Friday, August 6, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

When my wife brought up the idea of getting a dog, I was quick to respond.

"Not a chance," I said. "We have two boys under 6 years old, home repairs, volunteer at our church, and both hold jobs. We're too busy for a dog... can't afford a dog... can't take on more responsibility right now..." At this point, she was no longer listening but, my point was still going to be made. Sure, our boys said they'd help take care of the dog, but I know how that goes. Everyone would cozy up to the pup until it's 10 degrees in February. Then who would be outside chiseling the ice hardened doggie doo off of the walk? It would be me, while the rest of the dog lovers sit inside and sip hot chocolate. No dog.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the results of a survey that says more than 30% of people are obese in 9 states. In 2007 only 3 states reported obesity levels that high. Mississippi reported the highest levels with 34.4% of the folks obese (USA Today, August 3, 2010). Must be that southern-fried goodness.

Overall, the data suggests that approximately 27% of adults in America are obese. We know that the obesity rate is growing as is the associated health issues which include increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.

"Obesity is common, serious and costly and affects virtually every system in the adult body," says William Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

We know the disease (obesity is defined as being 30 pounds over a healthy weight) and we understand the remedy (healthy eating and increased activity). Yet, we just can't put down the cookies. Why?

I thought my wife was appeasing the kids who had been pining for a dog when she asked if we could go visit a dog living with a foster family nearby that she found through Furry Friends Network.

"Let's just visit." She said with pitiful eyes.

"OK with me," I said obligingly, "but, we're still not getting a dog."

Food has become an opiate for the masses in our country. However, we know that it's not really about the food. Food simply becomes something that we shove in our face to try and fill whatever void we have in our lives. Similar to any other addiction, food becomes our crutch. Author Tim Keller calls these things idols that are our functional saviors, the things that we use to save us on a daily basis.

A pastor friend of mine often asks, "what's the thing beneath the thing?" Food is just the thing. It's not obesity, that's a symptom. The disease is rooted much deeper in our own social and emotional issues for which we turn to food to dull the pain - this is the thing beneath the thing.

On the ride home from the foster family, my wife and our two boys were talking delightfully of how Sophie the dog, was just the perfect fit for our family.

"A dog would be great for the boys." My wife said, now turning up the pressure. "It would teach them responsibility. And would cause us to slow down, stay at home more often, spend more time together."

I started to crack, "I don't know..."

Social networks and healthy personal relationships help us find the thing beneath the thing. We need human interaction for encouragement. We seek connectedness for understanding. We require friendships that hold us accountable and challenge us to grow and move forward. We long for relationship with something bigger than ourselves for purpose and meaning. When these relationships are lost in the business of our lives, other things like hopelessness and loss of identity can take root. Too often we feed these unhealthy emotions with fast food and fried chicken to numb ourselves from feeling anything at all.

Any healthy relationship, even those with pets help us become healthier. There are many studies (Can Owning a Pet Help You Live Longer? Mgrath, Jane) that show pet owners are less likely to die from heart disease and other ailments. Why? Even an inhuman relationship helps us deal with our stuff which helps us reduce our stress.

If weight is an issue for you, start with a healthier diet and add more physical activity to your day. But, don't stop there. Find the thing beneath the thing. Dig up the roots of what's causing you to use food as your daily savior. Do it with others. Share your struggle with an old friend. Engage in a healthy community like the Y and meet new friends. Connect with someone in a deeper way to cultivate a new relationship. Join a support group. Or, adopt a pet.

Sophie has thrown up on our carpet twice. The doggie doo doesn't get picked up everyday. There is dog hair on the couch. But, our family rescured a pet together and became closer through the process. Our boys have become more responsible. We stay home more often. The dog has allowed us to just be together more and that's a healthy thing for all of us.

If you see me on a dreary, wet, and cold February morning walking a dog, know that it is worth it. I'll be returning soon to a smiling familiy making hot chocolate who know through experience that relationships matter.