THE FAT PROBLEM
Starvation has killed more human beings in the history of planet Earth than from any other method. You can take war, disease, murder, old age, and death by shark attack and add them all up. Starvation out does them all. It was not until post World War II that obesity became a recognized problem. Sure there were some chubbies before then but they were the rich and royalty. What has happened in the past 70 years to create such an endemic of fat when in the previous 70,000 years people died because they had no body fat?
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
Everyone knows eating spinach is a good nutritious food choice and doughnuts are an unhealthy option. People understand that daily exercise is a good idea and sitting on the couch all day long will not contribute to a fit, lean body. If we understand what choices should be made for long term health, why do most of us keep making the wrong choices? I believe it comes down to human predisposition to seek pleasure, a lack of time to devote to healthy eating and exercise, plus Big Food Companies taking advantage of these shortcomings.
DE-SENSITIZED PLEASURE CENTERS OF YOUR BRAIN
Human beings have a “reward” part in the brain. There is an area in the brain where pleasure neurotransmitters are released which allow you to feel good. This section of the brain is important for the survival of man. It motivates someone to seek reward when discomfort is present. If you are cold you seek warmth. If you are horny you seek someone to mate with. If you are hungry, the search for food overwhelms your attention. The longer you go without a basic life necessity, the more you desire it. If prehistoric man did not have a reward seeking part of the brain, they would just sit on a rock doing nothing until something came by and ate him.
The problem with the modern reward brain is that it has become desensitized. We have hijacked our pleasure response by the abundant consumption of high fat, sugary foods available to us. In the past, a piece of fruit would have been a rewarding high sugary treat that would make someone feel pleasure. Today, a piece of fruit does not cut it. Today we need a hot molten lava cake with vanilla ice cream to get the same pleasurable release. This desensitization becomes even more pronounced if someone is stressed or depressed.
BIG FOOD INDUSTRY GOING IN FOR THE KILL
Processed food companies employ scientists called “Flavorists”. Their job is to figure out your “Bliss Point”. This is the creation of a food product with the perfect combination of sugar, fat, salt, coloring, texturing, additives and preservatives. Your tongue feels this amazing sensation and quickly sends a message to your brain that you are experiencing a mouth orgasm. Big food companies know how to make you climax. Some would say the obesity epidemic is not the fault of the individual. A person genetically prone to carrying more body fat with a stressful life event, plus a desensitized reward center, has virtually no chance of being lean in their life time. All the money they spend on fad diets, exercise gimmicks and magical quick fat loss pills is wasted. The cycle becomes:
Waste some money - still fat - more depression - desensitized reward brain - hot molten lave cake – feel good for a short time – feel bad for your weakness -repeat.
You basically become a weak, injured gazelle while the pride of Big Food comes in for the merciless kill.
The number one excuse/reason people give for not being active is lack of time. Why is it that no one has any time? In my opinion, it is mostly due to finances. Most people find it difficult to make the amount of money necessary to lead the quality of life they desire. In order to send your children to school, buy clothes, pay the mortgage and feed your family, you must spend anywhere from 8-14 of your waking hours working, getting ready to work and travelling to work. This does not leave much extra time for making quality food choices and physical activity. People are sitting down most of their day in their cars, at work, or at home. Next to laying down to sleep, sitting is the laziest position the body can be in. Very few calories are being expended which prevents body fat being used as a fuel source. Pre-WWII, people made money by working with their body. Post WWII people make their living working with their mind.
The fast food industry preys upon people’s time disadvantage perception. They make it almost impossible not to eat fast food. Why does the average North American family eat fast food three to four times per week?
- There are hundreds of thousands of locations, virtually on every city block which leads to easy access.
- Advertisements directed to your children thousands of times in their life, usually with a paid athlete or Hollywood actor promoting.
- Food is cheap. You can feed a family of four for under $20.
- Food tastes really good. The high fat-sugar-salt combination satisfies the reward center temporarily.
- It is time efficient. People can eat in minutes, not ever having to leave their vehicle.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
No one should completely deny themselves of all the foods they love. This can only lead to bingeing. Think of the “Law of Diminishing Returns”. The first two to three bites of chocolate are the best part. Each subsequent morsel tastes slightly worse as the previous. Once you have enjoyed the best part of your treat, there is no deprivation. If you continue to eat into your 10th, 20th, 100th bite, you are doing it for other reasons than pleasure. Here are some scenarios:
- Maybe you are eating a whole bowl of nacho chips because you are hungry. In this situation, you may not have done a great job eating earlier in the day, missing breakfast or lunch.
- You may eat an entire carton of ice cream in front of the television late at night. This is a habit you have formed over your lifetime. You associate eating with sitting on the couch and watching television. You may not even stop to think if you are hungry or even desire ice cream at that moment. You may be eating subconsciously. All you know is the situation does not feel right unless you are wrapping your lips around a cold spoon with creamy rocky road enveloping your taste buds. It is time to change the habit. You either have to leave your house and do something else on occasion or change what you eat to a low calorie option.
- Your marital relationship is suffering. To deal with the depression, chocolate peanut butter cookies may be your temporary feel good solution. The only problem is your hips are now wider than you are tall. Dealing with the root cause of the depression is the long term solution. Maybe setting time aside to talk to your partner or a kick to his ass may help yours.
There are a couple of approaches with the time obstacle. First, do not feel you need to set aside a full 30min to get a worthy exercise session done. Particularly in obese people, three ten minute sessions spread out in your day can be more beneficial. Someone just starting to exercise will have a lower fitness level. They would have a tough time keeping their intensity elevated for a full continuous 30 minutes. They would have an easier time exercising harder for ten minutes at a time. The overall calorie expenditure would be higher for the same thirty minutes because more can be done in each bout. Secondly, try to kill two birds with one stone. Spend your exercise time with your children. Take your family swimming, sledding, or kick a ball around. Quality time with your kids, exercise for you, they see an active role model, and are in turn less likely to be obese in their adult life.
You know what the right choice is. Find out the obstacle preventing you from making the right choice. You may need some help from a trainer, friend, or family support. It is not impossible to be lean for a lifetime -- it is just hard. The hard is what makes it so worthwhile. It would be a shame if you lived an entire lifetime of obesity never knowing what your amazing body could have looked like or done if you just had the will and skill to give it a solid effort.