For years, I was smug. I couldn't understand why smokers would knowingly "take 7 minutes off their life" with every cigarette. I arrogantly smirked at the stupidity of spending thousands of dollars on a habit that would eventually kill you.
School drilled the dangers of smoking into my head. DON'T START the teachers and books would scream. Smoking is a dirty, nasty habit that is almost impossible to quit.
I watched in horror as family members who started smoking in their teens were barely able to walk at age 65 due to circulation problems in their legs and emphysema. I would complain that Aunt Jane's house smelled terrible.
Ah, little did I know that the vice I was addicted to was every bit as evil and insidious as cigarettes.
My Mother was my first enabler. As a teenager, when I would voice a concern over my weight she would try to reassure me by saying "Honey, it's true, you are 15 pounds overweight, you hate vegetables, you eat too much sugar... but at least you don't smoke!"
Every visit to the doctor, I proudly answered NO in capital letters to the obligatory "Have you ever smoked?" question. I thought if I didn't smoke, my health must be OK.
I was wrong.
Now, in 2013, the U.S. is finally waking up and smelling the sugar. The public is beginning to get the message that being obese and addicted to junk food is just as dangerous as smoking. (Maybe even more dangerous and destructive, but I'll leave that for experts to debate)
So to every smoker that I gave the stink eye as you were standing outside, quietly killing yourselves...I'm sorry for judging you. Frankly, I was doing an equally good job of killing myself, only I was hiding in my car ordering fries at the drive through. Being fat seemed more socially acceptable than smoking, since second-hand smoke can kill adjacent non-smokers, but eating a sleeve of Oreos for dinner only hurts myself.
But the idea that "Being fat doesn't hurt anyone else" isn't really true either. The financial toll of America's food addiction DOES affect everyone. We all pay for it in higher health insurance premiums and higher taxes to cover Medicare and Medicaid clients with diabetes and heart disease.
My health problems certainly hurt my kids and husband. If I don't feel well, or we have to spend extra money on medical needs or God forbid something horrible happens to me, my family suffers. It's no different from second-hand smoke.
I'm now 42 years old, significantly overweight, with several risk factors for diabetes and heart attacks. I'm feeling the physical effects of too many candy bars eaten in my youth. I've lost sensation in my right foot. I've made more than one trip to my doctor and the ER due to chest pains that should have scared me straight.
I am scared. My eating habits have definitely improved in the past few years, as I've matured and can now see and understand how bad choices affect my health. I eat more vegetables and much less sugar. But, like all addictions, it is very difficult to go cold turkey and all too easy to slip back into bad habits after starting with an innocuous piece of birthday cake at the office party. Next thing I know, like a smoker who has been on the patch for 3 weeks only to return to their pack-a-day habit, I've eaten 1000 calories in a 30 minute binge after a stressful day.
I'm sure the smoker standing next to me on line at the grocery store is wondering why I'm wasting my money on junk food that will kill me eventually. I couldn't agree with him more.