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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Understanding obesity

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.       


tessierose said...

I find it interesting that off all the animals in the world, humans and domesticated cats and dogs are the only ones who have weight issues, all the other animals appear to be in check. Very interesting post Amanda.

Lap Band Gal said...

awesome post :)

Sherry said...

Well said, my dear. I think another point to take into consideration is the high cost of 'healthy' food.

Study after study has been done to show that it is cheaper to feed a family of 5 McDonalds than it is to feed them spaghetti and meat sauce with a vegetable.

It isn't just portion size and high calorie, processed foods, it is how we don't support our farmers enough, we let big corporations run the country and healthy food just isn't an option for people who aren't above "middle class".

It is ridiculous that when I go into the grocery store, it costs me $3 for ONE RED PEPPER. THREE DOLLARS.

Before I get off my soap box, let me also say that economists look at the price of canned vegetables as a basis for where we are economically as a country, how close we are to recession, depression, etc. The flip side of that is that when it is cheaper to go to McDonalds for a double cheeseburger ($1 off the "dollar menu")than buy a 15 oz can of green beans ($1.20 in some places) then we don't just have an economic crisis brewing, we also have a health crisis.

MandaPanda said...

Love this post! It raises a lot of interesting questions.

Sandi said...

Well said! I am new to this as I was banded in Nov 2010! Hope you don't mind me following you!

Take care,

Tina said...

nice post Amanda-I have read some of the obesity research and your take on it is pretty matched to those articles :) I agree that the cure to the problem is multi-faceted and is too bad that although everyone agrees with this to a certain extent there is no large effort to 'fix' the problem in any multi-faceted way. Doctors pin their hopes on one cure, diet companies one cure. I think it is up to us to attack obesity in ourselves and those we love from many different perspectives to help them live healthy lives.


Ginger aka Gidget said...

That is an awesome post and really does make you stop to think. You're so right!

Bonnie said...

Very thought provoking.

Jess said...

Super post!

Joia said...

I love this!