Inner city kid tries to overcome obstacles to healthy eating | Ernesto Pineda | 03/27/10

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Read More: fast food, healthy eating, inner city, underprivileged

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Why is eating healthy so hard?

by Ernesto Pineda, 18

A lot of times when I come home from school, Jack in the Box, McDonald's or Taco Bell is on the table. When I see the food, especially the hamburgers, I'm tempted. It's so easy to eat instead of going into the kitchen to get food that would be healthier.

I've told my mom, "You know, we can eat something healthier," but she says she doesn't have time or she's tired. I understand that she's busy. She works during the day and takes nursing classes at night.

She buys fast food for me and my two sisters because it's a habit. Once she started feeding us junk food, we wouldn't eat anything else. As a child I ate McDonald's Happy Meals. I never thought it was unhealthy. It was just food. My family was always busy so I ate more fast food than home-cooked meals.

When I was 13 I realized that what I was eating had made me fat. But I didn't like eating healthier food because it tasted disgusting to me. But as I got older I didn't want to be chubby anymore. I felt different because everyone at school was skinny. I was being teased because of my weight. After lunch the other kids would put plates and wrappers in my backpack. Why me? I thought, "Because I'm fat." But I didn't know how to lose weight. What did I know about healthy eating?

It was hard to control how much I ate. When I come home from school I make ham and cheese sandwiches for a snack. It starts with one but then I'm still hungry so I make another one. I'll start doing my homework but then think, "Oh, I'll just get a sandwich." I was worried about how many I was eating. I felt like it was too much.

And then there were the cookies. You do not know how fast the Oreos would go. Those three-row packs would not last a day between me, my sisters and my mother. I'd eat them even if I wasn't hungry because they taste good.

Recently I decided, why not change. I weigh around 180. Being 5 foot 4, a healthy weight for me should be 150. I made it my New Year's resolution to lose 30 pounds.

At first, every day I would go to the park and run three laps or go to the gym with my mom and walk on the treadmill. But I didn't change what I ate. My aunt had started eating more vegetables and she lost weight. I realized I could lose weight faster by eating healthier too.

I started eating vegetables at lunch

At school they offered a vegetarian option. I looked at the vegetarian meal, which was a salad. I felt it would be better than the hamburgers, pizza and turkey sandwiches I usually ate for lunch. I asked the front desk attendant to change my eating plan to vegetarian. The next day, lunch was a salad. I'd never eaten salad willingly. "OK, I'll try it," I thought. It wasn't bad. There was lettuce, croutons and a lemon. I ate most of it. After that day I started eating the vegetarian option every day, like mac and cheese, salad and three-bean chili. It wasn't too bad.

After eating the vegetarian lunches at school I'm starting to realize that some of the foods I used to eat are not good for me. They don't even taste that good anymore. I was eating a rice bowl from a fast food chain and the vegetables tasted like bleach. It was disgusting.

I have tried to eat healthier at home too but it's harder because I have more unhealthy options.

When my mother cooks, she makes what my dad feels like eating. My father does physical work as a mechanic. He comes home and expects the traditional family thing where food is already made for him. He wants anything with meat in it, typical Hispanic food--chicken with rice, beans and tortillas, pupusas, carne stew. If my mom cooked healthier nobody but me would like it. What would be the point? And what am I going to cook? I don't know anything about cooking.

My neighborhood is full of fast food and old produce

I live in Watts in South Central L.A. There are taco places, fast food and liquor stores. It's hard to make healthy choices. Most of the produce in the grocery store doesn't look fresh. I get home and my mom has bought fast food hamburgers for dinner. "Dammit. I want to eat something else." Even the choices in my fridge aren't that healthy. Recently I looked in my fridge and I saw a cucumber, broccoli and old potatoes that had eyes growing on them. The bananas were spoiled. Also, there is too much junk food and canned food. There's Chef Boyardee ravioli, frozen burritos and Cup Noodles, which has a lot of salt.

I've tried to convince my mom so many times to buy something that's healthy.

"Mom, why can't we buy food that's better than this?"


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