Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat? It is a life-and-death question. Take all your clothes off and take a good look in the mirror, as though you were critiquing a stranger. What do you see? Is the body in front of you slender and toned, or packing a few swells and bulges? Or is it downright blubbery?
We are in an epidemic, one that we are paying for in cold, hard cash every year. According the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fully one third of all Americans, including children, are seriously overweight. Fully another third are clinically obese. According to a PBS Newshour feature, "When you have too much weight around the middle, the changes in blood pressure, the changes in blood sugar, in cholesterol, these are silent processes .... people have a rather benign view of weight gain. And it's now catching up. Now we have people who, in their 40s, 50s, 60s, are having heart attacks and strokes. Big is not beautiful.
" .... One out of three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. One out of two if that child is African-American or Latino. It's not just developing diabetes. If that child develops the diabetes before the age of 10, his or her lifetime will be cut by 19 years, and the life will be an unhealthy one. It will be a painful one. It will have kidney failure or amputations, heart attack or stroke.
" .... The foods that are so affordable are the high fat, high sugared foods that are activating the pleasure centers of our brain in the same way that drugs do. It's the dopamine system. It's the pleasure-reward system of the brain. And so we've refined these food products to be as potent as we can for that reward."
But the reward, as with drug addictions, is temporary. We get suckered into coming back for another fix, and another. Our fixes become larger ~ we are literally, as Mike Huckabee says, "digging our graves with a knife and fork". What isn't temporary are the long-term, deleterious health effects, as well as the effects on our national economy. Obesity is costing us $200 billion a year, and the cost is growing. Here is a sampling of what's at stake ~
- Obesity is a contributing factor in 5 of the top 10 causes of death ~ heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease. ~ CDC.
- In 2009, roughly 94 percent of schools served a lunch that failed to meet federal standards for healthy school meals. 80 percent of the lunches served in those schools exceeded federal recommendations for total fat and saturated fat. ~ USDA survey.
- Someone with diabetes costs on average $6,600 more per year to care for than someone without diabetes .... Someone who is obese costs on average more than $1400 more per year to care for than someone who is not obese. ~ CDC.
- At the current rates of increase, obesity-related health care costs are expected to exceed $300 billion by 2018 ~ more than double the $147 billion reported in 2008.
- Workers who are obese are less likely to be promoted than their fit peers. ~ Reuters.
(Source: Obesity in America, by the numbers. The link includes in interactive map showing adult obesity by state, with a click-and-play feature showing the increase from 1995 to 2010.)
Imagine how revolting we must look to (a) developed countries which promote fitness, and (b) underdeveloped countries where famine is a fact of life. It breaks my heart to watch small children and teenagers waddle down the street. It verges on revolting to see adults with huge rolls of fat on their bodies, stuffing junk food and soft drinks into their faces. I find it difficult to muster much sympathy. Every bite is a conscious choice. It's not like these people are oblivious to the fact that, as time passes, they are having to buy clothing in larger and larger sizes. They get it. They're simply, tragically in denial.
I know, I've been there. From age 40 to age 56, my own over-eating (mostly healthy foods) caused the scale to tip to higher and higher numbers. My reality check came when I reached 199 lb. The thought of weighing 200 lb. or more was grotesque. So I made a decision to limit my food intake to 1200 calories per day. This allowed me to lose about 2 lb. per month, a rate slow enough to improve the chances that weight loss would be both manageable and permanent. Reading the nutrition labels on food packaging was an education in itself ~ all those toxic additives ~ but my main references were the content of fat, calories, and fiber. And my best friend was the bathroom scale.
Today, at 5'9" I weigh 144 lb., exactly at the low end of the healthy weight range for my height. I'm slender, but if I were to add muscle mass (which is denser than most other tissues), I'd still be within acceptable weight limits. Here is an indispensable tool ~ a chart broken down by gender, showing the ideal healthy weight range for a given height. Within that range, lower is better. The website includes a link to determine your body mass index (BMI). I encourage you to place the link on your computer's desktop, for easy reference.
Now is the time. Not tomorrow, not next month. Like quitting smoking, losing weight will have immediate health benefits. Exercise, and eat healthy foods in moderate portions. You'll feel better, you'll look better, and you'll live longer. Your loved ones will thank you, your doctor will thank you, and most of all you'll thank yourself.
The map below (click to enlarge) shows the rate of obesity in America by state, as of 2010. Note that in no state is the rate less than 20%. One in five people. In the majority of states, the rate is much higher. Our national self-indulgence is a disgrace.