From Shopping to Dieting – The Impact of TV Commercials

A delicious January day to be snowed in…an opportunity to hop off the tread mill and create one’s own schedule. Roads are too bad to travel, temperatures are too cold for a long walk, appointments are cancelled. Not all bad! I view this as a marvelous gift. Of course, winter is “young,” not even a month old, and the novelty of it is fresh. Absolutely love the opportunity to rev up iTunes on my computer and take time to contemplate a few pertinent observations about TV commercials before, during and after the holidays.

Let’s talk about the myriad promotions advertisers peppered us with from Thanksgiving til December 25. Before Christmas, we were urged to SHOP, SHOP, SHOP and SPEND, SPEND, SPEND. We were inundated with items including sheets, bath towels, pillows, robotic vacuum cleaners, quirky gadgets, sparkling jewelry (“chocolate” diamonds tickled me the most), toys to please any age group, and luxury cars for dear old dad. Handsome couples, in romantic settings, sipped wine by roaring fireplaces, and tables laden with gourmet foods filled the screens, urging viewers to choose perfect compliments to their holiday celebrations. Visions of happy pajama-clad families, gathered around glittering trees, opening Christmas presents, created an image of perfect family life. True for many viewers, but  not for those young children living in cramped quarters… plunked in front of the TV…youngsters whose parents might be separated, divorced or unable to provide anything but the most meager gifts. How sad for these little ones and those who do their best to care for them.

Suddenly Christmas was past, and on New Year’s Day, TV commercials shifted to Mega diet plans. We were bombarded with them. There was Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and others that I cannot remember. The ads rolled constantly during every break, one after another, hour after hour. Earlier, before New Year’s Day, our older son told me about another diet that many of his Connecticut friends have tried. (Mind you, these are young people in their forties and early fifties.) Diet is called The Whole 30, which he and his beautiful wife are currently embracing. I ordered the book, read bits and pieces of it, decided I was on board. What an adventure! Albeit brief! Nearly killed me! After two or three days, my energy waned, I could not fall asleep so read until one or 2:30 a.m. Drinking herbal tea to fill me up or eat a handful of approved unsalted nuts did not assuage the knawing empty feeling. To list the forbidden foods and liquids on this diet (not even a Diet Coke) would choke a horse. In essence, only eggs, meat, and veggies plus a few fruits are permitted. Of course, not a drop of wine, not even a smidge added for flavoring! 

With my 8-0 birthday looming next month, and a reunion of family and friends planned, I felt motivated to give this 30 day wonder a try. I lasted a heroic five days! As each day passed, my husband began to worry: he was not used to a dragged-out wife, with a rapidly decreasing energy level. Yes, I ate plenty of veggies, chicken plus for one four ounces of delicious beef tenderloin.  But even a noodle or low cal piece of bread was verboten, and no oatmeal or yogurt. One morning John purposely made a big pot of steel cut oatmeal which tasted better to me than any hot fudge sundae ever! Perchance I was half starved! So, after talking to a few friends of my elderly vintage, I decided to revert to reliable old Weight Watchers, currently rated the #1 most successful and sustainable diet available. And truth be told, last night, I drank a glass of wine, ate three little rib lamb chops, one-half baked sweet potato and spinach. Cut up fruit for dessert. I actually fell asleep before 10 p.m. and woke up ready to conquer the world this morning.

A learning lesson to share. Fad diets are wonderful for the young, virile and eager. But as a nurse friend said to me, the best diet is “portion control.” And years ago, I recall my now deceased surgeon brother-in-law saying that the world’s most effective diet is “pushing yourself away from the table.” His lovely, svelt wife always left half her dinner on her plate. She is several years younger than I. Unlike me, however, she was not a child of the “Waste not Want not Generation.” Being a little girl during World War II, I vividly recall rationing. I remember sitting for what felt like hours at the dinner table until I finished every morsel of food. And if I did not, the next morning last night’s leftover cold dinner greeted me for breakfast. Yuck. My father, one of nine children, was a gem of a person. But as the son of Icelandic immigrants living on an island in northern Wisconsin, he knew hunger. Grandpa was a potato farmer. My grandmother and he raised all their food. Having enough to eat during the dregs of winter was a concern, and often a reality. Obviously, this experience left an indelible mark on my father. No wonder he worked hard, earned his own way through college and law school so that his family would never be hungry.

As a result, one could surmise that leaving uneaten food on my plate has always been something that I almost never do. The good news is that mostly we eat a balanced diet. However, as a result of our radical downsizing move to our Retirement cottage this past summer, I became rather sloppy about portion control, especially if it came in the form of a potato chip, cookie, chocolate bar or dish of ice-cream. No longer. The price is paid, and it will not be ignored. Lesson learned.

Thus, the moral of this story is not only about feeling starved or omitting every reasonable food from meal planning. Rather it is about the effects of television commercials on its viewers. Kudos and many thanks to those professionals who have bombarded us with reminders that the holidays are over for another year. May their bank accounts be bulging because of their diligent advertisers. And… if we were fortunate enough, we helped our soaring economy by shopping. If we were indulgent in our eating habits, then we might tighten our belts, eat less and pay attention to reclaiming good eating habits. I love it that we are susceptible to repetitive commercials that gobble up our TV screens each day. I love it that producers realize we need a kick-start back to reality. Thank you for helping me think more about embracing the upcoming new decade with a trimmer waistline, a more youthful attitude and an awareness of just how precious life itself is for each of us. After all, God only gives us one life to live, and it is totally up to us how we choose to lead it. Amen. Happy Healthy New Year!

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

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