Empty Calories

Hidalgo County, Texas is on the southern border of our great country, just this side of the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico.  Hidalgo County has roughly 806,000 residents and 47% of the children in Hidalgo County live in poverty.  The poverty that exists in Hidalgo County is real.  It’s not the “I’m poor, but I drive an Escalade to pick up my Blue Santa Christmas presents” kind of poor.  It’s the “I live ten miles down a dirt road, in a house with cardboard walls and have no electricity or running water” kind of poor.  It’s conditions that you’d expect to see on the other side of the river.

Surprisingly though, 44% of the children in Hidalgo County suffer from childhood obesity.  When I first heard that statistic I imagined skinny, emaciated kids living in boxes in the south Texas brush while chubby little rich kids played video games all day in town.  But that’s not the case.

In fact, the truth in Hidalgo County seems stranger than fiction.  Because the 44% of kids suffering from childhood obesity are nearly all in the same group of kids that live in poverty.

The Washington Post published a fascinating article on the problem in Hidalgo County, which I heard on NPR (Gasp, yes, I listen to NPR on my way to work.  It puts me in a much better mood for the day than listening to Rush rant about the same things over and over and over).  You can read the full article here….


The general idea is that the kids living in poverty have a limited budget for food and limited access to healthy food.  So they end up buying and eating junk that fills them up and poisons them at the same time.

Those kids are filling their bodies up with empty calories.  As outrageous as this may sound, when I look around I see us doing the same thing ourselves.  Or at least I do.  And everybody I know.  But I’m not talking about filling up our stomachs with empty cookie calories.

What I’m talking about is filling up our lives with empty calories, filler that seems pretty sweet at the time but does nothing useful for us.

What about our time?  Time really is our most precious commodity in life, because it’s the only thing that we can’t get any more of.  And it’s probably the commodity that we’re the most careless with.  If I put a stopwatch on my day and kept track of the amount of time I wasted watching TV, “playing on my phone”, or worrying about things that are out of my control—I’d probably be ashamed to let everyone see where my time went.  In fact I’m sure I would.  And I suspect that a lot of other people would too.

Now I don’t think that the answer is to throw away our TVs and phones, just like the answer to childhood obesity isn’t to never, ever eat a cookie.  But I think that we’d all be better off if we took a hard look at where our time went and asked ourselves if we fill up our time with nutritious, worthwhile activities or just empty calories.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15-16 to look carefully how you walk….making the best use of the time.  I’d like to say that I make the best use of the time given to me, but I’m not sure I can.  In James 4, James talks about the fact that our life is a vapor and that we can’t be certain about what tomorrow will hold for us.  What’s the conclusion that he draws then?  It’s that whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.  James tells us that if we know of something good that we need to do….do it now, because you might not have tomorrow.

And what about our relationships?  I think Facebook can be a good thing.  But I also think that it has depreciated the value of friendships.  Every person I know on Facebook is “friends” with someone that they aren’t friends with.  And in some cases they’re “friends” with people that they genuinely dislike.

I think we’ve filled up our relationships with empty calories.  It’s easy to have our friendships consist of passing comments about sports or funny cat pictures.  It’s a lot harder to have our friendships filled with disagreements and heartache and late night phone calls for help.  Do Facebook, it’s like the sweet dessert after a good meal.  But just make sure all of our friendships aren’t only empty calories.

There’s nothing wrong with empty calories….I don’t know how I’d live without peanut M&Ms.  But without some wholesome, nutritious food (time / friendships) we’ll be living a lot healthier….physically, mentally and spiritually.