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Cultural Differences, Food, and Weight Gain

I lived in Texas from 1990 to 1994. I haven’t spent much time there since, although I’ve had my eye on Houston’s unfortunate distinction as “America’s fattest city” for the majority of recent years (though Chicago won the honors in 2006 if I recall correctly). Armed with this knowledge, I arrived in Houston today hoping that I wouldn’t let down the members of my weight loss group as I entered the “lions den” of poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles.

I had missed lunch, and opted for an early dinner at the hotel restaurant. The menu surprised me in two ways: first, it featured quail and wild boar (this particular hotel chain is not known for culinary artistry – let’s just say that their recent “upscale service campaign” involved an email to me the day prior to arrival, asking if I might like anything special in advance of my arrival – like a 6 pack of Budweiser waiting for me on ice. I kid you not.) Second, they had made an attempt to highlight “heart-healthy food choices” on the menu. One item was identified as heart-healthy. Only one.

So I resisted the urge to try the local southern fare (fried catfish and hush puppies) and decided on the heart-healthy option. Here’s how the conversation went:

Server: “Welcome to XXX. May I start you off with something to drink?”

Dr. Val: [Shivering and somewhat surprised that the AC would be on so high] Well, yes, I think I’ll have some hot tea. Do you have green tea? It’s quite cold in here, isn’t it?

Server: “It’s not cold. The lights above will warm you up real quick.”

Dr. Val: [Looking up towards the track lighting above me, wondering if they could function as a sort of heat lamp.] “Oh, ok.” [Server leaves to put a tea bag in a mug of hot water and returns with it on a napkin.]

Server: “Have you decided what you’d like to order?”

Dr. Val: “Well yes. I think I’ll have the heart-healthy fish, but I was wondering if I could have a side of greens with that?”

Server: “What kind of ‘greens?'”

Dr. Val: “Well, maybe a green salad or some broccoli?”

Server: “Did you see the salads on the menu?” [I can tell she thinks I’m one of those “high maintenance Yankee women” as her voice begins to tighten.] “We have spinach salad or perhaps a Caesar?”

Dr. Val: [Now fully aware that I’m being irritating but desperately wanting to make a healthy choice.] “Yes but those are entree-sized salads and they have bacon, egg, and cheese on them. Do you have something more plain? Or maybe some steamed vegetables…” [My anxiety grows as she stares blankly at me].

Server: “Well did you see the string beans side dish?”

Dr. Val: “Yes, but they’re wrapped in bacon, and [trying hard to help her to understand my quandary] I was hoping to order something healthy… you know what I mean?”

Server: Blank stare.

Dr. Val: Nervous stare.

Server: Sighing, “well I can ask the chef to make the beans without the bacon. Not sure if he can do it, though.”

Dr. Val: “Oh that would be great, thanks so much!”

Server: [Fake smile, whisks menu from my hand, waddles toward kitchen.] 10 minutes pass.

Runner: [Appearing with a huge plate on his shoulder] “Did you order the fish?” [Surprised that anyone ordered the heart-healthy dish].

Dr. Val: “Yes, I did.”

Runner: “Ok, here you go.” [Places gigantic plate in front of me with a separate bowl holding about a half gallon of stir-fried green beans in oil. The fish has cream sauce on top of it, about a quarter inch deep.]

Dr. Val: [Remembering the phrase “Texas-sized.” I scrape off cream sauce and cut green beans into bite sized portions. I think to myself: how can anyone eat out in this state and hope to maintain a reasonable weight? I promise myself to go to the hotel gym after my meal…]

Yes my friends, the next 9 days at this conference are going to be interesting. I’ll keep you updated as I rekindle my cultural connections to Texas. And I have the utmost sympathy for Americans who live in places where eating out regularly can be hazardous to your health. Losing weight can be a fight, every step of the way, can’t it?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Cultural Differences, Food, and Weight Gain”

  1. PearlsAndDreams says:

    Welcome to the South Dr. Val  !  Been figthing this for 25 years!

    Being a California girl myself … I have yet to adjust to this in Oklahoma when I eat out. My husband, comes from an Okie family, and has yet to adjust to my California style cooking ..

    It’s quite different this southern heavy on the sauces, deep fried, greasy, buttery, bancony … icky gooey … creepy … oh did I say that? 

    and he wonders why I have food issues?


  2. DrDavid says:

    Hey Val!  I had the exact same experience at the hotel restaurant where I stayed in Houston a couple weeks ago.  Except… there was NOTHING on the menu that wasn’t fried.  Nothing.  So every subsequent meal I had was somewhere else.  The sushi I found down there was great (and not fried )

  3. RH Host Melissa says:

    Yes it can feel like a fight, can’t it? Trying to live healthy can be quite a  challenge at times.  Good for you for removing the sauce ! It’s amazing what simple steps we can take to a healthier body.  

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