This week I heard two news stories regarding the continuing obesity epidemic in the US. It’s all part of an ongoing series on NPR Called On The Run: How Families Struggle to Eat Well and Exercise I’m including an overview of some points that stood out to me mostly because I want to be able to fall back on these posts in the future of what is important to know in this weight loss process. Note to self: there is a lesson to learn from these stories.
This is promoting a new documentary ‘A Place at the Table’ about hunger in America. It touches on a topic called food insecurity where a family or individual doesn’t know where they will find their next meal. Many of us think there is a gap between hunger and obesity when often they are together in the same individual. Food insecurity and obesity are both signs of having insufficient funds to command foods that you need to stay healthy. The problem of hunger is it’s very much invisible, often hidden in the bodies that are obese. They are on a limited budget and the food that packs the most caloric punch is the least healthy for them. The documentary also follows hunger’s effects on children where they spend most of their time, at school. For too many kids their school lunches are the only meal they have in a day. Many times hunger can go undiagnosed as attention of behavioral problems. Symptoms of these can manifest as lack of focus, distraction, shame leading to lying, disciplinary issues.
Following the new series on why so many American children are overweight or obese this story focused on poll questions asked of listeners of their habits in the hours between school and bedtime, where critical decisions get made about food and exercise. The poll found parents understand what kids need to do to stay healthy, the problem is doing it. List of things that get crammed into between school and bedtime can be very daunting and damn near impossible for many. In trying to excel as a parent and in their career many parents end up being mediocre at both. High stress or physically taxing jobs drain energy toward the end of the day and convenience foods are the fall back option. The surveys found that 1/3 of families rely on frozen prepackaged or take-out food. Time is in short supply and money is also a factor. Buying fresh foods can be too expensive for families: $1 mac and cheese vs $4 Strawberries. Other barriers include physical surroundings, school policies, and family culture. In the U.S. there are many families with a history of obesity and unhealthy comfort food and many cultural norms lead to struggle with weight. That old grandma axiom “you need to eat more”. Schools can undermine message of healthy foods often having dense high fat foods or rewarding students with food related items like candy. When calories add up over the years the very environment can make it difficult to reverse the problem. It can be too hard or too expensive to get to exercising and eating right. Once an overweight person tries to do something about it, especially when they are young it’s so easy to get teased and be shamed into giving up or not starting at all.
What stands out the most to me about these stories is how much goes unseen in the American household. There are so many factors that contribute to our unhealthy choices. It can almost seem like the universe is working against us. I like this series because it can go to show you how difficult it can be to learn and maintain healthy choices relating to fitness and nutrition and how difficult it can be to change habits to reverse the damage an unhealthy lifestyle can cause. Its important for me to clarify that this is in no way intended to promote an excuse or remove fault. Rather it’s a way to allow us to learn and understand the struggle of healthy living with limited resources.
The majority of people acknowledge that good nutrition and an active lifestyle are important to their well-being and even knowing that they find it difficult to implement. A lot of people can empathize with these issues because we face them all the time. If not then I’d like to make an argument that there should at least be some sympathy, an acknowledgment of this difficulty in order to provide comfort and assurance; that can make a difference as well AND that comfort is reciprocated.
Making the smart choices for our bodies can be tough. I haven’t really found a way around the fact that I need to set aside the time to plan and make my meals and be active. There is a level of convenience that is forfeited in order to lose a significant amount of weight. It means creating habits in place of some life-long routines and learning to let go of some cultural norms in my own house so I could make those changes. It sounds pretty straight forward but these are really the most vital changes that need to be made.
How do these stories relate to my experience? More than anything it lets me know it’s not just tough for me, it’s tough for many people, millions even. If I really understand that concept then I no longer feel trapped in my own self-centered disdain at being fat. Being overweight feels like a prison, it’s isolating. But knowing I’m not alone helps bring me out of that state of mind. It actually gives me some courage. When I go to the gym or step into a new class there’s less anxiety because it’s very possible the people in that room have felt the same anxiety/shame/anger at their weight and health. The immediate result of that insight is I feel no judgment (which somehow is every overweight person’s fear). Once that fear is gone, there’s no stopping me, I’m ready to go all in.