We in the United States have set numerous precedents in our relatively short history, many of which the rest of the civilized world saw fit to follow. But there is one that we as Americans are not particularly proud of. We now hold the title of the world’s most obese nation. One in every three Americans is obese. We are not proud of that, and would not consider it a precedent the rest of the world should follow, but statistics show the rest of the world IS following.
Obesity is not just an undesirable way to look in most cultures. There are many health risks involved with being overweight including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and of course diabetes. It is one more reason for health insurance premiums to increase.
So why do we keep packing on the pounds? Most of the experts say it is a combination of our crazy-busy, yet mostly sedentary lifestyle. Stay at home Moms that prepare meals for their families are becoming more and more rare. We all have to not just work these days, but work long hours and commit to a myriad of extra-curricular activities. We have become dependent on fast or over-processed foods that can be prepared quickly with little effort because we do not have time to prepare a well-balanced meal. Then we spend every spare minute trying to clear our minds with sedentary activities. Instead of taking a walk after dinner like our grandparents did, we plant ourselves in front of the TV, computer, or video games.
The obesity rate in the U.S. has doubled in the last ten years, and there is no evidence that we will correct our course any time soon. It is difficult to change the daily habits we develop. There is no shortage of diets, miracle pills, and even surgeries that promise rapid weight loss. But these are temporary (and sometimes risky) solutions to problems that were created by the habits of a lifetime. There is one common thread amongst obese people. They are procrastinators. They believe that some day soon there will be some miracle cure that will provide them with the perfect body overnight, with little or no effort on their part. Maybe they are just planning to start their diet next week. Maybe they tried diet and exercise for a period of time and were disappointed with the results. Maybe they are waiting until they get the big promotion at work and can afford the gastric bypass or one of the other bariatric surgeries that are becoming increasingly popular. The excuses are many, and marketers are capitalizing on that hope for a “miracle cure” for obesity.
Weight loss is now a billion dollar empire, but why is it that as the number of miracle weight loss products continues to grow, so do our waistlines? Professionally monitored diet plans like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem promise great results if you can afford them, but how long do you plan to siphon a portion of your hard earned money into an advisor and their over-priced specialized foods? Do you think you can just stay on the program until you reach your goal weight and then maintain it on your own? Will you keep the weight off, or just return to your old habits as soon as there is no longer an advisor to hold you accountable? You would think Kirstie Alley would have been able to afford to stay on the Jenny Craig program indefinitely. What happened to her?
Pills, cookies, and smoothies also promise great results with little effort. But again, you must ask yourself how long you want to be dependent on those crutches to maintain a healthy weight, and what are the side effects?
You may even be willing to go under the knife in the name of weight loss. But elective surgeries are expensive and can be risky. Now that statistics are available on the long-term effects of the original gastric bypass performed in the 1970s, we know that the procedure was not just risky, but downright dangerous! What will the statistics show about the current bariatric procedures twenty years from now?
That leaves us with the ever-popular and ever-changing miracle diets. Low-carb diets like The Atkins Diet became so popular a few years ago that they almost put Krispy-Kreme donuts out of business in the middle of an economic boom! But while The Atkins Diet delivered rapid results, over time we found out the results were undone even more rapidly. The food selections were fairly limited, and were too far removed from our current eating habits, making us unable to enjoy meals with friends or at restaurants. Anything resembling a dessert was permanently off-limits. One slip could undo the effort and sacrifice of an entire week. So the market became flooded with imitators that promised a better selection of foods that were more conducive to our current lifestyles. But the very word “diet” implies a temporary sacrifice in our modern vocabulary. How can you achieve permanent results with a temporary sacrifice? Unless every condition in our lives is ideal, even the temporary sacrifice becomes too difficult to make. As soon as we become sick or stressed or have to deal with any adversity, we seek comfort in the old familiar foods we used to enjoy. So how will we maintain a healthy weight if we can not even maintain a temporary sacrifice long enough to get to our goal weight?
Making a temporary sacrifice will not permanently solve a problem. As soon as you fall back into your old habits, the weight will creep back up. We need to permanently change our habits.
Part II of this article outlines why the obesity epidemic is not prevalent in Europe, and how we can emulate their lifestyle differences for permanent results.