Fat-shaming has gotten a lot of bad press, and for good reason. No one should be made to feel shame for their body habitus on the basis of what is or is not beautiful or acceptable to another.
Obesity, on the other hand, is a health condition which increases health risks of gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, gout, and an array of cancers, such as pancreatic, liver, breast and kidney cancers. Obesity also leads to high blood pressure or hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, all of which can be life-threatening conditions. Obesity places avoidable strain and expense on healthcare systems and shortens people’s lives. It decreases quality of life and it exacerbates many health risks and conditions. As such, obesity affects not only obese individuals, but all of the people in their lives. In consideration of the serious health and social consequences of obesity, I propose we explore some of the causes, and also a few ways obesity can be modified.
Obesity rates have steadily increased since the 1980’s, and there’s no sign they are slowing. Current trends predict that by 2030, nearly 50% of American adults will be considered obese (that’s a BMI of 30 or higher).
There are a few prominent theories attempting to explain why America is getting heavier. For most of us, it likely boils down to the simple truths that we are eating more and moving less.
One prominent theory on the rise of obesity is the link between poverty and the affordability of healthy food. The reality is that healthy food is not always inexpensive food. The affordable foods that will fill a family’s bellies for the least amount of cash are often processed, packaged, and heavy on empty calories.
Other culprits in the upsizing of Americans include increased fast-food consumption, bigger portions, higher meat consumption, a cultural value on productivity and long work hours, stress, lack of sleep, and the ready availability of unhealthy foods everywhere we turn.
In observation, people are sedentary. Few of us work in fields or factories anymore, most jobs are overwhelmingly done sitting in front of screens. After sitting all day and driving home, many of us open packages for dinner, then lounge in front of TV sets until we decide to go to bed. Then, we do it again the next day, and the next. There’s little cultural value placed on prioritizing physical activity as self-care.
Americans value having things, like sharp cars, designer clothing and shoes, trendy haircuts and color, flawless manicures, tightly groomed facial hair or smooth shaves. We will readily adorn an unhealthy body with these and all manner of dress, makeup, accessories…without thinking twice about the actual body being adorned.
I’m all for embellishing our bodies, and I propose we can each make small changes which will, over time, create healthier bodies for us to cherish! If you are one of the people who wants to have a healthier life, and just aren’t sure where to start, read on:
Add ONE fruit and vegetable to what you currently already consume daily.
This may seem simplistic, and that’s the point. If you currently have no fruit and no vegetable every day, you will be increasing your intake 100%. If you currently have, say, a banana in the morning and green beans at supper, adding one more fruit and vegetable will be a 100% increase. It adds up! Especially in the micronutrients department. You can easily get the same caloric value someplace else, like a fun-size candy bar or a swig or two of soda, but you now you’re giving your body way more of the nutrients it needs to perform all the vital essential functions it has to keep performing to keep you upright every day! I enjoy an apple most afternoons as a snack, and it feels good knowing I’m fueling my body as well as satisfying my hunger.
Park as far away from your destination as possible.
Whether it’s in the parking garage at your job, or the parking lot at your local grocer, adding extra steps into your day adds up in calorie burn, metabolic boost, and building muscle/endurance. If you already do this, try finding ways to walk from one errand to another, or explore whether you can take a short walk during your lunch break — lunch walks are one of my favorite ways to increase my steps. If you take advantage of public transportation, choose to walk from a further point to your destination rather than riding all the way. Get creative building extra steps into your day!
Experiment with healthier condiment choices.
Love sour cream on your baked potato? Try zero fat plain greek yogurt in its place. You’ll consume fewer calories, get a big boost of protein and probiotics (remember, your body needs these nutrients!), and while you can tell the difference between sour cream and yogurt, I bet you’ll find the trade off acceptable. The yogurt is creamy and tangy, and you’re feeding your body well! Mustard is a low calorie choice, especially compared to mayonnaise, ketchup or barbecue sauces. That said, mustard is not mayo, ketchup or barbecue sauce, and all of those things can be found in lower-calorie options than the mainstream usuals. Mayonnaise comes in lower-fat varieties, and ketchup and barbecue sauce can be found with no added sugar or even sugar-free, all of which decreases the caloric impact they have in your diet. I like swapping my tablespoon of mayo on sandwiches for 1/4 an avocado. There is a small calorie saving, I get the healthy fats of the avocado, the nutrients folate and magnesium, and I’ve added a serving of fruit to my day.
Do some body weight strength training every day.
Body weight strength training is strength training for which you need no equipment to get started. It includes movements like pushups, triceps dips, squats, lunges, burpees, planks, wall-sits, sit-ups, leg lifts…the list goes on. If you currently do not exercise much, choose just two or three of these and do three to five repetitions of each one every other day to start out. You’ll be improving your core strength, muscle tone, and mobility in what will take less than ten minutes of your time. Some of these moves can be done nearly anywhere — I sneak squats or lunges into my bathroom breaks during my work day. You’ll burn calories with the exercises, and as you build muscle, it metabolizes more calories even at rest than fatty tissue. As the moves become easier, you can swap in different activities, add repetitions, add more sets of the movements, or even branch out into yoga or pilates. There are tons of instructional videos available online for free! Remember, something is more than nothing — these activities add up.
Replace one calorie-heavy drink with water every day.
A Starbucks venti white chocolate mocha will give you 530 calories, none of which are nutrient-rich or particularly valuable to your body in terms of metabolism and health. A 20 ounce soda has 240 calories, all of these from sugars. If you drink one or more calorie-heavy drinks daily, you can easily benefit from swapping that just once daily for an equal amount of plain water. Your cells and organs need water to function properly, and some of us don’t drink any plain water at all! Increasing water consumption has been credited with decreasing joint soreness, increasing energy, and helping decrease caloric intake because sometimes we will eat when our bodies are actually sending us signals of thirst. I like to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning, before my coffee, just to kickstart my hydration for the day.
These are micro-changes we can make every day without breaking the bank, hopefully, that will snowball over time into significant healthful impact on our bodies. By implementing one or two or all of these, and talking with our loved ones, friends, and children about our decisions, we will also inform and influence the decisions they make going forward. We will be improving our own health and impacting everyone around us with the simple, positive changes in our choices. Consistently choosing healthy practices will change our lives for the better.
Obesity has been touted as an American epidemic, and I think that we can turn this tide one by one, together, one choice at a time.
“Don’t let the old you make your decisions. Today is the only day change exists. Change today and your entire life will be altered. Don’t change today, and tomorrow will be exactly like today, forever.”~ Ariel Banayan