My go to lunch – Fried Chicken, macroni salad, and rice and peas underneath

(two weeks ago)

Peace Corps Nurse: “Jedd, I don’t like that number, you are borderline for high blood pressure?”

Me: “What?”

It didn’t make any sense to me. Michelle and I workout 6 times a week in the morning, going against my Myers Brigg personality type that would rather sleep in and work out when I feel like it. I’ve lost weight since moving to Jamaica (which is an incredible feat in itself because of the tasty, sugary, starchy, and fatty food). I’m pretty sure I weigh less than what I weighed in college.

So how could I be borderline for high blood pressure?

Nurse: “Are you sleeping well?” “Are you anxious about anything?”

Me: “Been sleeping ok and feeling ok.”

Nurse: “Are you eating a lot of salt in your diet?”

Me: “So fried chicken twice a week and adding salt to other meals isn’t a good thing?”

I’m an emotional eater. I eat when I feel like it, and I eat what I feel like eating. There’s never been a science to me regarding what I ate. I love to eat and I eat what gives me pleasure. Looking back at this past summer, I went through a stressful time running summer camps and I think I coped with my stress with eating. Did I think about the consequences for what I ate? I didn’t really think too much about it till recently. A warning for high blood pressure was a good wake-up call for me, I needed to make a change.

When Michelle and I committed our lives to the principles of a simpler more intentional life, we wanted to focus on all aspects including what we eat. You’re probably thinking that quitting fried chicken and reducing salt in my diet should be easy, and in some ways it is…if your are intentional. It took a lot of time for me to realize that I’ve had a very unhealthy, unintentional attitude towards food.

We watched a season of Biggest Loser recently and it made me realize that we often overlook or desensitize ourselves to our own personal issues. We know they exist but we distract ourselves, lie to ourselves that things aren’t that bad. No one wants to believe that they are hurting themselves.

At my heavies 188 lbs and now currently 167 lbs
At my heavies 188 lbs and now currently 167 lbs

And that’s the problem with eating. The consequences of our decisions are usually delayed, out of sight, and out of mind. It’s only when we are face-to-face with difficult facts about our health- or worse, a chronic diagnosis or medical emergency- do we really see the result of all of the neglect and denial that we’ve used as excuses to not making any changes in our lives.

Back to the fried chicken.

Jamaicans will tell you that their beloved national dish is ackee (a type of fruit that looks and almost tastes like scrambled eggs when cooked) and salt fish (imported from Canada or Europe and, yes, very salty).

Ackee and Saltfish
Ackee and Saltfish

Though of course they are technically right, I like to argue with a lot of my Jamaican friends that their national dish should be fried chicken and rice and peas. Go to any restaurant or cookshop and it will be rare to find Ackee and Saltfish on the menu. However, everyone is cooking fried chicken with rice and peas because they know a lot of Jamaicans love it. It’s comfort food. It’s also a hard meal to pass up. For the equivalent of $2USD I can get a fried chicken lunch delivered to me. It tastes great and it’s filling.

Jamaican Fried Chicken & Hawaii Fried Chicken (katsu)
Jamaican Fried Chicken & Hawaii Fried Chicken (katsu)

Side note: Before moving to Jamaica I ate fried chicken maybe once or twice a year. I never even found it appealing on a menu. At one period in Jamaica I was eating it 2-3 times a week, which is typical for Jamaicans, but a huge increase for me. 

It’s even more dangerous for me because I grew up in Hawaii eating plate lunches like this. It reminds me of home and I love it. Lots of meat, lots of rice, macroni salad with mayo, and a small, ridiculous side/after-thought of some sort of pickled vegetables. It’s no wonder that both the people of Hawaii and Jamaica struggle with high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

That is why for the months of October and November, Michelle and I have committed to a “fast” of some sorts, a challenge.  The challenge is to prove to ourselves that we are in control of our actions and our decisions when it comes to food. We have to make difficult, intentional choices that create good habits and rid ourselves of the bad ones. We intentionally chose a specific amount of time for this challenge in order to make it achievable and realistic. Once we reach that point, it will be time for a new set of goals. Notice we also haven’t completely eliminated things all together. Fasting does not always mean starving. We are just trying to be intentional about what we eat, how much we eat, and why we eat.

Here are some things that we are doing:

– No fried food
– No added salt to our cooking
– Reducing portion sizes
– No added sugar
-Eating fruit instead of chocolate for dessert
– Working out six times a week
– Cutting back on carbs