One time I took my young granddaughter shopping and asked her what size t-shirt she wore. She replied, “5, I think, but Mommy knows my number.” She is indeed blessed with a mommy who knows her number, and a whole lot more important stuff about her.
I’m told there’s a movie by the same name, about how many sexual partners a young woman has had. That’s not what I’m talking about here; you can do your own number on that.
The last few days I’ve been in Mary Washington Hospital trying to get my heart rhythm straightened out, something that happens to some of us as we age. I am being treated royally and getting a lot of reading, writing and thinking done, much as I’d rather be at home.
It’s been a long time (thankfully) since I’ve been in a hospital, and a lot has changed. I enjoy selecting my food from a long list of items and phoning my order into the kitchen, just like hotel room service. Well, maybe not quite, as there is neither a mini-bar in my room nor cocktail selections on the list.
My diet is listed as “cardiac” and somewhere in the past few days, “diabetic” has been added as my pre-diabetic status earned me that designation, also. I’ve learned that the nutrition system at Mary Washington Hospital is very efficient. The first evening, I ordered a chocolate ice cream cup, thinking to give it to my partner who loves ice cream. I heard, “You can’t have that. But you can have orange sherbet.” OK, sounded good to me. I explained it to my partner, and he enjoyed his sherbet.
Then I noticed that all my meals arrived with a list of carbohydrates, calories, sodium and potassium values. I read the print-out one day and dumped my tuna sandwich filling onto my salad as I added the no-fat dressing, opting not to eat the calorie-carb rich bread on the sandwich. Hmm, I thought, that print-out was really helpful.
When I ordered my next meal, I asked (I’m getting the drift of who actually gets to pick), “May I have a cookie?”
I heard, “What kind of cookie?”
“Um, oatmeal raisin?”
[Pause, as if reading a list] “Yes, you can have that.”
I bet I wouldn’t have gotten chocolate chip.
The next morning for breakfast, now knowing how this worked, I asked, “Whole-wheat bagel?”
“You can have a half.”
“Fine, that’s enough. Could I have peanut butter on it?”
“Orange?” thinking, who could object to a fresh orange?
“Yes, but that’s your number.”
Apparently I had a number of calories or carbs I could have at a meal, and I’d reached it.
Suited me fine, that was plenty of breakfast with a mid-morning snack of orange. When the accompanying print-out arrived, I was really surprised at the calorie/carb count of the parfait.
Wow, I thought, do I really want to spend my calories that way when I'm home and picking from an unlimited array of choices?
I began thinking about how convenient it is to have a number. How many times in our lives do we wish we’d had someone tell us what a good limit would be to shoot for? Number of calories/carbs at each meal? Number of new clothes to buy in one season, when the closet is already pretty full? Number of times to have your wine glass re-filled? Number of times to back-talk your boss/spouse/parent/whoever? Number of potential dates to keep dangling on a string at one time? Number of times to cut class in college?
We do have a number for most of our life activities, and usually we know what it is. We know when we’ve bought one sweater too many, flirted one too many times at a party, left our kids with a sitter too many times this month. We know when we’ve given our grandkids one too many cookies, electronic devices, dollars to spend foolishly.
I would never suggest that numbers should govern our lives. But I would suggest that sensible numbers might guide us. One too many cookies once in a while is permissible; one too many at every visit is not only nutritionally unsound, but sending a negative number message about self-discipline. A healthy body, a workable budget plan, a basic attitude of tending what’s important -- whether it’s going to class, not calling in on a sick day when you don’t really need one, or maintaining important family time and ties – will keep us all on a better path of life.
Are you on top of your numbers? And incidentally, what a great way to teach us about nutrition, simply telling us the numbers but not making value judgments. Thanks, MWH!