I've been thinking a great deal about obesity. In an effort to better understand how I got there, I've been thinking about how obesity has become such a problem in our society. As a society we have really negative ideas about people who are obese and how they end up that way. But what if we question those assumptions? What does that look like?
Humans are animals. Our bodies work in certain ways. I'm not a scientist and I've done no research (other than the anecdotal, life-experience kind) for this post, but in my un-scientific way, I propose the theory that obesity is evidence of an über-efficient physiology.
What do I mean by that? Our bodies are designed to withstand periods of starvation, at least to some extent. This capacity served us well throughout the history of humankind when our ancestors had to deal with periods of starvation. In other parts of the world, people still face not having enough food on a regular basis. But, of course, that isn't the problem in most of the western world. Here we have more than enough. An overabundance. An excess. We can look at our history and see periods of overabundance in our past as well. During those times, people overate. They binged. They stocked up their reserves for the next time when food wasn't so plentiful. They put on a bit of fat to stave off the lean, cold winter when food would be scarce.
So really it isn't too difficult to understand, given millions of years of human history, why we overeat when food is plentiful. And boy is it plentiful these days! Portion sizes have increased dramatically in the last 30 years. More and more of our meals come from restaurants and pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods. We know intellectually that our meals should average 500 - 667 calories each (for a 1,500 - 2,000 calorie a day diet in which you eat three meals a day and no snacks) including beverages, but you'd be hard pressed to find many restaurant meals meeting that criteria. A regular McDonald's hamburger, medium fries and medium Coke has 830 calories. A Taco Bell taco salad and a Coke has 810 calories. The grilled chicken sandwich on a bun from Chili's is 1,270 calories as served. Add another 250 calories if you want a margarita with that.
That's CRAZY! I picked those options because I thought they sounded "light" sort of. Like the kinds of things someone might select if they didn't want to eat something really, really unhealthy.
And don't get me started on liquid calories! A small café mocha from Starbucks is 260 calories. If you have one of those each day, you should eat three meals of 413 calories each to stay under 1,500 calories. Really it is pretty amazing that MORE people aren't obese when you think about it.
In our society, we consider obesity to be evidence of there being something wrong with the person. They are weak. They are dumb. They lack will-power. They have a flawed character in some way. Compulsive overeating is an eating disorder. Abnormal. Sub-normal. Strange. Gross. Disgusting.
It is "disgusting" that our bodies tell us to overeat when food is plentiful. It is "gross" that we don't override millions of years of biological programming. Chosing the food options that surround us is clearly evidence of our "eating disorder".
Perhaps the time will come when we, as a society, reject these crazy, high-calorie food options. We'll return to preparing our foods frame scratch at home and eat a reasonable portion. When we eat out, we'll select restaurants that give us options of about 500 calories a meal.
Or maybe they'll develop a pill to "fix" us.