Wednesday, November 10, 2010

America, the (Big and) Beautiful

Obesity in America has become a growing problem over the past several decades. And while no one is expected to be a size 6 or have a 32 inch waist, the fact remains that our country is just plain fat. We are constantly bombarded with commercials from fast food restaurants on one hand and then, images of hard bodied hotties on the other. So what is Joe or Jane Average to do? There's no denying that body image obsession and striving for perfection has sent the number of eating disorders and plastic surgery procedure statistics through the roof, but what about a different kind of eating disorder - one where people can't or won't stop eating? What about procedures like gastric bypass or lapband? These instances are greatly on the rise as well. But is there a happy and healthy medium to be found?

The invention of the drive thru and microwaveable dinners and take out pizza has made our society, already pressured that every second of our time is valuable and equated to a dollar amount, undeniably lazy. Take for example, a mother of three in Middle America, already stressed from a long day of work, chores and playing carpool for her kids afterschool activities. She doesn't want to have to think about preparing a meal from scratch for her family and so she stops to pick up something quick and pre-made on her way home. She isn't thinking about the calories or the carbs or sodium or preservatives or the fat content; All she cares about is getting her family fed fast and getting on to the next task on her list. Some people depend too highly on this convenience and fail to realize that, over time, eating these meals on the go eventually catches up with you.

Now, I'm not saying you have to eat all organic, low fat, lean protein and steamed vegetables all the time, but you should have a balanced diet. French fries and pizza five times a week provides no real nutritional value. Growing up, our neighbors almost never cooked dinner. We would see pizza boxes outside with their trash on a weekly basis. In my house, pizza was a treat when it was someone's birthday or we came home late. My mom always cooked, no matter how stressed she was. And it never had to be something complicated - she usually always had dinner ready in 30 minutes or less. But the point is that she actually took the time to cook a meal that didn't contain 1100 calories and 32 grams of sodium.

The city of San Francisco banned "happy meals" in fast food restaurants recently, citing the concern for the growing trends in childhood obesity. They said that having toys in these calorie-riddled meals encouraged kids to eat unhealthily, despite McDonald's and other fast food establishments recent incorporation of healthy alternative choices with their happy meals such as chocolate milk and apple slices instead of french fries and Coca-Cola. In my opinion, having a toy or not having a toy in a meal isn't going to make a child eat any healthier if you're already taking them to McDonalds! And no one is forcing a parent to take their child there, so why cut out the toy option? The problem is obviously starting at home when a parent gets it into their mind that taking their kid out for a burger and fries makes for a well-balanced meal.

Apart from society's obsession with thinness, there has been a growing obsession with obesity. Shows like "Celebrity Fit Club" and "The Biggest Loser" have millions of people tuning in to watch people who are anywhere from extremely overweight to morbidly obese turn their lives around in an effort to get healthy. And more people should be getting healthy. Obesity is one of the leading killers in America these days. Obesity leads to extreme health problems like Type 2 Diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol and organ failure, just to name a few. Losing weight shouldn't have anything to do with wanting to fit a particular body image - and continuing to live an unhealthy lifestyle shouldn't be excused by a person saying that they are comfortable in their 350 lb body, because no one is comfortable when they are 350 lbs.

I have seen people who are morbidly obese using canes to walk or power scooters to get around, simply because they are too fat to stand on their own two feet. They cannot walk or support themselves under their own weight. 700 lb adults are bed ridden and have to be forklifted out of their homes after a SWAT team comes and knocks down a wall, just to get out and get medical attention. The truth is abundantly clear: We are too damn fat for our own good.When did this country just settle and become complacent about our growing weight problems? When did it become acceptable to be so fat that you can't even fit into a normal pair of pants or an airline chair or your own car? Does the level of laziness that has increased in this country - from the quick, fast food, drive thru lifestyles and self-checkout lines, internet shopping and On Demand movies and automated everything - does that go hand in hand with our growing obesity? Perhaps.

Recently, a Marie Claire blogger, Maura Kelly, was criticized when she wrote an article about becoming disgusted over watching a reality show where two fat people were in love. People tore her apart all over the internet and in other media outlets, basically condemning her as a "Fatty Hatter". She then issued an apology for making anyone feel bullied or ashamed for being fat in the article. To be honest, her opinion is her opinion, and I don't think she should have been bullied or ashamed for what she said because most of it was true.

Obesity has gotten to such an extreme point that now it is becoming fetishized. Sure, fat people want to feel acceptable, to feel like they belong and to not be judged by their size. They want to see people on TV and in magazines who look like them too, but at what cost? A show on ABC family called "Huge" revolves around teen drama at a weight loss summer camp, which is supposedly meant to empower obese children and teens and make them feel like they have characters on TV that they can relate to. The fact that weight loss camps even exist in the first place should be a big red flag in this country. Your child should be out being active on a regular basis and not forced to exercise once their doctor finally informs you that your child is dangerously overweight for their age and corralled off to some special institute for other fat kids. And more times than not, fat children are the product of fat parents because that is where their get their eating and diet habits from.

So where does the change begin? How do we as a country, as a whole, get on the right track and start to get to normal, healthy weights? Again, I'm not saying that every woman has to be a size 6 or an 8 or even a size 12, but you should be able to walk up a flight of stairs and not get winded (especially if you are a non-smoker) and to not worry about having a heart attack before you're 35. It doesn't have to be entirely about exercise; you don't have to hit the treadmill five times a week. It doesn't have to be about starving yourself on ridiculous diets or using weight loss pills or getting stomach stapling surgery. (Which, by the way, many doctors will not perform certain gastric surgeries if a person is extremely overweight because of the extreme risk of heart attack involved.) It starts with changing your mindset and your eating habits. Change the way you view food and its portions and its nutritional value. Don't lose weight because you feel forced by society or have a negative image about your body - do it because you want to be healthy and feel better! Do it because you want to live!

Below are some statistics and informational links about obesity and what you can do if you or someone you know want to change your life and start getting healthy: (Of course, you should also consult a physician first if you are thinking of making any kind of major change in your dietary habits and exercise plan.)


  1. though i agree with everything that you said, i'm rather curious as to what prompted you to write this blog entry...

    i'm also a fan of the biggest loser :p

  2. I am afflicted with the "almost a third of the calories I ate today were candy" eating disorder. This is all very true. Going home always makes my head explode.

  3. Well, it was mostly in response to all the heat that that blogger got for writing that article in Marie Claire ridiculing seeing fat people in a reality show on TV. As much as I don't condone bullying other people for what they look like, it is tragic how unhealthily obese people in this country are becoming - as if weighing 400 lbs is to be looked at as the norm now a days.

    I read somewhere yesterday that the obesity rate is expected to be 42% by 2015. That's a staggering statistic! And I will admit, even though I am mildly disgusted when I see fat people out and about (especially when I came back from Japan), a lot of it is that I also feel bad for them. People are just becoming complacent with their fatness, instead of looking at is as a very serious health problem. People see weight loss as something drastic and done for image reasons; people who are fat figure they are too far gone to make any changes in their life or are embarrassed to go to the gym and try to lose the weight, so they just kind of concede defeat about it. And I think that people don't take it seriously that being overweight affects a lot of your regular body functions and your day to day living.