The data doesn’t lie. Consumers are increasingly turning to convenience stores to provide quality, on-the-go meals and snacks. Healthful options too!
I’m in Atlanta this week at the NACS Show: the convenience-store industry’s premier event.
If you’re in attendance and wish to contact me, please use this form. I typically respond within the hour.
The subject of healthy living, it seems to me, is often made unnecessarily complicated.
Ever since I lost eighty pounds and discovered a better way to live, I’ve paid close attention to the conversation and debates. Instead of a general consensus about what healthy living looks like, there’s a lot of conflicting opinions.
The messages from the diet and weight-loss industries are a perfect example. Drink a bunch of green smoothies, says one person; carbs are your problem, says another; and let’s not forget the current detox fad that probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon—despite having no scientific basis. Millions of Americans also watch a reality show where morbidly obese individuals are paraded around and subjected to unhealthy diet and fitness regimens that, it turns out, cause long-term damage. This is the same show that promoted a fitness celebrity who sells “diet pills” even though no such thing exists.
And let’s not forget the Food Pyramid: a framework that millions of us learned about despite being beset with numerous problems. Or the confusion that arises from never-ending debates about which diet is the One True Diet.
Regardless of who or what is the primary cause, however, it’s undeniable that folks are often confused and misguided.
Can you blame them?
Even c-store industry research has noticed this state of affairs. The Hudson Institute revealed as much in “Health & Wellness Trends and Strategies for the Convenience Store Sector”, a 2015 report:
Yet, the definition of “healthy” to consumers can be a variety of things. Healthy eating means low carbs, high protein to serve as energy source, or even gluten-free for health or general dietary reasons. This variability transfers to labeling checking as well, as there are also a varied number of items that consumers “fact check” on labels.
But a few dominant narratives have emerged, and there’s one in particular that concerns me: the idea that healthy eating does not take place when “eating out”.
Mention this to your friends and family. Tell them that you’ve “stopped eating fast-food” or “stopped eating at restaurants and decided to prepare your own meals,” and they’ll probably nod their heads and congratulate you for having made a wise decision.
I suppose I can’t fault them since the narrative is all around us. There’s movies like Supersize Me, of course, but there’s also a subtlety that slips under the radar. It’s the friend who says she gained twenty pounds after joining her coworkers for lunch at a local restaurant for a few months, or the family member who says he’d lose weight if only he could stop eating at McDonald’s and Arby’s. The implication is that “eating out” is bad for our health.
But there’s just one problem.
It’s not true.
A person can be completely unhealthy while shopping at upscale grocery stores and preparing their own food—if they buy the wrong things and consume too much. Restaurants, gas stations, and fast-food are no different.
Besides, eating-out is a rational choice in our modern way of life. We work long hours, have busy schedules, and some of us work multiple jobs. There’s also folks like me who have abnormal travel schedules. I travel four to five days each week, visiting locations all around the United States. This means that I often can’t cook my own meals—despite the fact that I enjoy doing so.
Do our on-the-go, busy lives mean condemn us to diminished health and increased waistlines? Is that the price to be paid?
Of course not.
But the narrative suggests otherwise, and I’ve watched as folks beat themselves up for something as simple as stopping at a c-store on their lunch break. They think they’ve done something wrong. Something unhealthy.
That’s one of the reasons why I conducted this experiment. I wanted to empower others by helping them understand that healthy eating is not dependent upon 1) where they purchase their food and 2) whether or not they prepare it. It can even take place at a gas station—if folks purchase nutritious food and consume a reasonable amount.
Interestingly enough, I discovered that the c-store industry is working hard to innovate and put healthful food in front of their customers. If you’re at the NACS Show this week, I’m speaking Thursday morning at 8:00am in Room A314. I’ll tell you all about it.
Was my experiment a success, though?
If you followed my daily updates on Reddit’s /r/loseit, kept up with the media coverage, monitored my Instagram feed, or listened to the Convenience Matters podcast and read my recent article in NACS Magazine, I think you’ll arrive at the same conclusion.
More importantly, however, are the responses I received from people who followed my journey. One fan regularly goes on long road trips, and she says that I inspired her—that I helped her to remember that she’s the one in control of her health. Spending long hours on the road doesn’t mean that she’s doomed to make unhealthy choices.
Healthy living can involve purchasing a veggie tray at a Kwik Trip, a container of celery and peanut butter from HyVee Gas, or a low-calorie breakfast sandwich from Kum & Go. It can also be as simple as a pack of mixed nuts or a few hard-boiled eggs from Love’s Travel Stop.
It doesn’t have to be complicated.
It’s about each of us making intentional, wise, and nutritious choices. It’s about living the healthiest life that we’re capable of sustaining in the long-run; and the question of whether we shop at upscale grocery stores or regularly eat on-the-go is largely irrelevant.
But perhaps it takes a crazy guy who eats at gas stations for a month to get the point across.