The monkeys on my back

I was watching Oprah in the gym earlier this week, and she had a show on about food. She’d apparently just seen “Food, Inc.” and had the realization that managing one’s diet isn’t all about reducing fat and calories. She’s decided we all need to know more about where our food comes from. This is old hat to anyone who’s read “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and in fact, Michael Pollan was one of Oprah’s guests.

Anyway, I finished working out and went back to my apartment and turned the show on there because I wanted to hear Alicia Silverstone talk about her new cookbook. And while I was listening to Alicia extol the benefits of veganism, S. knocked on my door. She was carrying a soda and bag of food from McDonald’s. I looked at the bag and said, “You know, I was just watching a show about how you shouldn’t eat food like that.” She just kind of shrugged and returned the money she had borrowed from me. I think by now she’s pretty used to my foodie snobbishness.

But now, I feel bad about it because the truth is S. eats at McDonald’s for the same reason a lot of people do: It’s cheap. And, since she is just out of college, unemployed and short on money, that’s important. I’m thinking now I shouldn’t be so hard on her because I have some junk food habits that I can’t kick and I have no financial or other justification for them.

In truth, I don’t even really want to kick my bad habits. I usually figure if they are my worst vices, they aren’t that bad. But then I think, does it really make sense to reform your diet and go to all the effort of growing and cooking your own food if every day you’re also eating something that runs counter to the whole foods mindset?

Here are the monkeys on my back:

Diet Pepsi. I drink a can or two each day at work, and sometimes I drink it on my off days. I know I’m addicted to the caffeine because I feel sluggish on days like today, when I don’t have it. I rationalize that it’s OK because I have narcolepsy. Actually, I have a mild case, and my first, not-so-great neurologist told me once that instead of taking drugs, I could just drink coffee or some soda and the caffeine might be enough to keep me awake. It’s not, and I’ve since found a better doctor who is better at helping me manage the symptoms.

But whenever I crack open a can of Diet Pepsi, I think of that first doctor. And, to be even more honest, I was addicted to caffeine long before I was diagnosed with narcolepsy.

The thing that worries me is that a co-worker of mine once told me that he used to do auto body repair, and they’d use Coke or Pepsi to strip metal. He said he doesn’t drink carbonated beverages because he always wonders what they’d strip from his insides. I do too.

My other big vice is Starbucks nonfat chai lattes. I love them! I have finally started to save money by buying Tazo chai at the store and making my own latte at home to take to work. It doesn’t reduce my sugar or fat intake, but it saves me some cash.

Still, every so often — even when I have tea in my refrigerator — I go to Starbucks and buy a chai latte. I just really love Starbucks. I like the way the stores are laid out, the music they play, and the way the baristas greet me. A couple of years ago, I bought G. five shares of Starbucks stock for his birthday. I rationalize now that whenever I go there, I’m boosting the performance of his stock.

I’ve even sucked G. into my madness. He doesn’t drink anything with caffeine because he’s super sensitive to it, but whenever we travel, we stop at Starbucks for breakfast, especially if we’re traveling for G.’s work. Then we rationalize that the $10 we’re going to expense is helping G.’s stock’s performance.

This is bad, right? And yet tomorrow, I will be starting my day with a Tazo chai latte. I’d probably even go to Starbucks except the one on my way to work isn’t open on weekends. It makes me sad, but it’s also a blessing since it forces me to cage the monkey at least two days a week.


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