Growing up in Alabama, I was shaped by many experiences directly related to Southern culture, making me proud of where I’m from. Manners and hospitality were at the top of the list.

“Yes ma’ams” and “no sirs” have opened more doors for me than I could ever have imagined. What a valuable lesson manners have been!

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve realized with all the good there’s also the bad. Not too far down that list of proud Southern characteristics is our “down-home cooking”. I, like many others, once bragged about all the fried catfish and sweet tea I could consume in one sitting.  Well, that diet is now revealing its consequences in a recent national study.

In July, the Center for Disease Control reported, once again, that the South leads the country in the highest obesity rates.  The top eight overweight states were Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia. Florida and Kentucky were the only states in the South that didn’t rank in the top eight.

I think many food traditions in the South are cherished greatly because of their ties to handed-down family recipes. I can’t count how many of my friends and clients brag about their mother’s _______ (fill in the blank) and feel guilty if they don’t clean the plate when it’s prepared. I do the same. 

Unfortunately, my mother’s cooking expertise not only includes delicious, rich meals, it also boasts a number of desserts impossible to turn down. One would think this is the demise of our healthy eating habits. These types of dishes are certainly not going to earn top honors on any nutrition list, but I don’t think they are necessarily the focus of the obesity epidemic in the South. The problem “down here” seems to be fast food.

We probably don’t eat at our mothers’ homes every day of the week, but those foods we grew up with have certainly shaped our tastes. They set us up well to crave the menu of the local fast food joint.  I think that’s why we Southerners occupy the top eight. We have to re-teach our taste buds and change this pattern of eating. It’s no tribute to Mom to order a double cheeseburger and fries!  Save the traditional meals for special occasions and holidays.

Fried and high-sugar foods will cause heart disease and some cancers. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables (steamed, grilled or raw), lean proteins, nuts and legumes will make you feel good about yourself and your health. Make good choices for a good body and good health.

Jeff Howerton is a trainer and owner of LEAN Personal Training at Hill Center of Green Hills, where he and his trainers work with clients to lose fat, develop lean muscle and implement strategies for healthier living.

LEAN (615) 279-1900 or jeff@leannashville.com.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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