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19 May, 2015

(Mis)managing a Healthy Lifestyle in Mexico

Posted in : Reflections from the Road on by : nommom

Healthy eating begins at Walmart…said no one, ever.

Until now.

Back in my youth when health and fitness meant balancing calories through exercise and low fat dieting my culinary experiences in Mexico would have had me doing squats in the living room and running miles and miles to burn off the tortillas, rice and cheese that fuel this culture. Starch and sugar are easy to find here; fresh vegetables even harder to procure than most places in the USA. It’s been a struggle to find that balance between eating for health and eating for satisfaction. Woman cannot live by salads alone.

So I have let diet slip a bit. It is very hard to procure information about agricultural practices here; it is not a concern for most people and consumer awareness about healthy eating is about 20 years behind trending nutrition practices in the states (soy oil is healthy, eat more soy…these foods are low in fat and cholesterol, etc). Initially coming into the country I chose to believe that most animals are raised as my family raised theirs: on the open land. However in our travels I have seen what appears to be big ‘free range’ chicken farms (large buildings with probable access to the outdoors but unlikely foraging) – yet the eggs here are mostly consistent with what we encounter from pastured chickens at home: Big neon orange yolks chalk full of carotenoid goodness. The chickens here also have yellow fat and skin. I was told it was because the variety of chicken, but I am inclined to think that this is either signs of carotenoid consumption or it’s an artificial color added during processing or to chicken feed. I have also seen piggies on their way to slaughter, tails docked. That spoke volumes to the extent US agricultural practices have been adopted here.

Artificial colors and flavors are ubiquitous. Preservatives abound. No salsa, dried fruit, cereal, or even bread seems spared from the addition of yellow or red coloring. Our clan has consumed foods I never would condone under normal circumstances and while not panicking, I do feel worse off for it and need of a ‘detox’ of sorts.

When asking the locals, I’ve been told that the meat one buys at the butcher it is more likely to be local and pastured than what one would find in the Super(market). This came from Guanajuato.

It makes sense, as what I am seeing in the stores is unsettling. US meats are prevalent here in Mexico, as well as imports from Canada. A quick google search shows that we import feed to Mexico as well and this means that antibiotics, and possibly hormones in cattle feed, are also going to be the norm. Mexican culture is even more antibiotic obsessed than the USA: expect to find antibacterial agents in dish soap, hand and body wash, laundry detergent, and more. A family member washes her produce in antibacterial soap before cooking. Alternatively, If it smells of bleach it smells of clean. And yes, signs of gut troubles are everywhere as well.

All of this has been demotivating to my own desires for my fitness and health while on these travels. I had a good fitness program going when I left the states; altitude, heat, scheduling challenges and a mild case of what was likely Chikungunya knocked my motivation to its knees and I have been mostly content to just do my best to get 10,000 steps in and try not to think about it. My at-home staples: protein powder, egg whites, oat bran – have been impossible to find or, in the case of protein powder, prohibitively expensive (with prices between $80-$100 USD it is clear that NAFTA doesn’t care about protein powder).

We all have a stress threshold that, once exceeded, leads to what I call the “Fuck-it phenomenon”: that place when, after a hard day or chronic undercare of yourself you just throw in the towel and have that thing -dessert, bottle of wine, shopping spree, etc – that you really don’t need. I said, “F-it” for a couple of weeks, then pulled myself together and focused on the walking when I was feeling strong and maintained my status quo of “where are my veggies, where is my protein” when dining out. I pulled back on treats.  I managed portions when I was in situations where ideal choices were absent. I started holding out for Costa Rica, where I (perhaps naively) believe that healthier foods will be easy to procure and fresh meats and veggies will be more abundant. It has not been easy, especially the last three weeks where we have been in hotels or staying with family.

Today it seems I have a glimpse into a turning point occurring 2 1/2 weeks ahead of schedule – in Mexico City at a freaking Walmart. Things I have given up finding are available just a half mile away. With both Oat Bran and Egg Whites in my cart, I feel an absurd surge in motivation. A massive produce section, even if conventionally grown, fills me with hope. I want to try my hand at a couple of miles in my running shoes and do some bodyweight workouts I have been planning to do all this time. Clearly I hold a belief that, if properly nourished (whatever I judge that to be) my physical efforts will be more rewarding. Energy is still limited for a number of reasons, so I understand this newly uncovered subconscious reasoning, faulty as it is.

What surprises me about all of it is how much it has changed; how much I have changed. Exercise for the sake of exercise itself was motivating enough not so long ago. My standards were firmer and my bar higher.

I’m not terribly disappointed in this change. I think it adequately reflects the ongoing low-level stress of both motherhood and travel. It reflects health challenges that I have been learning about and trying to manage under less than ideal circumstances. It shows a necessary change in priorities from when I was single and living in Southern California.

I know, and have known, that regaining my health and fitness post-baby is going to be essential to me being the best mother I know to be. It has been terribly frustrating to be 18 months post-delivery and still feeling the effects of L+D and be carrying a couple extra kilos. I have been more patient and forgiving of myself than I would have anticipated I am capable of. I will, to some degree, need to continue to exercise this compassion until we return to the states and can enlist the help of friends and family for child care.

But today I have oat bran. So today, I have hope.



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