A new study released at the end of last year looked at the Body Mass Index (BMI) of 6,264,226 adults. The findings suggest with high predictive accuracy that by 2030, nearly one in two adults will be obese. The prevalence will be higher than 50% in 29 states, and not below 35% in any one state. Nearly 1 in 4 adults is projected to have severe obesity by 2030. Obesity will become the new normal.
Since 1990, the prevalence of obesity in this country has doubled. And the problem is not our genes, as our genetics haven’t changed. But our environment and diets have. We now have more food delivery options than ever; we needn’t even leave our homes to get it. Fast food is available on every corner, and sugary beverages are being consumed by people of all ages, including toddlers in some cases.
Portion sizes have also increased. Recently I wrote about things that surprised me when I moved to America, and portion size was on that list. For those who haven’t left the country, you may be surprised to learn that other countries do not serve food in such large quantities — not even close. “Food portions in America’s restaurants have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Obesity starts in childhood. Once the pattern of weight gain or poor eating choices is established, it’s difficult to change. A study shows that children who are overweight or obese at age five are more likely to be obese as adolescents. Other studies have shown that obese adolescents tend to become obese adults. Thus, it appears that, if a child is obese at five, chances are high that child will become an obese adult.
What can you do?
First of all, stop blaming yourself. Over the years food has been chemically altered and aggressively marketed to us. Fast food is cheap and plentiful and, if you’re on a budget, you may feel like it is your only option.
If you find yourself craving fast food all the time, that may be because you are stuck in a repetitive cycle with it. One study found that fast food could be as addictive as heroin or smoking. Our lives are busier than ever. Finding time to cook a meal from scratch can be difficult. We are taught to expect large portions in restaurants so that we can feel we are getting value for money.
Start with the thinking
The first step is to educate yourself and try to reassess your relationship with food. Learn about the food your body needs and experiment with it. If your problems stem from psychological trauma, or if you turn to food for comfort, it might be worth looking into Overeaters Anonymous (OA). OA is a 12-step program for people with problems related to food including, but not limited to, compulsive overeaters and those with binge eating disorder. Other programs and therapies are available.
Don’t sugarcoat it
The average American eats about 150 pounds of sugar a year. For context, two hundred years ago, the average American ate only two pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, we ate 123 pounds of sugar per year.
Eating sugary foods makes people hungry and tired, and causes them to gain weight. Refined sugar is void of minerals needed for enzymes, can cause mineral deficiencies, interferes with the actions of calcium and magnesium and increases inflammation.
Yes, we know we shouldn’t eat cake every day. But sugar is more sneaky than that. It’s in pasta sauces, granola bars, yogurt, instant oatmeal, salad dressing, cereal, ketchup and many other everyday foods. If you have a sweet tooth, you can retrain your palette, but it will take time and effort.
People who cut sugar out entirely report an unpleasant detox period followed by a huge spike in their energy levels. Cutting back on sugar, even by a small amount, can help dramatically, because refined sugars add nothing of value to your diet.
Exercise, but ditch the running shoes
Being overweight can make the thought of exercising seem impossible. There is a shame and stigma around being larger that can make people too embarrassed to join a gym. If you really can’t bear the thought of being seen in public in leggings (and let’s face it, very few of us can), start off with some weights at home. Do some bicep curls and some squats to begin with. Don’t worry about running or anything that’s too high impact; aim to build a little muscle first. Muscle tissue is metabolically more active and burns more calories than fat tissue. The more muscles you have, the bigger your resting energy expenditure, which means that your body burns more calories while it’s doing nothing.
Consistency is key. If you’re watching a TV show, grab the weights during the commercials and stop when the show’s back on. Do this every day for a week and you will start to see some results.
Be kind to yourself
Tackling weight gain isn’t easy. It’s a heady mix of mental health, physical health, time management and education. Don’t be too hard on yourself. However, try not to “reward” with food either.
Be gentle with yourself in other ways. Think about discovering or re-discovering other things in life that bring you joy aside from food. Whether it be movies, bubble baths, books, playing with your grandchildren, taking the dog for a walk, whatever — make a list of things that you can do that will make you feel less stressed without reaching for the cookies.
Remember that compassion is nearly always more effective than berating someone, including yourself. Try to take it one day at a time to make the process more manageable, don’t worry about tomorrow — just focus on the now. Looking down a lifetime of dieting and exercise can feel overwhelming, so just keep it in the day.
You needn’t be part of the 50% of adults predicted to be obese in 2030. Though we have little control over many things in life, this is one area where your effort and attention can pay dividends.