As part of recovery from cardiac bypass surgery, I attend Cardiac Rehab sessions three times a week. These consist mainly of working out on the treadmill, the elliptical thing, those recumbent rowing/bicycling contraptions, and other instruments of mild torture. This is accompanied by oldies from the ’50s and ’60s, and some pleasant geezerly banter with my fellow heart patients. We wear heart monitors and have our blood pressure checked a few times to make sure… well, just to make sure. While I don’t much enjoy exercise, I feel great after the sessions, and I’m getting stronger and more healthy by the day, so the effort is well worth it.
On Thursday mornings, though, we have to be there early for what they call “Education Day.” On those days, pleasant instructors present lectures on such subjects as Cardiac Medication, How your Heart Works (or doesn’t, as the case may be), Cholesterol (it’s a bad thing), and Why Everything You Like To Eat Is Bad For You.
Earnest, wonderful people give these presentations, and, while they’re well-meaning, some of the things they suggest are just completely ludicrous. Not only that, but many of the dietary lectures are the same things you hear from local TV “news” people beginning weeks before any holiday. You know what I mean. They always bring on a Registered Dietician with such profound words of advice as, “When attending that holiday buffet, you can lose weight and stay heart-healthy by shunning the Prime Rib and eating a lettuce leaf instead.” Why didn’t I think of that? Probably because I’m not a Registered Dietician! Or maybe it’s because I’m not entirely divorced from reality.
Yesterday, for example, our lecturer said, “When you go to McDonald’s, instead of having a Big Mac, try some oatmeal, or a yogurt parfait.” Uh-huh. Right. Now, I rarely go to McDonald’s but when I do, it’s not for a yogurt parfait. It’s actually not for a Big Mac either because I just don’t care for them. Well, I don’t think I like them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Big Mac in my life. I don’t like special sauce, I don’t like pickles, I don’t like those insipid, soggy onions McDonald’s uses, and I don’t care much for bright yellow mustard, so a Big Mac is pretty pointless for me. What I do like, though, is their Angus burger with Swiss cheese and mushrooms. And a small order of fries. Ain’t no WAY a yogurt parfait packs the same sort of satisfaction.
Let me clarify: There’s nothing wrong with a yogurt parfait. I like them. But if an Angus Mushroom Swiss McBurger is calling my name, then a yogurt parfait can raise its little hand and yell ooooh! ooooh! pick me! pick me! until it’s blue in the face, and it will be ignored.
This is something Registered Dieticians and Cardiac Rehab instructors just don’t seem to get.
In the lecture on Why Salt Will KILL You, we learned that we shouldn’t eat as much salt as we do. Duly noted. But then they suggest that we substitute for salt stuff like herbs and citrus juice. Again, herbs and citrus juice have their places. But squirting lemon juice on an ear of corn is just plain silly. French fries (okay, I know they should be avoided like the Ebola virus, but again: get real) with a sprinkling of tarragon and some kumquat juice would be great food for the garbage disposal.
“When you go to the movies, and get a big tub of popcorn, the butter-flavored oil it’s doused with has the fat equivalent of eight Big Macs!” That was the shocking statement during a recent session. And that really is just terrible. But so was this suggestion: “Instead, have some air-popped popcorn, with NO butter and NO salt!” Again, where’s the reality? Air-popped popcorn with no butter or salt is very similar to snacking on those styrofoam packing peanuts. So I guess I’ll just pass on the popcorn, and choose the healthful alternative: Milk Duds. “Remember…. always choose the skimmed milk duds!”
Another thing I wish Registered Dieticians and Cardiac Lecturers would understand: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HALF-CUP SERVING OF ICE CREAM. A half-cup of ice cream is a good start, but it does not exist in nature, any more than a steak the size of a deck of cards does. And these nice, earnest people seem to have gotten the idea that a half-cup of ice cream or a 3-ounce steak is going to be just what you need. Actually it is what you need if what you need is frustration.
I say if you’re going to have a pizza, HAVE a pizza. Enjoy it in all its hot, cheesy, pepperoni-y goodness. Then, for the next couple of days, have the healthful stuff. It can be great too: grilled chicken, baked salmon, salad (remember, just dip your fork in the dressing and then spear the salad, or YOU’LL DIE!), or some fruit. Don’t try to substitute pretend food for real food, or you’ll never be satisfied.
But what do I know? I’m not a Registered Dietician.