Southern Style

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Downtown Franklin

Downtown Franklin

We’re finally settled into our new home in Franklin, Tennessee.  My office is now on the ground floor of the house, in what was designed as a bedroom.  Franklin is a charming town, and we already love it here.  I plan to write more about that topic on my other blog later this week.

During the move, I made some mental notes on diet, exercise and obesity based on observations and two articles I read online – both of which were brought to my attention by readers.  So, in no particular order:

Exercising doesn’t make you thinner.

Okay, as Josef Brandenburg pointed out, the right kind of exercise can certainly help by influencing your insulin levels.  But the theory that you can burn off your body fat simply by expending calories just isn’t true.  The guys on the moving crew spent eight hours carrying heavy boxes and furniture out of the house and into a moving van – 12,500 pounds, according to the truck scales.  And we were their second pickup of the trip.  In Tennessee, they did it all again in reverse, including countless trips up the stairs.  These guys were strong as gorillas and worked hard.  They do this all the time.  But a couple of them were also significantly overweight.

Keep in mind, I believe exercising is great for your health and sense of well-being.  I enjoy my long walks, even though I know they’re pretty much useless for losing weight. 

Diet (the right diet, that is) does make you thinner.

By the end of the trip, my clothes were a little looser, even though my only exercise was driving and rolling a couple of suitcases into our hotel room each night.  But I skipped the carbs almost entirely. 

Road food is 90 percent carbohydrates.

Every time we stopped at a gas station/mini-mart to fill up the tank and buy some snacks, I was appalled at the food offerings.  Nearly everything on the shelves was some kind of sugar or starch concoction, often with Frankenstein oils mixed in for good measure:  corn chips, potato chips, candies, ice cream bars, sodas, pastries and pizza by the slice.  We ended up buying a lot of nuts for the girls.

Sugar makes you cranky.

We also let the girls splurge a few times and buy ice cream or cookies.  Bad move.  They were good travelers most of the time, but when they had a meltdown, it was always after eating sugar.

Obesity is regional.

One of the articles someone sent me was a Time magazine piece, Why Are Southerners So Fat?  I definitely saw a disproportionate number of huge bodies as we made stops in the south.  If you’ve seen Fat Head, you’ll recall that in the first scene, I said it took me several hours of shooting in three different locations to find all those big bodies walking by, and that if obesity was such an epidemic, it should’ve taken me ten minutes.

In southern Arkansas, it would’ve taken me five minutes.  We took a side trip there to a state facility where you can prospect for diamonds – a fun little outing for the girls.  At the same facility, there was a water park where the girls went swimming and splashing and sliding.  Sitting near the pool, I tried to spot some adults with well-toned bodies.  (This was purely for research purposes, you understand.)  I didn’t see any – seriously, not one.  The teenage lifeguards were in good shape, and that’s it.  A depressing number of kids were already fat.

So why are southerners fat?  If you read the Time piece, you’ll notice the author chalks it up to a lack of exercise – you know, not enough walking to the bus stop, too many hot days when it’s no fun to play outside and all that.

That’s nonsense.  And if you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe Time magazine – because in a different article titled Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin, they actually get it right.  The author notes that exercise makes him hungrier and even quotes Gary Taubes.

It’s about the food, period.  The earlier Time article mentioned that Tennessee has a high rate of obesity.  That may be true for the state overall, but during the week we’ve spent in Franklin, I’ve hardly seen any rotund people at all.  If not for the modern cars, you’d think you’d stepped into the 1950s.

So what’s different here?  As Gary Taubes pointed out in Good Calories, Bad Calories, obesity and poverty often go together.  Carb-heavy foods are generally the cheapest, so poorer people eat more carbs.

But this is a prosperous area.  We’ve had a few of our new neighbors stop by to offer advice on the local attractions … southern hospitality and all that.  When they got around to recommending restaurants (usually after I confirmed that I will indeed be rooting for the Titans), they all asked the same question:  “Do you like a good steak?”

Yes, I like a good steak.  I also like a good town, and I’m glad to be living in one.

I’ve still got plenty of unpacking ahead of me, but the office is pretty much set up, so I’ll be resuming the twice-weekly posts.

Franklin countryside - the picture is obviously from the autumn, but this is what it looks like when we drive about two minutes from the house.

Franklin countryside - the picture is obviously from the autumn, but this is what it looks like when we drive about two minutes from the house.

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28 thoughts on “Southern Style

  1. Brian

    My parents have retired to Hot Springs. Pretty place, but I couldn’t live there. Too small – I’m used to Houston. Another thing that bothers me, when you ask any local for directions they give them to you in relation to the Wal-Mart. No kidding.

    I’ll refrain from making a joke about young lifeguards and being in the South, but stay away.

    Looks like a great place. Got any Wal-Marts in the area?

    Brian

    Hot Springs would be too small for me too. For a small town, Franklin is blessed with the amenities I associate with bigger cities … great restaurants, three live theater companies, dance and music classes for the girls, plenty of stores and small shops (more my wife’s concern than mine). I think it’s probably because so many people in the music industry live in the area. Heck, Nicole Kidman even has a house around here somewhere.

    And of course, we’re only 15 miles from Nashville, which has the sports teams, universities, museums, comedy clubs, ampitheaters, etc.

    But yes, we have a Wal-Mart. I don’t know if it’s because of local ordinances or a desire to fit in, but it’s a red-brick building with a small sign on a brick entryway. No big neon sign towering over the landscape.

    Reply
  2. Derrick

    I’ll reply to this post since it’s the most recent and you and the guest blogger covered similar material.

    I went through a period of about 6 months where I did almost no driving at all. I rode my bike for 5-10 miles just about every day (not so much on my days off when I didn’t have to ride to work), without changing my diet (consciously) and my weight did not change at all.

    After reading the Taubes book, it made sense. I was either eating just a little bit more, moving just a little bit less when I wasn’t riding, or both. I think people don’t realize how few calories that “steady state cardio” burns off, and how little food it takes to replace any calories that were used in the exercise.

    Unfortunately, since we’ve been told over and over that exercising is important for losing weight, people tend to blame themselves when the theory fails.

    Reply
  3. TonyNZ

    The poverty/obesity thing also extends to the price tag in restaurants.

    Expensive restaurants generally:

    a) have more meat (nothing like a 1 pound fillet steak wrapped in smoky bacon)
    b) use more fat cooking (gotta love flavour=dogma chefs)
    c) have less filler (read: potatoes, rice, pasta)
    d) have less processed stuff (i.e. frankenstein fats)

    Now I wish I could go to these restaurants regularly, but I’m not as accomplished as Dr Mike Eades (see his “food porn” category to see what I mean). As such, I prefer to go someplace really good 4 times a year instead of an average place once a month.

    Americans typically eat between 1/3 to 1/2 of their meals in restaurants, so if they’re gravitating towards the cheap carbs, you can imagine the damage.

    Reply
  4. Joe Matasic

    I’ve been through Franklin once or twice when I’ve gone hiking up there. Nice town. I was actually just backpacking in south Tenn and north Georgia a week ago. Actually tore my hamstring. Can’t get up there as much as I like since I live down in Tampa and its a good drive. Oh well. Hope you enjoy the new digs. My brother moved to Charlotte from Indy a couple years ago and loves it.

    Actually, just realized I ordered Fat Head and pre-ordered Drs. Eades’ book. I guess that means I won’t get the DVD for a while. That’s ok. I’ve got plenty of reading to do.

    I hope that hamstring heals up soon.

    Reply
  5. Joe Matasic

    Actually, I actually think I used the word actually too much. Actually….I mean really 🙂

    It’s actually easy to do. In fact, I often realize when editing my posts that too many sentences begin with “in fact.”

    Reply
  6. David

    As a southerner who has been a diabetic for 24 years, I’d like to respond. although there is certainly a poverty connection, the traditional diet of southerners when I was growing up in the 1950’s was very high in carbohydrates. In my family we ate corn, potatoes, butter beans, rice, corn bread, etc. all the time. As an added blessing, my Mom, who was and is a fabulous baker, served homemade desserts EVERY day. Except for the desserts, my friends ate pretty much like me. When I was diagnosed, the ADA diet actually worked for a couple of years because, although it is very high in carbs, it was still significantly lower in carbs than what I usually ate. Happily, I am now very low carb and am off all my diabetes meds. Southerners now have more food choices han they used to, but the carbs are still a large part of the culture.

    Sadly, carbs are part of the culture all over the country now. I am pleased that green beans and collard greens were offered as side dishes in every restaurant I’ve been to so far — although one restaurant obviously used brown sugar or molasses in cooking the collard greens.

    Reply
  7. Gita

    I always found it frustrating when wanting a quick bite that it was almost impossible to get a low carb meal. And you are right about the rest stops along the highways, nothing to eat there except nuts. The entire American culture is one that revolves around carbs. I’m living in Europe now and it is much easier to do the low carb thing as they still love their fatty meat here (yeah!).

    Though I do miss the Chipotle Barbacoa!

    Reply
  8. Jeanne

    Beautiful countryside! I wonder if your girls are going to start asking for a pony. I know I would.

    If I end up being able to afford one of the big spreads around here, they might just get that pony.

    Reply
  9. Annikki

    Glad to hear you made it okay! I’ve been following the blog for a few months, and Netflix finally sent me the movie. My husband and I got halfway through it last night.

    I have to tell you that you broke my husband! 🙂 I haven’t seen him laugh so hard in a long time! When you asked Natasha to say “moose and squirrel,” he ended up literally rolling on the floor, his face beet-red, for a good 10 minutes or so. Thank you!

    Your husband must be close to my age. Younger folks don’t always get the reference. Glad you’re enjoying the film.

    Reply
  10. Tim

    Brilliant folks have made recent cross country moves:

    http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2009/08/nicotine-on-move.html

    His experience with his movers pointed to nicotine being a bit of a helper in freeing fatty acids to be metabolized (per Taubes). Hmmm? Nicotine patches + low carb + intermittent fasting + high intensity weight lifting for ultimate weight loss?

    Well, I’ll stick to the more natural low carb/IF/moving heavy things. Works for me so far.

    Few people want to say it out loud, but the anti-smoking campaigns have probably contributed to the national weight gain. I enjoy a few cigars per week while taking my long walks, so maybe I’m using a weight-loss drug.

    Reply
  11. Heather W. Brumleve

    Your new town looks lovely! My family and I just spent the week in Indianapolis and noticed that people up there are much more fit (and affluent) than the people here in Southern Indiana. I could actually see good muscle tone in the majority, in women especially. My husband concluded that if we found a WalMart we would see all the ‘normal’ sized people.

    We also noticed that all the fast food joints were tucked away in strip malls but the nicer restaurants were prominently displayed. Coincidence? I doubt it.

    And yes, boo travel food! We noticed the exact same thing with our girls (especially after the continental breakfast served by our hotel) and couldn’t wait to get back home to bacon and eggs.

    I used to spend four weeks every year in Indianapolis doing comedy, and I do recall people seemed to be in good shape overall. Great audiences too.

    Reply
  12. Chris

    Your travelogue reminded me of the new adage: Never buy fuel for your car and your body at the same place.

    One of the reasons Southerners are so fat is that they drink iced tea. You have to use the word “unsweet” when you order in order to avoid a crazy amount of sugar. Too many Southerners haven’t made the connection between sweet tea and obesity. Or is that obesitea? Here’s the recipe: http://www.grits.com/tea.htm

    I’ve noticed that in restaurants. There’s a dispenser for tea, and another marked “unsweetened.” That makes sweet tea the default.

    Reply
  13. Dana

    Man, you’re making me homesick. Ohio is nice, but I graduated high school in Munford, Tennessee. That’s about half an hour north of Memphis.

    I think the carbiness of the traditional Southern menu probably arises out of the poverty suffered in that region for so long. Y’all don’t see it if you just live in the cities, but it is a big deal in the country. As recently as the nineties I could go home to Louisiana to visit family (yes! another state! My dad was career Navy) and walk around town and observe little old ladies living in old rotten houses. If you were black, it could get far worse. (I wasn’t surprised by the fallout from Katrina, either.)

    My mother qualifies for food aid and at one point was getting a weekly food box from a local charity. (I haven’t done so hot myself or I’d have been sending her money.) What was in the box? Noodles. Rice. Starches galore. She’s diabetic, has been since she was forty.

    You know something though? I suspect large portions of the South, to this day, would be receptive to your message if they could afford the food. They thought the low-fat movement was B.S. I suspect many of them still do.

    And I’ve only lost weight in conjunction with exercising when I was in Army basic training (and I didn’t need to lose any then) or when I was undernourished along with the exercise. This is why so many health nuts seem to lose on exercise–they’re starving themselves at the same time. When Ancel Keys did his study about starvation in Europe, 1800 calories a day was considered semi-starvation and the “normal” diet something more like 3000 calories in the men he used for his study. There are dieters now getting down to 1000 calories a day. It’s not difficult to figure out. They’re eating their own lean tissue. I’d lose weight like that too, but I’d sure regret it later.

    After driving through Tennessee, I can see why anyone who grew up here would be homesick for the scenery. Hard to beat these green rolling hills for beauty. And it’s just a different culture, so much more relaxed and friendly than I’m used to. In making calls to get utilities turned on and such, I’ve yet to have less than a five-minute conversation. The lady from Comcast and I spent at least two minutes talking about our favorite characters on “True Blood.”

    Too true about these crazy crash diets. The end result is that people are wrecking their metabolisms.

    Reply
  14. Matt R.

    Tom,

    Glad you and your family are enjoying the new hometown. It looks like a beautiful place to raise a family.

    I share your sentiments about the lack o food choices while driving across the country, however, I find the corporate world to be just as bad. It seems that everyone has to celebrate with cake or bring back something sweet from their last vacation. (As I write this, there’s a box of home made fudge behind my cubicle.) On days I’m in a hurry to get to work, I forget to bring my own food in and have to navigate all of the cafeteria’s bad choices and a host of sugar-laden vending machines.

    Even in this bad economy, the urge to stay at home for health reasons is a compelling one. I have discipline and believe in responsibility, but it’s much easier when I’m around the food I enjoy.

    When I was a programming contractor at Disney, I noticed the same thing. I turned down cake and cookies and pizza parties by telling people I’m allergic to wheat. That spiked any “Oh, come on, just a little bite” encouragements. I’m not technically allergic to wheat as far as I know, but if I eat a big helping of it, I pay for it later.

    With my office in the house now, I have no one to blame but myself if I don’t eat right.

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  15. sophia

    I thought the TIME article was OK but not great. He still accepts the basic idea of calories in calories out. Yeah, he referenced Taubes, but he doesn’t seem to have assimilated the idea. It doesn’t matter if you ate more after exercising, if what you ate was fats/proteins. Instead most people eat carbs, so they spike up their insulin levels. The article missed that entirely.

    I would’ve been happier if he’d shown some understanding of homeostatis, but I’ll take the improvement for now. At least he’s not telling people to read labels and count calories.

    Reply
  16. Jessica

    Welcome to the Nashville area! I hear the Franklin Farmers Market is the best in the area. I live in Hendersonville so it’s a bit of a drive but I’ll get down there one of these Saturdays. Plenty of CSA farms around here, too!

    I went to the Farmers Market when I was out here looking for a house. One local farm sells all grass-fed meats, 22 pounds for $80 if you subcribe. We’ll be subscribing this coming Saturday.

    Say hey if you see me there. I look like the guy atop the blog, but without the bologna rolls.

    Reply
  17. David

    Sorry for the change of topic, but people might be interested in the latest nonsense at the New York Times: Fatty Foods Affect Memory and Exercise
    By Tara Parker-Pope. A couple of commenters invoked Super-Size Me, but I was impressed by the number of commenters who not only told Ms. TPP that it was bunk, but why.:-)

    Good Grief … I’ll check it out. Wait, I can’t remember … did you say New York Post … ?

    Reply
  18. Ellen

    I grew up in rural Florida in the 70s and 80s and and it was all carbs, all the time. My father and I would go to the grocery store on Saturday and he would load up the cart with breads, cookies, crackers and the like.. at breakfast, lunch and dinner, any meat or vegetables were coated with a flour mixture and fried.. fried fish, fried okra, chicken fried steak and grits were served with just about every meal.

    I wish we had known then what I know now about eating for health.. maybe my mother and father would have made it into their late 60s.

    I feel the same way about my dad, whose “golden years” have brought him cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s … if only we’d known.

    Reply
  19. Debbie

    Wow, it sure does look lovely in your new home area. I’ve only briefly been on the edges of Tennessee, when my sister and her family lived in western NC near the Tennessee border, but now they live on the NC seacoast.

    In the last few years, however, I’ve found a big improvement in road food. Chris quoted the adage “Never buy fuel for your car and your body at the same place.” but when I drive down to visit my family in NC I usually do exactly that. It’s a 550-mile journey which is long for me for a single day’s drive, so to mamimize stopping time I DO usually buy some food at the convenience store when I stop for gas. Lately I’ve been trying to bring some food with me – but don’t always get the chance.

    Last time I drove down there the Royal Farms convenience store I stopped at had all the classic carby stuff, but of course it had nuts too. But in the cooler section it also had a selection of various string cheeses, hard-boiled eggs packed up in 2-egg packages, and various salad selections. I didn’t get a salad as I can’t stand salad without dressing, and I knew all the dressings would be cr*p, but I did get some cheese and nuts and hard-boiled eggs and a bottle of water, and didn’t think I had done too badly.

    We didn’t see those cooler foods as we drove through the west, but it’s nice to know they’re available in some areas. Maybe the idea will spread.

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  20. Mikey

    Tommy, about buying a pony, just remember what my dad always said: “Never invest in anything that eats…” It was nothing short of a miracle that I managed to get Kelsey through 8 years of horseback riding lessons without buying a nag. Lease, my friend…

    Your dad was a smart guy. Good advice.

    Reply
  21. Nancy Smiley

    Love the blog! Lots of interesting interaction and information. Thanks. I especially loved seeing the photos of Franklin. I check your weather almost every day. How’s the heat and humidity workin’ for you? Can’t wait to stroll your new home-turf with y’all soon. Much love, Grandma Duck

    I’m not minding the humidity like I thought I would. I love seeing cloudy skies again. I even saw a double rainbow earlier in the week as I was driving on the highway, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a rainbow. I sang “The Rainbow Connection” in tribute, complete with Kermit impression.

    But for the really important benefit: the humidity gives your beautiful daughter big, curly, total-babe hair.

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  22. Steve Raymond

    The pics of your new locale are indeed lovely.

    On the diet exercise thing…As I’ve aged, I definitely notice that if I exercise (like 30 mile hikes or biking and swimming, and some weight lifting) without restraining my eating, weight loss is slow, but does occur.

    On the other hand, if I restrain eating while not exercising at all, I do lose scale weight, but also I lose muscle mass really quickly, which I don’t like at all.

    It’s not simply calories expended while execising…I notice how my metabolism ramps up and down in relation to the amount of exercising I am doing. Most recently, since my Vietnam trip, after many months of weight loss, I’ve fallen off the wagon both with eating and exercise, and man, it is astounding how quickly ten pounds leaps back onto the frame, and that on top of noticeable muscle mass loss.

    So, for me, it’s not so black and white in terms of exercise and weight loss. And, if I look back at my younger days as a construction worker/martial artist/runner, I had a body fat percentage around 10%, and could drink a 32 ounce dairy Queen chocolate shake after a work out and feel great about it.

    A future visit to Franklin is planned. How are the winters there?

    Mild winters, couple of snows that don’t stick, according to the neighbors. Come on down anytime. We even have a guest bedroom now.

    The research is pretty clear that most exercise has little effect for weight loss. Most of us tend to get inspired to lose weight, then alter both diet and exercise habits. Diet is clearly the prime mover.

    Hard work — construction, lifting weights, etc. — does seem to help a bit through influencing insulin sensitivity. But I suspect that in your younger days, you also weren’t insulin resistant yet. If you went back to being just as active now, I’d bet you dollars to donuts those milkshakes would have a dramatically different effect. And then you’d have to give me back the donuts.

    Reply
  23. Jared Bond

    I had to laugh- I’m glad you’ve somewhat rescinded your “no obesity epidemic” claim from the movie (although, you did have a point about how it’s misleading to only measure weight and height). I figured when you said it, where you live must be different from where I live (Tucson, AZ)! Oddly, according to the “Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”, Arizona comes in at one of the leanest states- I think something’s off there. Where do they come up with this data anyways? I don’t recall any national census asking for our weights.

    Perhaps a better sampling of our nation would be a trip to Disneyland- and if Michael Eades’ recent trip was any indication, our nation has a serious problem! The population really has gotten heavier in just the last 40 years.

    I’m also glad you had the guts to put up the guest post saying that the walking in your film didn’t contribute much at all to the weight loss. Unfortunately, most people will point to this little detail to explain everything (i.e., my parents). I’ve convinced everyone around me to try low carb, but when they can’t stick to it for any length of time, the response is always, “Oh well, I just need to exercise more”. Since we’re all hormonally hooked on carbs, I also have to deal with the classic “Is it okay to eat carbs if I just exercise for like an hour afterward?” argument, rather than a true committal.

    A lot of people wanted to explain my weight loss by pointing to the extra walking, including my doctor. But even if you believe the calories in/calories out theory, the extra walking would only acount for a couple of pounds.

    They base those “fattest/leanest state” statistics on phone surveys. “Hello, how tall are you? How much do you weigh? Thank you.” Then they determine the average BMI.

    You probably recall the bit in the film where I showed a couple of huge bodies and said, “I definitely see a lot more people who look like this than I used to …” — and I do. Someone (can’t remember off the top of my head, probably Dr. Eric Oliver) told me that most Americans have gained a few pounds, but a minority have gotten huge. It is, however, a significant minority.

    I mentioned in that post that I don’t see many fat people here in Franklin. I was looking up statistics on the town last night, and one site actually listed the average BMI: 25, which is lower than the national average and would be skewed upwards by the relatively few huge people. (There aren’t any people with a BMI of 10 to offset the ones with a BMI of 35.)

    Reply
  24. wsb

    Welcome to Franklin!
    The Farmers’ market is great – it is now open all year ’round and here are some of the better local/independent restaurants: http://www.nashvilleoriginals.com

    We moved back 3 years ago and should have done it much sooner!

    Thanks for the link. Where did you move back from?

    Reply

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