Tightening your belt – does this mean increasing your waistline?

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In 2 Timothy 3:1 we read that in the last days ‘perilous times will come.’ I was reading this verse in a modern version and it was translated as ‘In the end days, times of stress will come.’ My Greek concordance confirmed that this was, indeed, an acceptable meaning and one which, for me, brought it much closer to home. Our nation (indeed much of the world) is experiencing stress of some kind or another and for Western nations a major factor has to be the ongoing financial crisis. This affects our standard of living which may have a direct knock-on effect on our nutrition and health and also creates an increase in stress- related illness.

Already 25% of Britain’s adult population is obese and the figure continues to rise. Researchers are reporting that three out of five people have put on weight in the last year and health experts are linking this to the recession. What they are saying is that the current economic downturn could have adverse public health consequences as more people, in their sensible quest to save money, are turning to cheaper yet less-healthy eating choices, consuming greater quantities of junk and fast foods. These are often loaded with salt, fat, and highly processed carbs (i.e., sugar and high fructose corn syrup) so they are quite tasty, but have little nutritional value.

It is ironic when you think that in the past, lower socio-economic standing often resulted in people losing weight due to lack of food. But in the modern era of plenty, obesity is closely associated with poverty because these highly processed foods are not only promoted vigorously and widely accessible, but they are also cheap.

But can you really put a price on your health or the health of your family? When you think about the things we spend our money on, does it really make a lot of sense to cut back so drastically on healthy eating in order to afford a new cell phone, for instance?

A Which? Survey in January 2009 of 2,012 adults in the UK, has shown that nearly one in four people are making healthier eating less of a priority in the wake of the financial crisis. A total of 24% of UK adults in a poll said healthier eating was less important to them in view of the downturn with more than half, or 56%, saying price has become a more important factor when choosing food since the crisis began.

There really isn’t a better way of providing nutritional meals and saving money than to cook them yourself but I realise that this isn’t always easy. Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has warned the Commons Select Health Committee that the recession could contribute to an obesity “horror show”. Why? – Because people have lost the skills to make healthy meals on a budget. A whole generation has been raised on convenience foods, too busy to prepare meals from scratch, and now we don’t know where to turn to make ends met.

If you find cooking intimidating there are lots of easy, budget recipes available out there. Surf the Internet, putting in searches such as, ‘using cheap cuts of meat’ or ‘nutritional meals on a shoestring’ or scour the book shelves of charity shops for recipe books. In the meantime, here are some practical tips to help you shop wisely:

  1. Buy foods which are ‘in season’ and therefore cheaper.
  2. Frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh, and they don’t spoil.
  3. Consider the nutritional value of food and limit your purchase of things that are not good for your health.
  4. Make a packed lunch rather than buying it. A home-made sandwich is much cheaper, and if made on whole wheat bread, much more nutritious than most that you can buy in the shops.
  5. Use cheaper cuts of meat and cook them slowly. They will taste just as good as more expensive cuts.
  6. Buy in bulk and cook in bulk, then freeze portions.
  7. Make a shopping list and stick to it!

One thing which the ‘experts’ don’t seem to have touched on is the effect of financial anxiety on emotional eating. I have no specific evidence to back this up, but I feel pretty sure that fear, worry and anxiety over work and investments will have caused many to seek temporary solace in food. A loss of job and income can also result in low self-esteem and boredom as people have more time on their hands. All of these things contribute to inappropriate eating and obesity.

If we are indeed in the end days (as most Christians seem to acknowledge) then one thing is certain – we are going to need God to steer us through. We need his wisdom when we go out shopping for food; we need to keep our thoughts fixed on Him so that our hearts will remain at peace and we need to stand firm in our faith. He is the stability of these anxious times, not the banks or the government. If we keep our eyes on Him, we shall find that ‘though the earth shake and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea, we shall not be moved.’

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