Florida Writers Association Book Review By Lisa Vick
Now here is a book you can sink your teeth into!
"Food, Fun n' Fitness" was the Florida Writers' Association 2002 Royal Palm Book Awards Winner for Best Non-Fiction. It was written by Dr Mary Friesz, PhD, RD, CDE, LDN, credentials which translate roughly to "professional nutrition and wellness consultant, exercise physiologist and medical nutrition therapist". Dr Friesz has been in private practice for a number of years, designed spa menus, and now has consolidated her training and experience into a one-stop source on food and fitness. But this is no freeze-dried tome; her personal experience recovering from childhood obesity, anorexia and bulimia, coupled with her practical experience as a mother, add spice and authenticity to the narrative.
The subtitle of the book "Designing Healthy Lifestyles for Our Children" is almost misleading; this book is really for anyone interested in sound nutrition and exercise information. It comes at a time when "expert" opinion has bobbled up and down like a yo-yo for three decades (eggs are bad, no good, no bad), when magazine articles and news stories have sliced and diced nutrition and exercise information to a pulp, and most recently, when there is alarming evidence of the rise in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, especially among children.
The book begins with an historical overview of how our current eating habits and sedentary lifestyles came to be, but Dr Friesz takes this information one very important step further; she links the transience of today's society to increased isolation, which can have a bigger impact on poor diet and exercise than "biggie-sized" junk food itself (more on this later).
While the theme "a sound mind in a sound body" is woven through each section of the book, here's an a la carte list of topics I found useful:
* The section called "Food Fundamentals" puts all the latest, proven nutrition information at your fingertips (along with my favorite quote "fat is actually a good thing")
* Scientific reasons why you shouldn't diet
* "New studies show...." New studies show who sponsored them, and she names names! Big names!
* A long list of reasonable alternatives to processed foods
* Simple cooking ideas (don't you hate those magazines that call for 47 ingredients!)
* A debunking of the prevalent and popular Atkins diet (while I always thought the diet sounded fishy, I never knew exactly why. Now when my friends brag about bacon for breakfast and steak for dinner, I'll be thinking "glucose deprivation and kidney damage - how charming!")
As I mentioned earlier, if your interest is your own health, there's plenty here to inform you. But if you've got children, nieces, nephews, or neighborhood kids around, hold on to your stomach - the picture Dr Friesz paints of many children's lifestyles today is both shocking and sad.
First is a discussion of what's going on in many of our schools that I have to admit - school volunteer that I am - surprised me. McDonald's kiosks to budgetary cuts in P.E. programs to promotional advertising in the classroom - it's not your mama's lunchroom anymore. And she's one of the few voices pointing out the hypocrisy of teaching health on one hand while pushing junk food with the other.
Secondly, in sections like "Plain Old Playtime", "Where Have All the Playmates Gone", and "Home Alone and Lonely", Dr Friesz details the widespread reduction in traditional play - the running, jumping, tree-climbing sort of play that used to be taken for granted. It's become rare today - thanks to: 1) the perception of unsafe streets, 2) "latch-key" kids who come home alone and stay inside until mom or dad get home, and 3) the lack of community in much of our transient society, whereby we don't feel safe if our children are out of sight.
While I personally know how difficult it is to parent when you don't feel safe letting your kids out of sight, what's worse is the effect of too much restriction on kids, and especially those kids who are "home alone and lonely". She has seen in her practice that loneliness can cause depression which can lead to lethargy. And without the normal ways to burn off calories, obesity or food obsession can be right around the corner (there is a substantial and informative section on eating disorders and the warning signs).
The real meat of the book, to me, comes in the final section, called "Take Charge!" Since "we can't turn back the clock to a simpler time", she instead offers ideas for creating community, creating family, and protecting a child's self-esteem in this age where images rule. Without preaching, Dr Friesz gently reminds us to be the adults - parent or no - in our community.
Overall, this book is a timely, thought-provoking, informative read. But all eating tips and exercise advice aside, the best message is one for all adults; now, more than ever, we must play our role in the "village", because the consequences of not doing so can be heart-breaking.