can be found here.]

25 Responses to From the Archives: Christmas Cigarettes

  1. Geoff B on December 11, 2007 at 5:48 am

    Matt, this is one of the reasons my wife and I give our neighbors home-baked wheat bread for Christmas. They universally love it.

  2. Mark B. on December 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

    Bah! Humbug!

    If you have more cakes and pies and tortes and chocolate this season, double your exercise and reduce the amount of whole grain cereals and broccoli that you eat.

    If we cannot enjoy eating, why bother?

  3. Adam Greenwood on December 11, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Matt E.,
    did you get the cigar I sent you to celebrate Ann’s birth? Hope you liked it.

  4. Cordeiro on December 11, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Matt:

    Here’s the bottom line for you. Active, Temple Recommend holding Church Members do not smoke, drink, do recreational drugs or have pre or extra marital sex. As vices go, that leaves food.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make a sinful batch of fudge.

  5. mlu on December 11, 2007 at 11:15 am

    f we cannot enjoy eating, why bother?

    This was almost exactly what an overweight friend of mine said to me, over one of the delightful lunches he fixed for me, about two weeks before he died. Of course, he was going to die anyway, sooner or later.

    I think giving food is like giving material gifts generally. It was more meaningful before the glut of too much, which has replaced scarcity as our worst problem. We haven’t yet developed the appropriate habits and traditions.

  6. Ardis Parshall on December 11, 2007 at 11:26 am

    The price of commenting on a post like this should be honest disclosure of one’s own weight. Starting with comment 7.

  7. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    6’4″ 240#’s :-)

    Eating a lot of highly refined carbohydrates or processed foods the odd day or two (Christmas, birthday, etc.) isn’t a bad thing. It is what we are doing the other 355 or so days that will do us in.

    That said, I can say developing a severe gluten intolerence as you get older is very helpful for your will power to resist most treats.

  8. Sam B. on December 11, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    5’9″, ~135 lbs.

    In the cookbook Once Upon a Tart, one of the restauranteurs/cookbook authors (French by birth) says that sometimes people come into his restaurant and ask if any of the muffins (or scones–I’m at work now, so I can’t look it up) are low-fat. He says he picks one up, breaks it in half, and hands it to the person.

    There is nothing at all wrong with food with high fat or sugar content, as long as we eat it responsibly (even if we don’t eat responsibly a couple days a year). Seriously, eat well, but don’t eat too much, and if you eat too much, exercise more. That, plus genetics, will keep you happy, healthy, and thin forever!

  9. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    5’8″ 145 lbs. Five children and mid-thirties. Low LDL and triglyceride levels and low blood pressure (don’t have my actual stats handy and I don’t feel like digging them out right now). Just a few years ago my triglycerides were high and sow was my LDL. I was also, at least, 30 pounds overweight.

    I have been off of sugar, gluten and dairy for about 7 months now and have shed a ton of weight. I did this because I almost died a few years ago from septic shock and pneumonia and my health has never been the same since. But, since I’ve cut out sugar and bad fats, my quality of life has increased and my immune system is back in action. I have only been sick twice in 7 months and neither illness knocked me out (the years previous I had pneumonia 4 times).

    Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels imo. And I disagree with # 7 that pigging out during the holidays won’t hurt you. A lot of people are addicted to sugar (why not? its in almost everything we eat-just look at the labels) and, as with any addiction, once you have a little you end up eating a lot and continue to crave and eat it in greater amounts. Sugar lowers our ability to fight infection and helps us pack on the pounds. Thus we start the year on a low ebb and spend the other months playing health catch up. Overweight is just a symptom of an out of whack immune system and a diseased body.

    But I haven’t given up treats for the holidays. I enjoyed a sugar free, gluten free pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and even my sugar loving husband couldn’t tell there wasn’t any sugar in it. I will be baking “sugar” cookies and I bought some fabulous chocolate online that was sugar free. I don’t use Splenda (sucralose), aspartame, or saccharine because those are just as nasty as sugar. I do use stevia, raw yacon syrup, erythritol and xylitol as my sugar substitutes and have had a lot of success. Instead of refined fats I use unrefined coconut oil, ghee, and butter to cook with.

    So I still enjoy eating but my tastes have changed. And if its a choice between living and dying-or having goog health-I will always pick the living. A candy bar might taste good but it isn’t worth dying for. And this is not a dramatic overstatement. Look at people with heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases and you can see a direct link to their diet and nutrition.

    Some books to check out (might make great stocking stuffers):

    Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus
    The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates

  10. Mark B. on December 11, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    6’1″, 175.

    When I get tired of sweets (and I do), I try to recover by having a nice, well-marbled steak, broiled on the short side of rare, with a creamy sauce (I’d have to find my wife’s recipe for that), a baked potato with butter and sour cream, some vegetables on the side–string beans sound pretty good.

    I suppose if I had this every meal I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

  11. Santa on December 11, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    6’1″, and a real tub of lard

    I’m filling out my lists of naughty and nice right now, so I’m glad to learn what Matt Evans thinks of me.

    Generally speaking, hair shirts don’t look good on Mormons.

  12. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Oh, and by the way, I have twin babies and haven’t been on any kind of exercise regime these past 7 months during my weight loss. And I continue to lose. And eat a lot of food too. Genetics and exercise can have an influence on our weight but diet and nutrition is even more important. The classic advice of “eat less, exercise more” is failing our nation (as is evidenced by the plethora of obese and morbidly obese). Makes me think of the Robbie Williams song Millenium: “Overdose at Christmas, give it up for lent.”

  13. greenfrog on December 11, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    6’3″, 178

    Drawing our attention to things that we usually don’t notice is an entirely good thing.

    Thanks, Matt.

  14. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    HFC,

    A few days of indulgence over the course of the year will not harm most people. Your premise that I am wrong because they will become addicted and not be able to resist the rest of the year is the opposite of what I said. Because if they do what you said and over indulge more than a few occasions, then they are going to be doing it more than the odd couple of days a year.

    Your issue speaks more to will power, and then yes, I would agree. Everybody needs to find out what works for them, and for some, having none is way easy then having a little. The problem though is when we assume our personal restraints are the correct ones for everyone, when they more than likely are not.

    And I still am 6’4”, but given I am going to lunch the 240# part may change.

  15. greenfrog on December 11, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    These days, I don’t think of my (vegetarian, no sugar, low starch) diet as some kind of self-denial that calls for periodic induglence any more than I think of my monogamy as a kind of self-denial that calls for a libertine Mardi Gras.

    I did, however, live for years with the practice of dieting for a few months to lose weight, then gradually regaining it, then returning to dieting, etc.

    I found it is simply easier to change my diet entirely, precisely to avoid the denial/indulgence cycle.

  16. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    TStevens,

    I used to believe the way you did. And I used to believe in using sheer will power to diet and I thought that there must have been something wrong with me spiritually/emotionally/ mentally when I would binge after having a brownie. I thought Dr. Phil and his ilk had the answers. I continued to fail and I continued to be heavy and overweight despite my best intentions and will directed resolutions (exercise and eating “low-fat”). It does take will power to initially swear off bad fats and sugars but once you do it life becomes a lot easier. I actually do not crave sugar or fast food anymore (seriously!) which leads me to believe that the consumption of these foods causes the cravings. There is a direct link to additives (like MSG), bad fats (notice that I don’t say all fats. I do eat saturated, monosaturated and essential fats) sugars and a reason commercials use the idea of “once you pop you can’t stop.”

    I am not an advocate of victimization but I also think the issue of health, cravings and addictions is much more complicated than we think it is. Depending on a persons biochemistry, genetics, and other factors there are people that can indeed have “a little” and also have a high metabolism and never get heavy. I had a mission companion who used to eat candy all of the time and was as skinny as a rail. Still, it doesn’t mean that they are healthy or that they won’t get a degenerative disease from years of “having a little” (or a lot as in my companions case). A lot of people think that “smoking a little” (and there are people who smoke socially-before my husband met me he was a social smoker. Of course after he met me he stopped and is now a good member of the church! :-)) won’t hurt either. Maybe they won’t have as much damage as a 5 pack a dayer but they still will have damage and problems.

    I do not think my “personal restraints” are correct for everyone. Many people can eat dairy and gluten but I can’t because of some intoerances I am working through. But I do think refined sugar, trans-fats, and unhealthy food perservatives, pesticides and additives are toxic. Sugar is not a food- it is a poison and a drug. Perhaps you can find some research on this and prove me wrong, but what I’ve researched has shown that refined sugars and starches feed cancer cells and repress the immune system.

    I do miss the social aspects of eating what others eat and the memories and feelings connected to certain foods. Like I said there are people who can have a little and not have an issue with that but, in my experience, these individuals are an anomaly and not the norm in our “Fast Food Nation.”

    Oh, and I agree with you-everyone does need to find what works for them. But it is interesting to note that there are certain factors that contribute to good health. Severely limiting refined sugar and starches, bad fats, and other toxins (according to research and anecdotal evidence-like my own and my father and SIL who have cancer) seems to be one of them.

    But to get back to the initial post here-I am not the “sweet Nazi”. At a recent party I had a selection of treats and chips (I did choose baked chips though) because I knew that thats what was socially expected. I also had some sugar free and healthy options for people like me. I try to cook healthy meals for my family but my kids still get some treats in their advent calendar. My husband eats what he wants and often has a Kozy Shack pudding. Thats his choice. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own temples and you can’t force healthy choices although you can make them available. But when I can I try to take the non-sweets route when giving gifts to others or neighbors.

  17. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    HFC,

    Can you please explain to me what I believe, because after that last post I am totally confused. I used to think I knew me, but I guess not.

  18. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    I should have written: “as you do”:

    “Eating a lot of highly refined carbohydrates or processed foods the odd day or two (Christmas, birthday, etc.) isn’t a bad thing. It is what we are doing the other 355 or so days that will do us in.”

    Isn’t that what you believe and isn’t that what we were debating?

  19. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Maybe I am just a confusing person, let me try this:

    HFC the true irony is if we were to compare our diets I would wager aside from personal flavor preferences and caloric intake (given the discrepancy between our body masses), they would be pretty much the same.

    I disagree that sugar is inherently bad (or toxic as you say). I also disagree that if a few days a year I chose to have something very heavy in sugar (like key lime pie on my birthday), but eat quite well the other 360 days I am doing something harmful to my body.

    I do agree that the abuse of refined carbohydrates, like sugar for example, is probably the biggest issue behind the obesity problem today. And I agree with you if people were to limit the intake of refined carbohydrates they would be healthier and generally better off. I also agree that things like sugar can be as addictive as other more well known substances, and simple will power will not be enough to control it for some, if not a majority of people.

    But the most upsetting thing in your post was the inference that I am “with” Dr. Phil. Even though I did my undergraduate work in Family Science and Psychology with the intention of becoming a therapist; the four years working in the juvie jails changed my path. :-)
    So I would say in response the original post, that the odd COUPLE days a year will not be harmful to you overall if you are able to eat intelligently the REST of the year. If you are not, then adjust accordingly. And yes, I also agree with HFC that you should take the time to offer healthier choices where and when you can. Just don’t be the house giving out toothbrushes and floss at Halloween – nobody likes those people.

  20. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    LOL I in no way meant to infer that you were like Dr. Phil or “with” him. I was talking about my own experience at that point and failed to make a demarcation (kind of busy with these twins). Sorry about the miscommunication-guess I was confusing too! I had his weight-loss and self matters books and found them to be completely irrelevent to my health struggle because of this idea that we always binge because of emotional reasons. My experience has shown that food addictions have a lot more to do with the body than the mind. And that is all. I had no idea you were in the same profession!! .-) But I did think you didn’t believe in sugar addiction and I wanted to make the point that it does indeed exist.

    Its fine that we disagree about refined sugar. I know that our bodies break everything down into sugar anyway so sugars and sugar alcohols are necessary and vital to our body processes- but there is research that has shown that REFINED (not shouting just not an html girl) sugars and starches feed pathogens, viruses, Candida Albicans, bacteria and cancer cells and raise blood sugar to an unhealthy level causing the organs to work harder. Refined sugar is not a food and since it has been refined it is completely denuded of mineral and nutritional content. What is it then if not a poison? Especially considering the havoc it plays on our bodies and how it feeds illness?

    And YES you are technically right that if it was ONLY on Christmas day or birthdays when people gorged on this stuff then it would be okay. But does that really happen? I have not known anyone that could only confine indulgences to a couple of days a year. Like greenfrog said most people are in a cycle of denial and indulgence. And if we always say “a little bit won’t hurt” on these days then isn’t it easier to keep doing it throughout the year? A little bit becomes a lot eventually. I know I have an extreme view on this (and my husband hates this view! lol) but by holding to it I have regained my health and watched as other people are recover from extreme illness.

    Don’t worry. I don’t give out dental floss. We gave out playdough and pencils last Halloween and my kids thought it was great!!!

  21. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Don’t worry, I know what you meant, and I am not in Dr. Phil’s profession. I actually manage a cook book for a living.

    Generally speaking, I only eat my refined carbs within the 1-2 hour window of working out, and then it is usually two slices of Ezikiel bread toast, or peanut butter. If I want something like chocolate I reserve it for that time as well, but by the time I wait for my next workout (5 am the next day) I find I don’t really want any. But a few days a year I just throw caution to the wind, but even then that meant sugar free trifle (except for the custard) and mashed potatoes to go with my dinner at Thanksgiving.

    Like I said though, the gluten intolerance I developed with age has really helped in avoiding the wheat based treats. No cookie is worth the hours of pain it will cause.

  22. Health Food Convert on December 11, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    LOL I didn’t know Ezekial bread was refined. If I take enough digestive enzymes I can tolerate their sprouted wheat tortillas. Sounds like you are one of the few that can limit indulgences so I stand corrected of my broad and sweeping generalizations. :-) Being intolerant to wheat isn’t fun though. I know this is a threadjack-but if you manage a cook book which one is it? A website? Okay. Now I really have to get something done.

  23. TStevens on December 11, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    I manage one for a rather large company – over 6,500 recipes. I can pretty much bet that just about all of you have had some of our products.

    I was using the term refined liberally.

  24. Y Stephenson on December 11, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Santa: Your supposed to wear a hair shirt under your clothes. Its supposed to make you itch so you can suffer. I guess it serves the same purpose as eating all those great tasting things that are verboten. I love cookies and pastry. I hate that they are made with lard and shortening because that is what makes them taste so good. Low sugar recipes usually compensate by adding sugar in some form just to make them palatable. But, I cooked for a l juvenile diabetic for years so I know how its done, I just don’t what to do it anymore. So what did my doc tell me after my last visit? Limit the cholesterol. I have been working out nearly every day for the past 5 years and it has always been fine until this year. Limit cheese, don’t eat cashers or macadamia nuts, nothing made with coconut oil or other polyunsaturated fats. I hate lettuce. It just isn’t fair that once a year I can’t eat stuff that makes me feel good when the rest of the time it is just a chore that I have to do. I hope there is no food in the next life.

  25. Sarah on December 13, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Ardis: I refuse to comply.

    I wonder whether people in societies that constantly worry about their food and talk about their food and wear their dietary choices on their sleeves manage to have better health. I kind of doubt it. I choose to eat what I feel like eating today (which usually means going about a month between sweets) and be active. I eschew guilt. If I die at 63 instead of 78, at least I’ll have low blood pressure and a smile on my face.