Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dangerous reservation

In my last blog I wrote about the greasy meat and fry bread we call our Navajo “cuisine” ... There's just a lot of fat and calories there. Most people don't eat these foods every day. That kind of food is considered a treat, something special that you get a craving for every now and then.
I don't know how every-now-and-then turned into the worst health statistics in the United States — actually, I do know and I'll explain later.
  •               Natives are 1.6 times more likely to be obese than whites. This is the highest out of populations of black (around 1), Hispanic (about half) people. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
  •              Nearly 33 percent of Natives are obese and over half of the women are overweight. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
  •              Half to a third of Native children are obese. Food and Nutrition Service.
  •             16.1 percent of Natives have Type II diabetes. American Diabetes Association.
Why are these statistics the worst? Why have we only gotten worst when the government is only pushing more and more money into our health programs? I really don't know why that is. Stubbornness, ignorance, poverty, genetics?
All of the above.
Indigenous poverty rates are just as bad as our health rates. Natives have high scores in both of those categories. And poverty and health problems go hand-in-hand. Only the fatty and sugary foods are $.99. For a $1 you can buy something extremely delicious and addictive. While, in the other part of the grocery store, the wheat things are getting dusty and the vegetables are getting old and brown. They're too expensive, especially on the reservation. So we have to travel to the nearest city with grocery stores that don’t charge an arm and a leg (not a pun for diabetes). We buy bulk; enough to last the week or the month, depends on where you live and how often you can afford to go into town. 
When I go back home for breaks I still can't believe the price of fresh produce and healthy foods. It's ridiculous and disgusting. And the deli at Crownpoint’s Basha’s serves only deep fried burritos, fried chicken and greasy mutton ribs. The other place to grab a quick lunch is at the food truck stand that has the worst; mutton, fry bread, dumpling stew and burgers and there’s one greasy — and mysterious — Chinese food truck there too.
It even goes back to the time in history where the U.S. government rationed food to Natives who, were for the first time caged, on their new reservations. They couldn’t travel or move out of their (prison) reservation, so the government sent food rations of the worst quality. In my time, the Navajo Nation Food Distribution tribal government program (similar to food stamps and born from the U.S. government food rations) still didn’t have the best interest in mind for the health of the tribe. They distributed canned fruits, vegetables, meats, white flour, noodles, corn cereals, and block American cheese. (Recently they made a great change. Now they have fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken breasts, turkey breasts and other frozen meats. Kudos to them.)
Many indigenous people have a problem with diet-related diseases because our genetics haven’t had a chance to change fast enough through our quick and forced assimilation. In just a few generations we went from lean hunters and gatherers to modern day fat Americans who have 24-hour access to fatty foods, the Internet and TV. Our genes were made to make the most of everything we ate and then store everything else for energy and survival. Now it’s stored all over our hips and stomach because we don’t have to build our own houses, raise our own food or be outside all that much anymore.
Inactive lifestyles, unhealthy/cheap eating habits caused diabetes to be a major problem on the reservation. Eighteen percent of us Navajos have diabetes, which is an increase from the last five years. That means we have the most deaths caused by diabetes, the most limbs lost and the most blind-stricken. It’s a very serious and scary thing. 

My health
I went to P.E. classes and didn’t enjoy them. I was in grade school when they implemented mandatory exercising times when the whole school went outside and walked a few laps around the school. I watched the food graph change from a pyramid to a circle and never got around to remembering it — but I can make fun of it: “whatever fits in this plate is my food circle … no matter how many times I fill it.” No.
I was bombarded by doctors, teachers and special guest speakers who said, “oooooo! Diabetes! Watch out!” and told us that we’re too fat and we’re going to die soon. But I’m one of those statistics; one of the stubborn ones who really didn’t listen to all that advice no matter how sincere or poorly said it was. I am overweight and have been my entire life. Parts of my life sucked – especially in public school. I’ve been bullied, called names, teased and treated differently from the beginning.
And despite it all, I haven’t changed. That’s how stubborn I am. I developed a very thick skin and an angry, protective attitude for anyone who would make fun of me or for anyone who even seems like the kind of person who would be mean like that (Ok, I’m borderline antisocial). Thus far, there hasn’t been any major event that caused me to change my lifestyle.
Until diabetes made its way into my family … (and my jeans were getting uncomfortably tight.)
Some people really need a good scare to finally make a change and turn their life around, like me. When I found out that someone in my family had been diagnosed with diabetes, I got scared. I was thinking, "it really can happen to us. That means I’m even more at risk for getting diabetes."
I really shouldn’t play around anymore.
So after my family changed the way they eat and educated themselves more about the stuff we put into our bodies, I followed suit. And this didn't happen overnight, I'd say it easily took a few years to learn these things, change some of our ways and get used to it. We all started eating right; cutting out loads of stuff that we loved to eat. We started exercising. We eat eggs whites now, we cut down on the corn (because corn is a fake vegetable that is only sugar), we eat more vegetables and salads, we eat smaller portions and drink more water. I have a gym membership and I go there every day. I try to play volleyball every week with my sister. I even stopped drinking alcohol (almost completely) because it's the worst thing to put into your body because it’s just a load of sugar and fermented sugar.
And my jeans are not tight on me anymore, I actually have to start sewing them in soon – ahem, because I know how to sew now. I don’t get tired easily and I have more energy.
And the most important thing: I have my family’s help and support. I think a lot of people don’t have that on the reservation. My dad told me a story about a young guy. That guy was diagnosed with diabetes and he didn’t change his diet. He still drinks three regular Cokes and eats breakfast and fried burritos every day from the deli. His family hasn’t changed the way they cook and live, so why should he?
It is a change in lifestyle and it’s hard to change that. I fought that change for a long time, but when you’re actually scared for your own health, and problems actually come into your family, it can do something to you.
Now I think I have things balanced. In the last two years I have become a foodie; I love to eat good food, I love to cook good food and I love to eat new foods. Heck, I write about food every week for work. But my jeans are getting bigger on me at the same time and the doctor says that all my blood content levels are healthy and on track — which is the most important thing for me because I'm not doing it to be a smaller size. I'm doing it so I can be healthy and will no longer be at risk for so many terrible diseases that are plaguing my tribe.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really good blog Andi. I'm so proud of you for sharing your experience. You are so right when you said that it's not the size (outside) that counts but its the blood content (inside) that matters the most. Just keep being active and eating healthy. It's a native lifestyle!