Couponing can erupt out of financial necessity, but it also can manifest into an addictive game of justifying exactly how much deodorant one actually needs.
Coupons were essentially foreign to me. It never seemed reasonable to buy a name brand product to save $1 when I could purchase the generic brand cheaper. Not to mention the time I saved by not clipping coupons every Sunday.
Finances changed almost overnight when the company I worked for went out of business and my husband endured a pay cut. As fate would have it, I stumbled across a page on a social media site that had me intrigued. It displayed photos of hundreds of dollars of goods, and a coupon expert insisted she legally walked out of the store only paying $27. I found out you could take classes to learn this intricate art.
Make no mistake, it is an art. Once you've mastered it — and I did— you can pay $30 for $200 worth of groceries. Job loss, gas prices and the cost of feeding a family of five necessitated a crash course. I'm an extremely quick learner. And I'm quite fond of keeping more of my money.
This couponing gig seemed like a win-win. Needless to say, within the first week I was ecstatic with the results. I can't express with words the high I experienced as I filled the cart with things that we needed, wanted, or could put to good use for little to no money. Sometimes, I actually profited from a purchase, and those moments were pure elation.
For six months, the savings proved so captivating that it never occurred to me to think about what we were actually eating. The focus turned to what I could get for free — or close to it. Aside from the 28 deodorants or the 14 bottles of dish soap (all free), I was immersing my family in a processed food coma.
The abundance of food seemed to directly correlate with the increasing numbers on my beloved scale. And not just me, but the entire family. In six months, I gained 40 pounds.
I can't attribute all of this solely to the foods I bought while couponing. The savings created a surplus of funds. This enabled more trips to the drive-through and more frequent pizza nights.
I'll never forget the day a friend caught a glance in my freezer. She said, "Are you trying to sabotage yourself?" I simply replied "It's better than fast food!" She sternly replied, "Why is that your guideline? Why are you not comparing the quality of your food to fruits or vegetables?"
I think the most innate human reaction is to be defensive. I tried to understand what she was saying and interpret it as advice from someone who loves me. I took a moment to compose my thoughts. I looked in the freezer as if for the first time and saw every item was in a box.
I began to actually view nutritional information and ingredients in those boxes. I was shocked by the amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar. For the first time, I wondered what was my daily allowance of these ingredients?
I quickly learned that one frozen dinner could essentially put you over your daily allowance. One can of soda put you over your daily sugar limit.
I began to see a trend with the ingredients — especially the leaders of the list: high fructose corn syrup, enriched white flour, nitrates, hydrogenated oils. There was no shortage of ingredients that I couldn't even pronounce.
In that moment, I made the decision to educate myself and to make better decisions. I was as much astounded as I was angry. And delving deeper into this pyramid of false claims and misrepresentations, as well as some level of intentional deceit, did not calm my outrage.
I don't consider myself to be a dietician, scientist or expert. I do consider myself to be fairly intelligent and capable of using deductive reasoning when given enough facts. With the exception of laughter, too much of anything is almost never a good thing. And I don't believe it's a coincidence that both the consumption of processed and fast foods and the obesity rate are at an all time high.
A little helping here and there of enriched white flour or hydrogenated oils isn't going to kill you. But, people have lost all meaning of the words "moderation" and "portion".
The process that this fake food has to go through leaves little to nourish your body.
One night, I went to bed a processed, fast-food junkie. I woke up the next day determined and focused. I had the whole family eating foods like asparagus, squash, fresh fruit, whole grains and drinking more water.
Yes, there was resistance. But, eventually, they got hungry enough to eat the asparagus. Believe it or not, my teenagers now request squash and zucchini. All of us noticed a difference in how much better we felt physically. We gained quality of life. It's shocking because we really didn't even realize anything was wrong.
I signed up for a half marathon. I began walking everyday. Gradually, I began to run. Ironically, I was waiting for the right time to fit exercise in. Who knew — besides Nike — that just doing it would create this physical and mental zen feeling?
I completed the half marathon in under four hours, and I lost 38 pounds. I still struggle with food, but couponing is no longer a catalyst. I know, though, that it will be a lifelong battle, but my health and the health of my family is worth the fight.