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There are many problems with the standard American diet: poor quality products, hydrogenated oils and trans fats, too much sugar and caffeine, toxic chemicals and pesticides.
But when it comes to obesity, as a stand-alone health epidemic, portion control is the culprit. According to new research, it’s not how much sugar and fat you consume that makes you obese, but the sheer amount of food consumed daily, regardless of quality.
But it’s still not the whole story…
Obesity and how it affects you
Obesity is no joke. Neither is being overweight. I’m not here to judge you; I struggle with weight, too. I just want to be clear on the fact that there is no such thing as being “obese and healthy,” or “obese but fit,” as I’ve previously discussed in more detail. The truth is obesity sets you on the fast track to life-threatening diseases and early death.
The definition of obesity means that a person is well overweight to a level past what is healthy or even easy on your body. That much weight is difficult to carry — stressing your joints with every step and adding stress on your heart and lungs with every movement. Obesity raises your blood pressure, increases your blood sugar, causes chronic inflammation, and is a primary contributor to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and metabolic disorder.
But weight alone is no clear sign that you are obese. Let’s take a look at why.
Different weight measures mean different things
There are different ways to see if you are clinically obese and at risk of early death from weight. Below are overviews of three common scales and what they mean. While none tell the whole story, they each relate to a different side, be it emotion or clinical. Use them all, take them all into consideration, and adjust your lifestyle and daily activities accordingly.
- Weight Scale – Everyone I know, including myself, has a weight scale in their bathroom. They stand on it frequently to see what they weigh. And that number seems to mark their place in the weight continuum and guides their eating habits. Well, at least for a few days anyway. But the thing is–the numbers on these scales don’t tell the whole picture.I may want to be 145 lbs. because the BMI (Body Mass Index) tells me this is my ideal weight for my height. However, I have strong legs and arms with dense musculature, and since muscle weighs more than fat, my weight is much higher. So in cases like this, and also for many people, we use scales subjectively to see where we stand on our own weight wish list. If I roll in at 175 lbs., I feel on target, and my pants and shirts fit well. This is all very subjective and emotionally I feel good at that weight in terms of self-esteem. However, aside from vanity, that number really means nothing in terms of an overall state of health.
- Body Mass Index (BMI) –The BMI is the long-standing yardstick by which many doctors and organizations (including health and life insurance underwriters), base a person’s “healthy weight” limits. BMI is a ratio of one’s height to weight and sets numerical limits on what is deemed healthy. An online calculator can be used to type in your height and weight to calculate your BMI. And if it is below 18.5, you are deemed underweight; between 18.5-24.9, you are deemed normal weight; between 25-29.9, you are deemed overweight; and if your BMI is over 30, you are deemed obese.As mentioned above, muscle weighs more than fat and so the BMI scale is intrinsically flawed. What’s more, weight and BMI alone does not tell the whole health story. Medically, holding your weight around the midsection is worse than holding it in other places.
- Hip to Waist Ratio – For measuring obesity and overall health risk, the ratio of your hips to your waist size may be the best marker of deterring overall health risk, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study, in which researchers looked at data of 15,000 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that the waist-to-hip ratio was a far better predictor of mortality and heart disease than BMI. This is because it measures “central-obesity,” or belly fat, which is dangerous. Here are some scary statistics from the study:
- A man with a normal BMI and central obesity had greater total mortality risk than one with similar BMI but no central obesity, and this man had twice the mortality risk of participants who were overweight or obese according to BMI only.
- Women with normal-weight central obesity also had a higher mortality risk than those with similar BMI but no central obesity, and those who were obese according to BMI only.
- Expected survival estimates were consistently lower for those with central obesity when age and BMI were controlled for.
Portion Control is the answer
The journal Obesity Science & Practice recently published an article titled, “Fast food, soft drink and candy intake is unrelated to body mass index for 95% of American adults.” Researchers at Cornell University found that junk food is not the cause of obesity in America. In fact, it is simply our lack of portion control; that is, the vast quantity of food we eat daily.
Yes, sugar is a neurotoxin and fried foods can contribute to cholesterol and heart disease, but these are overall issues relating to diet. Moreover, because there is no direct relationship between how much fast food one eats and their weight gain, simply cutting out fast food will not help you lose weight. Again, yes you will be healthier and reduce risk of other serious illnesses by replacing fast food and junk food with whole foods; but this may not affect your weight. Instead, you must cut back on the overall quantity of food you consume daily and also make exercise a staple of your days.
Emotions, Social Network and personal relativism
For many people, losing weight is no easy task. Emotions play a huge role in weight gain, especially as it relates to out-of-control food consumption and to lack of motivation to exercise. Your family environment and peers also play a big role of support or in keeping you in the weight rut. If you are obese with central belly fat, it is advised that you make some serious decisions now and this may mean making some tough decisions about with whom you spend your time and what you do with your days.
Sure, we can all be PC about obesity, be understanding about personal choices and rationalize it when we say things like, “She’s a big girl, but she looks great in jeans,” or “He’s got a beer gut, but he can bench press 200 pounds.” But thinking this way supports someone’s obesity and weight issue. Your personal desire to be PC and non-judgmental in an effort to help someone feel “accepted” and “loved” and “normal” makes you a co-dependent contributor toward their risk of early death. You can show them support and love by accepting them for who they are as a person while supporting their health goals so they can lose weight and live a longer life.
And if you are overweight or obese, you can still love yourself and have high self-esteem while reducing the amount of food you consume and exercising more. These two simple things will actually make you feel better, raise your self-esteem, and go a long way toward increasing your current “at risk” lifespan. Please think about the consequences to your life, and the lives of the loved ones around you, each time you load up a second helping at a meal or grab a snack in between.