Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Does Life on the Dole Make Me Look Fat?

It has now been seven months since I lost my job. Yep, seven long, comfy, cozy months in stretchy-waist sweat pants—the ones Dad disparagingly refers to as "no-class pants".

Gym membership and access to a treadmill at work: Gone.

Entertainment (hiking trips, swimming): Gone.

Daily restaurant lunches of slimming salad and/or lean meat: Gone.

Expensive home dinners (lean meat: steak, shrimp, chicken—on sale or not—and fresh veggies—some organic): Gone.

Name-brand diet cola and fancy bottled water: Gone.

In those pre-dole days I could tell instantly by the snugness of the fitted waistband on my dress slacks or by the ease of fastening buttons on my suit jacket if I had gained even a pound. Stretchy "no-class" sweat pants are much less telling.

The reality is, life on the dole can ambush a healthy lifestyle. My new fitness "regimen" is quite different:

Entertainment: Sedentary stuff such as TV, computer and books.

Beverages: Store-brand diet cola and tap water.

Clothing: Those stretchy-waist sweat pants that don't pinch until you gain the equivalent bulk of the Matterhorn.

Food: Whatever is on sale and within my food budget (I spend 10% of income for food while the USDA recommends spending 30% of income for food.)

Truth is, the cheapest food is starchy and full of carbohydrates: rice, potatoes, beans, bread, pasta. (Ever wonder why poor people are frequently overweight?) I haven't yet resorted to ramen noodle-based concoctions like another on-the-dole American blogger.

You have to wonder then, does life on the dole make people fat?

With trepidation, I step on the bathroom scales.

Seven pounds lost.

What? Wait? LOST?

Obviously an erroneous reading

I step off the scales and then back on again. Yep, lost.

To make sure I'm not imagining it, I take out a few business suits from my professional life. My favorite green jacket fits—ironically better than it did last fall. The brown pants? They fit, too. Daring to hope, I try on my rarely used interview suit (mostly phone interviews these days). Yes, it fits, my heart sings.

Seven pounds lost! How is this possible?

Why haven't I packed on pounds while on the dole? Some of my unemployed friends definitely have. Maybe it's because life on the dole requires creativity. When you are worried about bills and missing paychecks, it's hard to get creative. The other problem with creativity is it takes time—and that I have in abundance.

Exercise still matters. Therefore, in place of that pricey gym membership, I walk in my neighborhood. 

Mid-morning walks in the cool air take longer but are way more entertaining than a treadmill. I hear birds singing. I spy dogs, cats, snakes, turtles, brown thrashers, blue birds and cardinals along the way. A Swainson's Hawk (rare in this locale) lives in my neighborhood. I rarely saw these creatures while I was away at work. (And, as a bonus, those occasional snake sightings elevate my heart rate quicker than any speeding treadmill could.)

Rainy days find me indoors doing yoga, strength training or cardio with private trainers—free because the local library offers a wide selection of workout videos. Denise Austin and Jillian Michaels are my new personal fitness gurus. Even in my former employed life I could not have afforded these superstars.

These days, I cook real food. I've always loved from-scratch cooking, but never had time to do much of it. I especially enjoy meals made with natural whole food ingredients (and, no, I don't mean from the Whole Foods grocery store—I mean actual, real whole foods). In other words, slow food.

I have time to watch TV shows such as Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I read nutrition blogs. I care about healthy ingredients. I learn about the Slow Food movement, community-supported agriculture (CSAs) and local foods. I have time to visit nearby farmers' markets that are open only during hours I used to be at work.

I'm eating well. I'm exercising.

The irony: Life on the dole is making me healthier and slimmer. Scales don't lie (even if I sometimes wish they did). I actually feel better than I have in years.

No, life on the dole is not making me fat. Those stretchy, roomy sweat pants? I wear them for comfort, not for hiding fat. See, Dad, these pants are OK after all. Wearing them is not a fashion statement; it's only a comfy concession to life on the dole.
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Just For Fun: Check Out My Favorite Food & Nutrition Blogs:
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Photos Courtesy of:

Sumo Wrestler: http://bit.ly/bwQ016

Scales: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/ / CC BY 2.0

Swainson's Hawk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dobak/ / CC BY 2.0

Sweatpants: http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonk/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fruits & Veggies: Pam Brophy / CC BY-SA 2.0


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