Why Are We So Fat?
I saw an article with this title on Facebook and a hundred people fighting in the comments, so I ignored that child’s play and wrote a post about it.
I think we already know why we are so fat. We are definitely eating more and moving less than 30 years ago. It’s a complex topic, and we are better off asking, “Why are we eating more and moving less?”
The most common responses to this question miss the point. If yelling at people to “eat less, move more” actually worked, then we wouldn’t be where we are right now. If you want to know why we’re overweight, you need to understand the real challenges:
A) Explaining complex topics to a population that isn’t too interested in learning is unproductive. Maybe this is a ‘human nature’ problem in that people want simplified, effortless answers?
B) People don’t apply the solutions that are already known to work. Can’t the same be said for religion & politics?
C) We eat about 500 calories per day more than we did 30 years ago. Despite the hype, ‘carbs and sugars’ are not the only foods we are eating more of. We eat more:
- Grains (especially refined grain products)
- Added fats & oils like butter on bread; shortening & oils in commercial fast foods (fried foods, high fat snack foods, sweet baked goods, cookies, pastries); salad dressings; cooking oils; margarine; mayonnaise.
- Added sugars – We have a love/hate relationship with sugar, but as obesity increased, sugar consumption did not rise at the same rate. Yes, added sugars are on the list, but still less than the previous items.
- We eat out more often and at home less. When we eat out, we eat higher calorie foods or more total food.
- We want to blame the government, because well, our government is a joke. Government recommendations aren’t that terrible, but people are not following government recommendations. We eat more refined foods than they recommend, and we eat less fruits and vegetables than they suggest.
D) There are systemic social issues:
- Hyperpalatable food is cheap and it’s everywhere. For $1.99 you can get a whole meal at Burger King, or a single apple at Whole Foods.
- Inequality and food access are very real and growing problems. most of the ‘health conscious’ community is so far removed from these realities that they don’t even know how to address it. Diet Gurus fancy themselves experts and write up manifestos to tell the world how to eat, while having no idea how the rest of the world actually lives.
- Priorities other than looking skinny: a single mother working two jobs, with two kids, for example, probably doesn’t have time to go to a health club or Whole Foods, or come home and cook a nourishing meal for her whole family. This is of course assuming there is a Whole Foods in her area, which there probably isn’t, which wouldn’t matter because it’s prohibitively expensive anyway.
- Some people don’t have access to parks and recreation. I stayed with a friend in NJ for a week and didn’t walk anywhere. There are no sidewalks. None. Living in NYC, I walk all over the place and climb stairs – this is a normal, everyday thing. You simply can’t do this in some towns.
- We devalue play and physical education. We either push kids too hard, to play too many sports all year long (resulting in injuries and teen athlete burnout), or more often we have schools eliminating PE and play time.
E) Epigenetics (those 9 months you spent in your mother’s womb) influences our current health. Genetics are involved in anywhere from 30-70% of someone’s susceptibility to obesity.
F) I haven’t even mentioned society’s penchant for convenience or how we all have desk jobs, then drive home to sit on a couch for hours. Seriously though, obesity is complex: http://www.shiftn.com/obesity/Full-Map.html
Yelling at someone to “eat less and move more” or calling overweight people “stupid” – as we see on Facebook everyday – doesn’t make sense and doesn’t work.
G) Dieting – ask an overweight person you know how many diets they’ve done. Chronic dieting leads to long-term weight gain. You can blame overweight people all you want, but until you address the people that are spreading low calorie diets, nothing will change. The Biggest Loser guy promotes a 1,300 calorie diet, which is roughly what I ate for breakfast this morning.
In other words, “If everyone in the world was like me, everything would be perfect.”
These tweets are examples of the myopic, elitist mindset of many people who promote a specific dietary ideology, and illustrate how that’s associated with a narrow view of everything – not just diet, but social and political issues as well.
You simply can’t reduce complex issues like obesity down to one thing like ‘carbs’. Carbs are not the problem. You want to know why some people lose weight on low-carb diets?
“People on low-carb diets often eat more total protein and fat, which helps blunt their appetite. In contrast, the people in the high-carb groups in these studies are often eating lots of refined carbs which tend to be far less filling. In fact, studies have shown that it’s actually the high protein content of the diet that helps control appetite and cause weight loss, not the avoidance of carbs.” http://evidencemag.com/why-calories-count/
H) Diet and Fitness Gurus, Bloggers, Experts, and Authors – many of these fools promote faulty ideas or their own personal bias as a universal solution. This seems to be a huge issue, maybe even more impactful than Big Food corporations and deceptive marketing. In the quest to oversimplify and ignore facts, Diet Gurus and Trainers say some of the most ignorant things like “sugar is addictive as cocaine’ or ‘fruit makes you fat.’
“As obesity and its associated health problems have reached global pandemic levels, the fitness industry has flourished. According to franchisehelp.com, the number of fitness centers in the U.S. went from roughly 17,000 in 2000 to almost 30,000 by 2008, and this growth is showing no signs of slowing down. A cursory glance at fitness websites, reality shows, magazines, gym literature, et cetera will tell us that the fitness industry is here to save us from being fat. But being fat is not something that we need to be saved from.”
Conclusion: These are only a few of the reasons why we are overweight or obese. This is a hot topic that most Americans swear they know the answer to. Except they don’t. The most common response from most people when we talk about ‘why are we so fat’ is obnoxious, judgmental and wrong. Until more people become aware of these multi-factorial issues, we will continue to blame ‘carbs’ or call people ‘lazy’ and absolutely nothing will change.
My next article will provide some concrete solutions for you if you want to lose fat.