Mac-and-cheese & childhood obesity: Mrs. Obama talks about the Let's Move! campaign; her food "demons;" and her Mother's Day feast...
First Lady Michelle Obama graces the cover of Ebony magazine's May Mother's Day issue, now available on newsstands. It's Mrs. Obama's second cover story for the magazine since she moved into the White House. Former Social Secretary Desiree Rogers is now CEO of Chicago-based parent company Johnson Publishing. During an interview in her East Wing office with editor-in-chief Amy DuBois Barnett, the First Lady had plenty to say about food as she discussed the Let's Move! campaign, parenting, and Mother's Day.
"I love food. I love food. I do," Mrs. Obama said. "I mean, I love French fries. I love pizza. I love pie."
Mrs. Obama also explains her own intense exercise regime, as well as President Obama's. The First Lady has the unique distinction of simultaneously running a national childhood obesity campaign and being known as America's foremost French fry and pie lover, so when asked about her "indulgences," Mrs. Obama named "good food."
"My vice is that I love good food," Mrs. Obama said. "And I would love to be able to eat a cheeseburger and french fries every day. I’d be happy if life worked that way, and it ended with a big chocolate sundae with peanuts and hot fudge. I mean, I can talk about food, right?"
Mrs. Obama noted she's "constantly jumping over...demons," thanks to living in a mansion that includes pros in the kitchen and a full-service pastry shop.
"(Food) is always there, always there," Mrs. Obama said. "I am no different from anybody else. I love the good, wonderful, comforting things in life: Mac-and-cheese, fried chicken, hash browns...I don’t want anybody to look at me somehow as having some supernatural willpower."
"You don’t wake up one day and not want pie."
So Let's Move! "gets put on hold" for the First Family's Mother's Day dinner, Mrs. Obama said.
"Usually, my mom, the girls, Barack and I have dinner together. Sometimes we invite mothers who don’t have a place to go," Mrs. Obama said. "But it’s quiet. We – the moms – get to pick the meal, and we do what we do when we get together as a family: We talk over dinner."
"I usually give my mom her pick, and she’ll go with fried chicken; we may have steak. The girls will throw in a mac-and-cheese request, and if it goes through Grandma, then it gets on the menu. Let’s Move! gets put on hold."
The Let's Move! campaign...
In February, Mrs. Obama celebrated the second anniversary of the Let's Move! campaign with a three-day tour, and the initiative is "absolutely personal," she told Ebony. The Q & A makes up much of the story:
Q: Let’s talk about Let’s Move! Why is it so important to you? Is it personal?
Mrs. Obama: It is absolutely personal. The whole idea of dealing with the epidemic of childhood obesity and children’s health started when I was a regular mom on the South Side of Chicago. My husband was busy, and I was working. We were rushing back and forth and probably eating fast food more than I realized. My kids were always active in dance, soccer and that sort of thing. But my pediatrician kind of pulled me aside and said, “You know, I’m looking over these numbers, and I think you guys need to look at how you’re eating.” And then he went on to explain what he was seeing in his practice: obesity rates steadily increasing; higher rates of asthma and diabetes in children that he had never seen before; and how he’s looking a lot at lifestyle.
And as I started looking at my own life, I realized ‘Man, this has gotten away from me, and I didn’t even know it.’ So what about the parents who don’t have resources, who aren’t going to the pediatrician and who don’t have the information? And I knew then and there that we needed to up the ante on this issue and that this was an epidemic that showed up on our back door unexpectedly. Yet, it was something that was eminently solvable.
I mean, this is something that we control. And after my pediatrician grave us the heads up, we did some really basic things: we eliminated sugary drinks and added more fruits and vegetables. I also cooked a couple more times a week. We watched what the kids ate when we did takeout. And within months, when I went back to the doctor, he was shocked. He said, “What have you done?” and it really wasn’t that much, but it was conscious. I was actively engaged in something that I had just taken for granted.
So when we came on board, the first thing we wanted to do was to plant the White House kitchen garden as a way to begin the conversation about child nutrition. And from that came a movement to basically tackle this issue from a variety of areas, because there is not one reason why we (have health problems), there are many: accessibility and affordability (among them). The fact that there are many neighborhoods all over this country that don’t have a single grocery store where they can even buy fresh produce. A lot of parents just don’t have the information.
That’s why we launched MyPlate.gov, which is the new (nutrition guide); it takes away the food pyramid, and it just helps make (selecting healthy food choices) easier. How should a parent design a plate that’s healthy? Well, half of it is vegetables, and you have a little protein and a little carb. MyPlate.gov is an easy tool that gives parents sort of a guidepost.
Impacting school meals was huge. That’s why the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – legislation that’s going to make school lunches better for 32 million kids – is groundbreaking. Most of our kids are getting half, more than half, of their calories at school.
All of that has to be a part of the solution. So it all came from my kitchen, my experience, my kids, which is why this is such a passion for me, because I know I struggled with it. And I know that I got some guidance and put my kids on a better track, and I think that all of our kids deserve to be on that track.
Ebony: How do you encourage fitness and proper nutrition without allowing them to succumb to some of the negative body imagery that’s prevalent?
Mrs. Obama: Well, because we only talk in terms of health. When we talk about why you eat certain things, it has nothing to do with fitting into a dress or looking like a model; it’s about what certain foods do for you physically, mentally, emotionally that really works. And you can teach those.
And for our young girls in particular, it’s about strength. It’s about competition. It’s about being able to run. I tell my girls it is good to sweat. I want you to run and jump and be out of breath. I want you to feel what it feels like to be physically successful, not just intellectually successful and not just emotionally successful. It’s good to win because you ran faster!
Ebony: How much do you work out?
Mrs. Obama: I try to work out five days, and then if something gets in the way, or if I don’t feel like it, then that’s the exception, and I can live with it and not feel guilty because I worked out four other days.
Last night, we went out for dinner. I ate every piece of bread and had a glass of wine, and I had dessert, and that’s not something I think about. As I tell my girls, if you’re eating well at home 90 percent of the time, then the other 10 percent is just not a big deal. I don’t want to stress about what I eat and what I do every day.
And I also tell my daughters, there are times when I get up and don’t want to (exercise). Sometimes it isn’t fun, but it always feels better once you finish.
The same thing is true with the President. He functions better every day when he gets his workout in. It clears his mind; it gets him ready. I don’t think there’s anybody who can imagine just what that man deals with over the course of a 24-hour period. He is able to do it because he is mentally and physically sharp, so it’s a necessity.
But as I say, balance is important. I’m going to have a piece of cake. When I want some French fries, I’m going to have them. If I want a piece of chicken, I’m going to have it. And it just doesn’t change the course of your life when, again, 90 percent of your life is spent living healthily.
Ebony: This isn’t some fad diet...You’ve made some conscious lifestyle choices.
Mrs. Obama: And I also think it’s important for readers to know that I didn’t just wake up here. It takes time. I mean, if you’ve never walked before, walking for 15 minutes at a reasonable pace counts. And then, get up the next day and walk one more minute longer, and then get up the next day. Then if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but get back (to it). I encourage people because that’s how I did it.
Now I’m running three miles. I was never really a runner, but I decided before Thanksgiving to start running. Well ... I didn’t just run three miles. I ran two minutes and then I walked a minute; then I ran two minutes (more), then I walked a minute. And I built up to being able to run three miles. So I want the readers to know that it’s incremental, and it can help… it can be beneficial even incrementally if people are just getting up and slowly pushing themselves.
Because when they start feeling better and can do it a little more, and they start seeing results, that’s what’s going to get them hooked. I know if I’m not investing now, I can’t look up at 85 and think I’m going to be able to walk on my own, live on my own. I start thinking long term.
*Cover courtesy of Ebony