When many of us were growing up we ate three meals a day, mostly prepared from scratch. We didn't usually buy food on the way home through a drive-up window. And forget about buying fried chicken at the gas station.
Today, you can buy snacks at the gym, in the lobby of your doctor's office, even in the bank lobby. You can ride your bike on the trail, and there is a clutter of food sellers on both sides. You can even anchor your boat in a harbor where they sell doughnuts and sodas from a small boat.
Above all else we are consumers.
We have too many choices and too much "help'' making them.
Supermarkets, the food industry, and restaurant chains tell us what we need, and when to eat and drink. Increasingly, coupons and special deals provide still more incentive to choose food that is terrible for our health.
Most of us know all these processed foods are contributing to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and any number of other ailments. But yet again, marketing comes to the rescue in the form of quick cures offered by doctors, self-proclaimed diet experts, workout programs, supplements, and plans and programs that claim to have the power to change your life.
Almost 27 years ago, while my wife stayed home with our two young children, I drove myself to the emergency room after eating at a potluck dinner where I just had to try everything, plus all the desserts. They found nothing at the ER, but the following week at another hospital I had an angiogram that showed a 95 percent blockage in one of my coronary arteries.
The doctor did an angioplasty and said if I didn't get on a diet and exercise plan I would not live to see my children grow up.
So I row or bike every day, and eat very carefully. But good health isn't as simple as that might sound.
The fact is, eating is seductive. Eating the wrong foods and plenty of them is far too pleasurable, and the industries that sell to us know it.
So if I have any secret to living healthfully, it's this: Stop letting others decide what you can eat.
Now, you might think that when your doctor tells you to go on a diet, you're letting someone else dictate your food. And that's true, yet at least he or she is motivated by your health.
But when you eat according to what you just saw advertised on TV, or what you just smelled at the food court, your diet is being dictated by an industry that cares only for your money.
If you want to live longer, start eating what your body needs, not what is tempting your brain.
Here's what my body needs — you may be different, or maybe my plan will help you.
I'm a vegetarian, but I don't think a little chicken or fish would hurt if you can't live without animal protein. I eat lots of veggies, fruits and whole grains, and I don't have a salt shaker on the table. I eat small meals, more often. I don't eat right before bed. Nor do I go for sauces, dressings or fried food.
I like lots of spices, vinegar and lemon on my food. Just a little olive oil. I read the nutrition facts on labels when I shop. I mostly avoid sweets, but when I must have that taste, I'll have a small handful of dried fruit or a spoonful of natural maple syrup. I exercise for an hour every day and drink lots of plain water.
When you lust after what will kill you, consider that you've probably already eaten enough of the bad stuff to last a lifetime.
Sure, take advantage of the two-for-one deals and the coupons, but make sure you're getting what your body wants. Food that's full of salt, fat, sugar and white flour isn't a bargain at any price.
Tom Rose is a retired college professor and Realtor who has a doctorate in social psychology and a master's degree in gerontology. He lives in Palm Harbor.