The many reasons why we seem to be losing the fight against rising obesity
As I have written before, the classic weight loss advice to ‘eat less, move more’ has fallen from popularity in recent years. Frankly, those of us in this industry still promoting ‘eat less, move more’ as relevant advice in the face of the rising obesity epidemic are seen as rather outdated, rather old-school. As I have also written before, I do believe that the advice should be updated to ‘eat less, eat better, and move more’ which rather improves on, and corrects, the original expression.
But still, it’s far more current to besmirch all that old school talk as being fattist, as lacking understanding, as being outdated, outmoded and out-of-touch. It’s considered politically incorrect these days to suggest that obesity is on the rise because people eat too much and don’t exercise enough, and indeed it’s now becoming popular to say that any so-called health professional preaching such ancient wisdom is poorly educated and lacking in sympathy and understanding for the victims of the root causes of rising obesity.
To suggest that obese people ‘just eat less and move more’ is now seen as being about as constructive and helpful as telling a depressed person to ‘just get over it and cheer up a bit’. It’s now fashionable and politically correct to see obesity as an eating disorder, and to say that anyone preaching ‘eat less, move more’ is guilty of the most heinous of 21st century crimes - fat shaming.
In our complex modern world, with obesity growing at an alarming rate (or is that just changes to the system of classification?) there are many factors we can blame for rising obesity.
- Genetics play a role
- It’s become quite fashionable to blame Carbohydrate intolerance
- The growing availability of hyperpalatable food
- Obesity is an eating disorder
- Your gut flora forces you to gain weight
- It’s the high stress job causing weight gain
- There has been a lot in the media about how poor, greedy, lazy, selfish or negligent parenting is a major cause of rising obesity in younger people
- Obesity is a medical condition, often the side-effect of other medications, and so it’s not your fault if you are overweight
- It’s today’s obesogenic environments (car culture, sedentary jobs and the easy availability of high-sugar foods)
- It’s your hormones, not you
- It’s because everyone has a car these days, folks drive everywhere
- It’s because of trauma or abuse in childhood
- We know many people ‘comfort eat’ as an emotional crutch
I could go on, but I think that’s enough for now.
All of these factors are relevant, they all play a role, they are all true, all valid, ALL OF THEM account for why some people are overweight, and all of them matter. I am not disagreeing with any one of the thigns on that list, or a dozen more, such as the role of environmental pollution, the rise in the number of TV channels, the role of anti-obesity attitudes in our society, the availability and nutritional content of school lunches, the increase in sugar content in foods, and so on and so on.
But here’s the thing.
- 30 years ago, genetics were about the same
- 30 years ago, carbohydrates were about the same (though we had fewer of them in the shops to buy) and people’s metabolism was about the same, so the likelihood of someone being carbohydrate intolerant was about the same
- 30 years ago, roughly speaking, gut flora was about the same
- 30 years ago, plenty of people had stressful jobs
- 30 years ago, parents went out to work, and some times kids watched TV (just now, they do it more - more channels, broadcast 24 hours, on bigger TV screens)
- 30 years ago, hyperpalatable foods existed (just now, there are many more)
- 30 years ago, people took medications, which may have had side effects
- 30 years ago, folks drove cars (just not as many of them, and we walked a lot more)
- 30 years ago, your hormones were about the same
- 30 years ago, people developed eating disorders
- 30 years ago people suffered abuse, trauma and emotional stress
So you see, all those factors existed back then, just like they do now. Yet 30 years ago, obesity rates in the UK were only in the mid-single digits. Now in 2017 they stand at close to 30%.
The only things that have changed, really, are that we have more cars, more out-of-town retail parks, escalators, lifts, 24-hr convenience stores and other factors that make up these obesogenic environments. We have more availability (again, the 24-hr stores, the always-open convenience stores at petrol stations, etc.) of hyperpalatable foods, high in sugar and unhealthy trans fats. We have bigger TV screens, and more working parents, and more TV channels, and they broadcast 24 hours per day, in 65-inch widescreen technicolour, and we have PlayStations and Xbox consoles, which undoubtedly are extremely addicting for young people.
But other than in increase in car use, a range of new labour saving devices, more TV channels and games to play, and an increase in sugary, highly desirable foods, most of those other factors are about the same now as they were 30 years ago.
So what really has changed?
Compared to 30 years ago, what difference have those select factors made?
Well, in short, folks seem to eat a bit more, and move a bit less.
I used to be ‘a fat guy’
Despite all that, between 40 years ago (I was aged 7) and 30 years ago (rather unsurprisingly, I was 17), I grew up in a family that had no car and we walked everywhere. We had one little 24-inch TV, with four big buttons, you had to walk across the room to change channel, and they only broadcast kids TV for about three hours per day. When I was 7, the TV was black and white (yeah, man, I am that old!) My family was short on money, so we didn’t have electrical labour-saving devices - no electric washing machine, my mum washed our clothes by hand, no tumble dryer, we used a washing line, and no electric or petrol lawn mower, our mower was manual and heavy, you had to push it hard.
Yet in those ten years, I became a TV addict and a fat kid, and by 15 I was obese. I stayed that way from age 15 to age 35. No 300 channels of TV, no car, no labour-saving gadgets, but I still became an obese teenager.
Now at 48 years of age, in my house we have a lovely shiny brand new car, we have four widescreen TVs, my kids have four games consoles between them, and I am an adult, free to spend my money on any foods I like, free to buy beer til my heart’s content, free to sit on my extremely comfortable, expensive hand-made leather sofa for as many hours each week as I wish. Yet I don’t, hardly ever, sit on that sofa. And I have not watched TV in several years. I don’t sit on the sofa watching TV because I am usually out getting some exercise, playing sport, walking my dog or going for a run.
And I shun hyperpalatable foods and instead grow my own fresh vegetables in the garden. I don’t drink beers every evening because I decided to quit alcohol over six years ago and have not had a drink since. Beer was just as delicious and addictive when I was 17 as it is now, but now I chose not to drink now.
When I was a teenager, despite the factors that should have kept me active and slim, I was obese. As an adult, despite all the factors that should lead to obesity (and yeah, I have those “obesity genes” you heard about, I’ve been tested and I am genetically pre-disposed to easily gain fat weight) I am slim and lean and metabolically healthy.
So what did I do between age 7 and 17? I ate too much, often the wrong things, and I didn’t move very much - I was a couch potato watching TV, instead of going out playing sport. And what did I change between 35 and 47? Well, these days, I eat less, I eat better, and I move a whole lot more.
You can find all the reasons you want, and every one of them will be valid and true for some people, but none of them are true for all people, and in my personal experience over the last five or six years working with hundreds of people, I find that the reality is that for most people, they are overweight because they eat too much, they eat too much of the wrong things, and they don’t move enough.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of people, but it’s the undeniable truth. It’s not judgement. It’s not fat shaming. It’s not being unkind. It’s just reality.
And if it’s you I’m talking about, then Mother Nature’s Diet is the sustainable, no-gimmick, honest, long-term lifestyle you need to adopt to ring in the changes.
If it’s not you, but you can think of a dozen people who need to read this uncomfortable but honest truth, be a true friend, do them a favour, and forward this message on to them.
To your good health!