Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight (1). In the U.S. alone, more than one-third of adults and 17% of youth are obese (2).
Overweight and obesity are not just problems that make you look bad. They make you feel bad, too. Seriously, Body Mass Index (BMI) is a major risk factor associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis and cancers including endometrial, breast and colon (1). Obesity-related medical issues are expensive, racking up about $150 billion USD annually for the U.S. and adding on around $1500 each year in additional medical expenses as compared to those of a healthy weight (3).
Something around 30% of Americans are trying to lose weight and another 30% are simply aiming to maintain their weight. The sad part is that almost 2/3 of Americans who lose weight on diets gain it back within a year, and a staggering 98% of those people end up gaining more weight than before they began their diet within two years.
Diets don't work. They are bandaids on broken bones, but obesity IS preventable. So why is it so hard for us to overcome our weight issues? How and why do we become overweight in the first place? Well the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes it to a myriad of factors including environmental and societal changes associated with development and lack of supportive policies in sectors such as health, agriculture, transportation, urban planning, environment, food processing, distribution, marketing and education. Yes, marketing plays a big role, especially in the U.S. In 2013, the WHO targeted the marketing of unhealthy foods and hold that the food industry has been disastrously effective at fueling the global obesity epidemic (4).
I am arguing that it's not just the marketing of unhealthy foods full of sugar and fat that pose a problem. Our relationship with obesity and dieting is also greatly impacted by marketing for "healthy" foods, weight loss programs and gyms. Take this next model as a prime example. We see advertisements for fast food and junk food from the time we start watching tv, listen to the radio or access the internet. Fast and junk food is socially acceptable, no, it's preferred. U.S. schools are feeding kids pizza, fried chicken tenders and french fries on a daily basis and there are vending machines filled with sodas and candy bars because it's a great way to earn capitol. These eating behaviors are reinforced by the busy yet sedentary lifestyle of parents who are too tired or lazy to prepare real fruits, vegetables and proteins at home. So kids grow up eating shit and turn into adults who eat shit.
As adults, not only are we bombarded with junk food marketing, but also with ads, movies, magazines and billboards that tell us we are too ugly, too fat, too unhealthy. We should look more like this model, or that actor or this athlete and we end up with really negative body loathing based off some unrealistic and invalid expectation of beauty. Then we are overwhelmed by the fad diets, new super foods, lists of "10 things you should never eat" that change daily, new gyms, new workout regimens, new vitamin supplements, etc. It never stops. So marketing is constantly telling us to eat junk, exercise, diet and get cosmetic surgery, all in the name of a misguided value placed on sociocentricity.
Now into why diets don't work. Diets don't work because they aren't sustainable and they aren't based off of basic human needs. Sustainability isn't just referencing "green" or "eco-friendly" efforts. Sustainability means that any activity is able to be maintained at a constant rate indefinitely. Diets are restrictive, boring and difficult to maintain. They often cut out major food groups, force you to count calories or otherwise require ridiculously stringent guidelines you are somehow supposed to adhere to forever. This is not realistic. When I talk to people who are on a no/low carb diet, for example, I always ask them if they plan to never eat carbs again, ever. They always respond with something like "No, just until I lose weight." THIS IS NOT A HEALTHY MINDSET and it is the main reason why 2/3 of people who go on diets end up gaining it all back in a year. It is not sustainable. Now, what are our basic human needs in terms of nutrition?
- Self-Love: For me, this is the only important nutrition goal and everything else branches off from here.
- Don't compare yourself to anybody else. Sure, there are international guidelines that tell us what our Body Mass Index should be, within a range, based off our age, sex and height. But even this isn't necessarily the end-all to having a healthy body image. Don't get caught up with what other people look like. If you recognize your body isn't a healthy weight, you're off to a good start. Set your own goals and work at your own pace to achieve the body you are meant to have, not the one the media says you should have.
- Provide your body with the proper nutrition it naturally craves. Feed it well. Take the time to make some of your own meals and prepare whole vegetables, fruits and grains. Learn to love good food. I feel that often we trick our brains into thinking the only delicious food is the junk food and that eating good-for-you food is work and a sacrifice because it doesn't taste good. This is all those marketing efforts telling you what is yummy and what isn't. Don't get caught up in this thought. Eat balanced. Eat those veggies and fruits and love them because they are delicious and your body wants the nutrients. Eat that piece of cake because it's delicious and your mind wants a little something sweet. Don't feel bad. Don't feel like you have "cheated". You are entitled to all the good things in life, including cake.
- Keep your muscles and joints in working order. Your body should always be in a condition that it can move you around and allow you to perform normal functions, like playing with your kids, riding a bike, dancing, walking up stairs, making love, etc. It's a respect issue with yourself. You've got to love yourself enough to treat your body like the beautiful machine that it is. I guarantee you'd take your brand new BMW i8 or your classic 1960 Chevelle for regular maintenance and car washes, so why not keep your body, your own personal machine for life, clean and in good working order as well? Don't exercise because tv tell you should. Do it because it makes your body feel alive, it de-stresses you, it shoots feel-good endorphins to your brain, etc. These are all good enough reasons to move about and stay active.
Self-love is sustainable because the only thing it relies on is you and your own thoughts. Figure out how to love the skin your in, find the foods and activities that make your body, mind and spirit feel healthy and beautiful and start making those things a part of your habitual routine. And for the love of god, EAT CAKE!
- WHO. Obesity and Overweight Fact Sheet. World Health Organization. 2015.
- Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.732.
- Ogden, CL, Lamb MM, Carroll MD and Flegal KM. Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Adults: United States, 2005-2008. NCHS Data Brief. 2010. No. 50. ISSN 1941-4935.
- Park, Timothy. Food Demand, Diet and Health- The Role Played by Managers of Agribusinesses. IFAMA. 2014. Vol. 17 (A).