Everyone seems to know the answer to the obesity epidemic – eat less. However, losing weight and KEEPING IT OFF is far more complicated than just eating less. Most people who are at an unhealthy weight know that they should lose weight and have a general understanding of how to do this. With America’s obsession over weight, there are numerous free resources for tracking food intake, obtaining nutrition information/education, and endless publications that give the next great idea for easy weight loss.
If we know all this, then why are we still obese? It is because there is so much more to the weight issues in America than just our calorie intake. Here are just a few:
- Our environment is not conducive to eating healthy – when was the last time you were at a restaurant and there were endless healthy options? Sure, it is possible with the right knowledge, but often times prior research and special ordering are necessary. For instance, a Fuji Apple Salad from Panera Bread contains 520 calories, and that is not including the bread (120 calories more) or beverage most people would get with it. While this isn’t necessarily over the top, it is still far more than most people would think is in their salad.
- We have emotional attachments with food – Why do you choose the foods you choose? Sometimes it is convenience, some times it is because you think it is healthy, and other times it is just because you want it. We are an emotional draw towards certain foods. Some people have childhood memories of their mom making hot cocoa, so they drink hot cocoa every day during the winter (and gain 10 pounds easily, if you are living up here in WI where our winters seem endless). Others turn towards food for emotional support – it was a rough day, I deserve something delicious. Still others are unable to control their urges to eat exactly what they want when they want. This is a difficult thing to do – eating a lean chicken breast with brown rice, sautéed vegetables and a glass of skim milk when you really want a double cheeseburger with french friends and a large regular coke. Whether it be with a counselor or close friend, I firmly believe that in order for someone to be successful with weight loss they ABSOLUTELY need to discuss the emotional side of their food choices.
- Our genetics are not meant to live in a world with endless food – we have come from modest backgrounds, where food was scarce at times and people could go days without eating much of anything. Our endless indulgences have led to weight gain, which our bodies are also not ready to let go of. Remember, we evolved to survive now, not to look good or be healthy down the road. This is a huge reason why people who have gone on yo-yo diets may end up eating between 1000-1500 calories a day and still be overweight/obese. Our bodies don’t want to let go of what could be useful energy stores in the future, especially if there have been many times in the past when we have starved them.
So what should we do? It almost seems like an uphill battle.
- Take the focus off of weight and put it on health. People come in all different sizes, just like animals come in all different sizes. Some of us are meant to be husky while others are meant to be beanpoles. I find it a little funny how people can accept that some people “are just thin” but can’t accept that some people “are just heavy.” The key to doing this for yourself is to not judge your health by the scale. Instead, set healthy goals to work towards, such as running a 5K, being able to walk up stairs without getting winded, walking 10,000 steps each day, getting involved in sports, eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, making an effort to cook meals from scratch, or choosing to read a book or meditate instead of having dessert.
- Maintain Weight. We are so obsessed with losing weight that we lose sight of what we need to do first – MAINTAIN. A recent study showed that Americans are continuing to get heavier and heavier. How amazing would it be if we could all aim to just be healthy and maintain our weight? We could prevent the onset of numerous diseases that are linked with excess weight/weight gain.
- Stop judging people by their weight. Many people think all overweight/obese people are gluttonous or unhealthy. This is obviously far from the truth, especially since no one know their stories. Maybe one person has a genetic condition that causes them to gain weight regardless of their intake. Maybe another has actually lost 100 pounds and is the lightest he/she has been in 20 years. Maybe another had been yo-yo dieting for years, but has since given up on diets and has chosen to just live a healthy life (but because of the yo-yo dieting, cannot get below his/her body’s new set point for weight). And maybe another is struggling with an eating disorder but is currently getting treatment to try to reclaim life. There is so much we don’t know about each other, so we should not be judging people just because of their weight.