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Weighty Thoughts

July 23rd, 2012

If you haven’t watched the HBO Special “Weight of the Nation” you can download it for free from iTunes (at least for the US based folks).

A multiple part series, HBO attempted to take an objective and scientific look at the issue of obesity in the US. There is a lot of good and useful information. There are also quite a few things they gloss over (like it makes a difference how many years you have been carrying around that extra weight in terms of ease of being able to shed what you don’t want).

Unlike in the bad old days (read anytime before 1950) when being heavy was a sign of wealthy, today in western countries, obesity is pretty closely aligned with poverty. What stuck me specifically were two things: the first was the distribution of fast food stores in poverty areas and the second being the lack of grocery stores in exactly those same areas. It is harder to eat healthier when you can’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables and when it costs you a lot more than junk.

At the same time, I was bothered a bit by a certain attitude of “it’s not my fault.” Admittedly, it might be harder to control your weight on cheap food – but I watch a lot of people eat. Frankly, they eat a lot more than I do. I watch people eat fried foods, toss on extra dressing, eat deserts.

(note, just like the study about a small glass of wine being good for your heart – a little might be ok, but a lot is a disaster. This goes not just for alcohol but also for oil, sugars, and portion size.)

I can fully accept that some people’s issues begin in childhood – and that it is very difficult to parse out what is nature (heredity) and what is nurture (I don’t care if you are full -you can’t leave the table till your plate is clean. Children are starving in India). End result of all of this? Some of us grow up to love food and for others it is fuel.

Looking at other models out there, for example alcoholism, we accept that there are addiction issues involved but we put the responsibility directly on the person. Very rarely is someone holding them down to pour that drink down their throat.

Perhaps we are doing that in the US in portion sizes. I now ask for the old people’s or kids size portion. It is not hard to tell the waitress/waiter that I just can’t eat all that much and I don’t like seeing food thrown out. In many places half portions are cheaper. Or learning to split a entry with your partner. It can drive waitstaff crazy – but if you order as you eat you will wind up with the right amount of food and a lower bill. (It is only in the very expensive places that I hate anyway that a teaspoon of “whatever” plated beautifully is considered an adequate portion.)

Off the track here? Probably. But it is easier to not gain the weight than to get right of it. And frankly once any of us pass that magic 40-45, our metabolism slows down and we need less food on a daily basis. Bummer? Probably. But I think it might just be a species survival trait. The elders who are not involved directly in childbearing and providing soldier bodies are able to do more with less, leaving the food for the younger generation.

So there we have it – thousands of years of evolution designed to make us efficient on less coming up against a culture that is no longer hunting/gathering. Instead, sitting down at a desk all day leaves our minds occupied and our stomachs bored. We eat.

So next time you look at food – ask yourself the three key questions
1) do I really need something to eat/drink right now?
If the answer is no, well….
2) If I do – is this what I need? (Healthy, good for me and in the right amount)
if not – skip it or substitute
3) Will it improve my sex life?

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  1. July 27th, 2012 at 18:21 | #1

    I did watch the series and agree that it is worth the time investment. Your anthrolopogic summary of where we are is a good one, but I don’t think we’ve completely stopped being hunters/gatherers. It’s just that these days, we do it indoors and it requires much less caloric expenditure on our part. And the objects of our hunting/gathering? They’ve changed greatly: so readily available are the highly processed, mass-manufactured, high-fructose corn syrup/sodium/preservative-laden glossily advertised choices presented on the shelves of the places where we now go to hunt/gather. I note that some convenience stores are now carrying fresh fruits and vegetables, a good thing, but that the shelf space occupied by grocery stores’ fresh fruit/vegetables is but a small fraction of the stores’ total offerings.

  2. George Rehm
    July 27th, 2012 at 22:22 | #2

    For an interesting, if a bit polemic description of how we got here I
    strongly recommend Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

  3. Ruth
    July 28th, 2012 at 15:52 | #3

    was question # 3 just put there to see who was still reading at the bottom?

  4. July 28th, 2012 at 16:23 | #4

    This is one reason I prefer to shop at two of the Asian markets in my area. The produce departments are huge, colorful, fresh and clean. The dreaded center aisles are more likely to have bulk grains and pulses, and far less overprocessed junk. There is still junk to be had, but it tends to be a smaller section and easily avoided.

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