My friend lost over ninety pounds. I’m proud.

Actually, I have several friends who’ve had amazing health and fitness victories.  I bow before them. One friend reported how much her world changed along with her health. I remember people would stare–not a regular, “I’m looking at you,” but the rubbernecking stare–the “why don’t you just go running?” stare.

I never realized how difficult it was to be in this situation until after I gave birth to Declan. One of the side-effects of childbirth and breastfeeding is a massive increase in upper-body giftedness–not something I expected at all.

Suddenly, it became apparent why someone beginning a health journey can’t “just go running.” For that DD period of my life I couldn’t run with a sports bra. Not even two bras helped reduce the earthquake effects of having half my bodyweight redistributed to my chest. I was the human equivalent of a factory farmed turkey where 90% of the body is breast. Running wasn’t an option.

Then, I found a special corset-like torture device called “The Enell.” I saw it on Oprah. The Enell helped Oprah run her marathon. Though it made the Victorian whalebone air-constricting brassiere look gentle and kind, it worked like magic. I was grateful. I could run once again, but more importantly, I learned to appreciate the fitness battle many people endure to get to the top of the mountain. They’re heroes.

When I look around school, however, I get a very different feeling. I don’t get the sense many of my students are eating healthy or enjoying fitness–these habits are as important as their grades. We talk about this. I see what they eat for breakfast. Mostly, it’s prepackaged pastries that say “whole grain” so I can be happy. Kids unwrap the four quarter-sized “waffles” and dunk them in lakes of “maple” chemically made of corn.

One day I brought them freshly-made waffles and real maple syrup. I wanted to show food comes from nature and we have power over our food. It’s important.

Yes, teens do eat crap, but teen poor nutrition and hatred of exercise goes deeper.

Maybe it’s because schools assign physical education one day a week or a quarter a year, neither of which deliver the message, “I value daily fitness.” I don’t know a PE instructor who wouldn’t love to have their class given equivalent status to all the high-stakes testing and standards elevated classes. Lifelong health is more important than essays and calculations. Or at least equal.

I’d love to have a morning fitness hour with students, followed by healthy breakfast. Yoga. Weights. Running. Basketball. Eggs. Waffles as a treat. Real maple syrup.

We don’t have to be extremists–No teen his or her right mind would eat the two months of kale I’ve grown and stockpiled, not even for a game show stunt, but we can do little better modeling health and fitness without a mood of deprivation. It starts with making food people want to eat.

My friend was feeling dessert deprived. She wanted a dessert that would be healthy but would leave her fulfilled. My task was to bake a healthy brownie. She called it an “herb brownie.” Like America’s Test Kitchen, I agreed to take on the task.

I have lots of herbs in my massive garden, but none I’d want in my brownies for ruffage. I asked what exactly she wanted.

“Oregano.” Easy. I have lots of oregano.

“Oh, and it has to be gluten-free.”

I researched. I mixed. I created. Almond butter, egg, vanilla, cocoa powder, maple syrup, baking powder. All gluten-free. It would be as healthy as a brownie could be–high-protein even.

Now, for the final step. I picked oregano from the garden, avoiding honeybees on flowers. I weighed it on my baking scale. Most recipes suggested a quarter ounce. That, I discovered, is a lot of oregano, much more than I put in my spaghetti sauce–a full serving of leafy greens.  Victory! I popped it into the oven.

Soon, my kitchen began to smell like pasta supper punched out dessert. Who am I to judge? My friend’s healthy and super happy. I wish I could be that happy. Maybe I need to exercise more, eat more kale or share these oregano brownies. I’m probably the one doing something wrong. I’m sending these brownies and suggesting a Hansen’s kale soda to wash them down.


It’s back to school time.  Snack sales are crazy. I’m trying to figure out what healthy snacks I can get my own kid to eat this school year. Food is the engine of life. It’s hard as a parent who fights a picky eater, but it’s harder as a teacher seeing packaged and dyed foods en masse.

I’m sad when kids eat crap constantly, but I’m even sadder when it’s the schools who provide it, despite the fact the food staff really does their best to provide wonderful selections. Still, they get the boxes of processed foods and sugar cereal from on high. Sigh. My crock pot of oatmeal is simply not going to compete with neon-colored yogurt and sugar-corn puffs. I’ll continue to try.

Meanwhile, here’s to a school year filled with health, fitness, and success. And an occasional tasty dessert.

Maybe even one… without oregano.



[Photo courtesy Emily Dingmann who writes about eating natural foods that never suck at her blog “A Nutritionist Eats“]