Motivation is rarely mentioned as a cause, although it’s a significant one. The so-called “French paradox - despite their love have for rich foods, that country has a low incidence of obesity - is because the French dislike being overweight; matter of fact, they hate it. Therefore they are motivated to remain slender. So is it for actors and actresses, television personalities, airline pilots and athletes. Their careers depend on their ability to control their appetites. Weight gains soon appear on the cover of “People Magazine”.
Sex is a strong motivator. Every Spring, teen-age girls engage in a ritual consisting of eating virtually nothing and displaying their bodies in variations of the “wet T-shirt contest.” Why? Hoping that being fashionably slender will give them an edge in the dating game, they emulate movie stars and runway models. More about that later.
If sufficiently motivated, one can maintain a normal, healthy weight indefinitely. Unfortunately, many can’t. Those slender girls eventually marry, and the “baby fat” often remains after childbirth. Seeing me for one reason or another, they’d pull a picture from their purse:
“Doctor, this is what I looked like at 18."
Men know they’ll have a better chance of catching (not realizing they’re the ones being caught) the mate of their dreams if they’re dependable and “look good”. Of course, there’s always one who goes for the handsome rogue.
Then, their dreams fulfilled, they become complacent and soon hear:
“Honey, I can’t believe how you’re letting yourself go.”
AGEING. Weight gain and aging go hand in hand; a belief now supported by scientific data. In 1971, the National Institutes of Health began to study the offspring of the original subjects in the old Framingham study. It ran from 1971 to 2001. Ages ranged from 30 to 59. Nine of 10 men and seven of 10 women gained weight with age. The gain occurred rapidly, often during the four year span between examinations.
One obvious explanation: as we age, we become less active. Our life styles change. Instead of going to a movie, something that entailed some walking, many prefer lying on a couch, watching TV. Everything we do, from driving a screw to mopping the floor, has become mechanized. This need not happen. There is no medical reason why one cannot remain physically active long past our 70ies. That’s why fitness centers have become part of the modern landscape. A century ago, such places were frequented only by professional boxers. Quite a paradox isn’t it? Because industrialization has reduced physical labor, we had to devise ways of remaining physically active, in order to remain healthy.
Our ENVIRONMENT is partly to blame. Environments in the developed areas of the World, and to a increasing degree in the less developed ones, foster obesity. They are “obesogenic.”
Today, both adult family members work outside the home. It began during WW II with “Rosie the Riveter.” Because there’s no one to cook at home, we’ve come to depend on “prepared foods.” These are cheap, tasty, very practical, and unfortunately, calorie-dense. Although our taste buds cannot taste fat, we find fatty foods “tasty” because of their texture, which is why various forms of fat, as well as salt, are incorporated into prepared foods. Because fat has such a high caloric value: 9.0 Calories/gm compared to only 4.0 Calories/gm for carbohydrate and protein, many prepared foods are high in calories. For instance, consider a diet staple: the potato.
One peeled, boiled potato contains 115 Calories.
1 cup of frozen, hashed brown potatoes contains 340 Calories:
We’re in a "catch - 22" situation. If we eat enough tasty, high calorie food to feel sated, we gain weight. Cutting back on portions may lead to feelings of hunger and the problem of "snacking".
The one constant factor in our eating habits is the amount we eat rather than the number of calories. Other studies indicate that when people eat the amount they’re accustomed to, they don’t feel hungry, even though that food contains fewer calories. Eating foods low in calories enables us to eat enough to feel sated, yet reduce our caloric intake.
The foregoing begs the question. Given such an environment, how can one lose weight? One approach is to receive instructions for a 1500 cal/day diet. However, we know that providing someone with three prepared meals/day, each containing 500 cal, promotes a greater weight loss. Overweight people do better if they don’t choose and handle food or prepare meals.
More about the causes of obesity will follow. Hey, I never said that the problem was a simple one.
To be continued