Weekly Weigh in: Fat America
Last week I stopped at one of my favorite local eateries for lunch with my boyfriend, a sandwich shop with a menu as impressive as the delicious food it serves. The woman at the register asked my boyfriend (who is husky) if he would like to participate in the “Fat Man Challenge.”
What, one may ask, is this restaurant’s “Fat Man Challenge”? Luckily a shop patron had already accepted it, so we got to view the spectacle firsthand. The challenge is to eat, within 11 minutes- the previous challenger’s best time, a triple layer cheeseburger with 12 strips of bacon, two orders of fries, and a 32 oz. drink. Good God, it was the grossest thing I’d ever seen.
To add insult to the obvious injury of stuffing one’s face with that much food for a chance for a free meal, the woman sponsoring the challenge (who was a bit husky herself) films failed challenges and posts them online, ridiculing participants if they fail. Over all, I found the experience deeply disturbing, and it curbed my appetite for my own meal. It also called sharply into focus the issue of American obesity.
When things like the unhealthy act of gorging yourself on high cholesterol become entertainment, what does that say about us and our attitude towards food? Is there any wonder, then, with the increasing sedentary American lifestyle and absence of self-control towards food that we are considered one of the most obese countries in the world?
Most of us don’t need to think very hard to come up with an example in real life or on TV of a morbidly obese person. I myself am overweight, however, it has always baffled me how a person can reach 550 lbs. and then go “Oh, oops. I’m fat.” Wouldn’t you think somewhere around the 300 mark you would start to be concerned? Maybe look into eating better or exercising? I mean, you don’t have to join the Taebo boot camp or anything, but just walk… quit eating Doritos and mountain dew as a meal, talk to a nutritionist or a doctor, or something!
Now I’m not insensitive to those who struggle with weight due to a genetic disposition or medical condition; but I view those as obstacles, not excuses (it’s extremely rare to have a disease that makes you morbidly obese with no other contributing factors). Being overweight or obese as a whole is plaguing our country, but I want to focus on the bigger, more disturbing case of extreme/morbid obesity.
What’s the difference? According to medical definition: Twenty to forty percent over ideal weight (for your height range) is considered mildly obese, or overweight; 40-100% over ideal weight is considered moderately obese, and 100% over ideal weight is considered severely/morbidly obese. You can also use the measurement BMI (body mass index) to figure out where one falls on the overweight scale; multiply your weight by 703 and then divided by twice your height in inches. BMI of 25.9-29 is considered overweight; BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Put Down the Fork!
There are many causes for obesity. Sometimes they stem from medical reasons, most of the time they cause medical complications. The most contributing factors are probably lack of activity, poor diet, poor eating habits, and total disregard for proper food proportions; or any combination thereof. There’s just no real excuse for it.
For example, I watched a couple at a buffet restaurant one morning. They were both morbidly obese to the point were walking resembled waddling, so close to the point where they should start saving up for a motorized wheelchair or start looking at ways to lose weight. They were obviously not choosing the latter, however, when they shuffled back to their table (they had to have a four person table so they could balance on two chairs each, no joke.) with their plates laden with food. Impressively, the man had less to consume than the woman. He had piled a plate full of bacon, sausage, grits, eggs, and gravy; if I had to guess, I’d say four portions worth of food. The woman, on the other hand, piled a plate full of biscuits and gravy (at least enough for three people) and had a second plate piled as high as the man’s with eggs and sausage, and they each had a bowl of fried apple fritters. I was so, so tempted to take a picture because I know no one will believe just how much food they consumed.
That example is really just the tip of the iceberg. It seems I cannot go anywhere without seeing a morbidly obese person, and generally speaking, they can no longer walk on their own. It’s inconceivable to me how you can let your health deteriorate to the point where you can no longer walk. Wasn’t there ever a moment that these people stopped eating their fried chicken leg to consider the consequences? Is it a lack of self-control or some form of despair that they allow themselves to become big enough that they can no longer support their own weight or fit into standard doorways? How do we let them do this to themselves?
The Root of the Problem
Some of the mysteries that had always baffled me about severe obesity were answered by TLC’s “My 600-lb Life.” It’s a documentary program that follows individuals who weigh close to, or over 600 lbs. that volunteer for gastric bypass surgery and work to lose weight after. What amazes me the most about these people’s stories is that it’s not the surgery that creates a miracle weight loss for these people, the gastric bypass is merely a jumping board to help them start to gain control over their eating habits and diet. They still have to work their butts off exercising and eating right in right portions to drop to their weight goals. It still takes years for them to cut the weight out, and skin removal surgeries to knock off the excess. It’s only those with the determination to change their lives that makes their goals. Those that want to save their life, stay on track, and do what they never learned how to: living healthy.
That’s what it all really boils down to, I think. People without the capacity for self control, and/or those raised in an environment where they are never taught healthy habits are the ones that grow up to be the ones we see gorging themselves at buffets, losing limbs to diabetes, and doing wheelies in the Wal-Mart parking lot in their motorized wheelchair. In the end, perhaps the morbidly obese are only victims of circumstance. Then again, maybe at some point in their ascent into the 100’s of pounds weight, they could’ve stopped to consider what things they may change in their lives before they became incapable of fully enjoying them.
Personally, I am considered overweight. This is a condition brought on by 5 years of poor eating choices and complicated by medical conditions. I, however, had one of those moments when I couldn’t fit in any normal size clothes anymore that was like “Oh! Something’s wrong here!” Since then all I’ve managed to lose is ten pounds, but that at least keeps me out of plus sizes… and the thing that I’m more proud of is I’m not getting bigger. It is a small victory, but without dedicating myself to the gym, I’ll take it. That’s why I’m not too fond of people giving up because they think there’s no reason to try. I could gorge myself on sweets and laze around all the time and climb up to 400 pounds, but I don’t. I chose to try to add activity to my life and eat right. I may not be losing anything yet, but I’m not giving up and letting myself go. I feel like if more people would just try, maybe America wouldn’t be so fat.
It's Never too late!
Quick Tricks to Beat the Bulge
Cut out refined sweets: Almost all nutritionists and diets agree: Lose the sweets. Do not even keep them in the house. It never fails that when you’ve had a hard day, you’re going to reach for those Girl Scout cookies on the counter. Easiest way to beat that urge is to not supply it.
Beware of High Fructose Corn Syrup: I don’t care what the family-friendly ads say; your body CAN tell the difference between sugar and syrup. High fructose corn syrup has been proven to trick the body into thinking it’s still hungry. It’s also a proven contributor for weight gain. It’s a little tricky to read through labels when buying jelly, dressings, sauces, and bread, but believe me, non high fructose corn syrup products exist, and they won’t cost you more!
Add physical activity to your calendar: This is a basic thing, but a lot of people get stuck on how to do it. I’m not telling you to go out and join a gym or sign up for a triathlon, especially if you’re starting off at a physical activity level of 0. If you want to do those things, or get a personal trainer, make sure your doctor signs off on it first. The easiest way to start exercising is keep it simple: find an excuse to walk. If you work on the third floor, take the stairs in and out of work instead of the elevator. Take a ten minute walk around your neighborhood before/after dinner. Park further out from a store/mall so you have to walk to your car.
Work your abs: another way to add physical activity is add some small pieces of a workout to your morning routine. I do 10 sit-ups and 10 crunches (almost) every morning. It takes about 5 minutes, and has helped lessen my belly rolls. After a month if it’s getting a lot easier to do, add some reps or find another workout piece to add to your regiment.
Eat more fruits & veggies: It probably sounds like a broken record by now, but trust me, it’s good for you! If you need help planning out a way to increase your veggies/portion a meal, think of the food pyramid we’ve memorized from school: a bit of meat, a bit of grain, half a plate of veggies. One of the easiest ways to get a grip on this ratio is eat more stir fry. Stir fry is usual 2/3 veggies, 1/3 meat. If you’re spooning it over rice, try not to portion anymore than a dry cup of rice. There’s a balanced meal!
Do you think there's an Obesity Epidemic in America?
© 2012 Livia Jayde