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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Obesity - Not Only In America, But Also A Global Problem!

This is an update on my first post about obesity in America rising. Since then I’ve read several reports on obesity rising globally. This was news to me, frankly. I have an interest in this subject, probably because both my husband and I have had to battle our weight and probably because I’ve written cookbooks to help people who find it necessary to follow a special diet in order to lose weight. In the last 15 years it has been an enormous struggle for me and mostly I’ve been about 15 lbs (occasionally 20 lbs) over my ideal weight, with low-carb dieting bringing it down to 5 to 10 lbs overweight from time to time. My husband has a slightly bigger weight problem than I do and probably as a result, he now takes blood pressure medication. I take thyroid hormone for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and am pre-menopausal. My body is very resistant to weight loss, even on medication for my thyroid. As a young person at school, I did not have a weight problem, but in my twenties occasionally I saw a higher weight due to being on the pill or after a pregnancy. By age 35, I had to diet to get to a good weight and by age 37, I was struggling to lose weight even by dieting and that is when I found low-carbing. Although our weight problems are not considered that severe, we have suffered enough that I know in my heart that many people considered “obese” (I hate that term!) must suffer times 10 or more probably. It is my heart’s desire to see this epidemic ended forever. It was not this way when I was growing up. Overweight people were the exception, and rarely were they in the obesity range. Something changed!

According to the World Health Organization, it is the calorie dense foods that people have started enjoying in abundance – foods that contain lots of fat (extra calories, and most likely trans fats too) combined with refined sugars (worst offender of which is high fructose corn syrup hidden in many commercial products) and white flour (I added this last one as it acts similarly in the body to sugar). Combining a sugary diet along with high fat is a recipe for disaster. Also, the lack of exercise nowadays was mentioned as a culprit. Hmmm… Those foods are indeed often very yummy (says a carb addict and someone who loved golden corn syrup on white bread with cheese sliced on top, when I was a much younger woman. We also trucked bucket loads of sugary cocoa cola into our house. I provided my children with Kool-aid made with real sugar. Thankfully, I woke up not too long after that and discovered Splenda Granular.), but it is the addictive nature of sugar that makes one crave more and more to the point that eventually when we’ve overdone it, insulin resistance begins to occur. Insulin resistance happens when the cells of the body are no longer as sensitive to its action upon them, and in response the pancreas has to produce more insulin and more insulin as time goes by. Insulin is the fat storing hormone in the body. This insulin resistance is the "evil thing" that changes the body and makes us into fat storing machines instead of purely energy consuming and producing machines. At this point, it is no longer the person at fault. Something has gone drastically wrong in the body! It is like fighting an uphill battle to lose weight, let alone maintain a good, healthy weight, if one has managed the weight loss through superhuman effort. For some it is easy to lose weight, but maintaining proves to be the difficult part due to the above mentioned factors.

The tragic thing is that the young generation coming up is suffering and at younger and younger ages. For instance, we all knew in years gone by that the French were eating well (butter, cheese, cream, meats, wines, vegetables and fruits with less emphasis on empty carbs ironically) and remaining slender. We wondered enviously how they did that. My first visit and only visit to France when I turned 46 years old showed me a Paris that had a MacDonalds or another American Fast Food Franchise on practically every corner, plus many wonderful-smelling bakeries with all kinds of sugary, high-fat desserts temptingly displayed. Yes, alas my husband and I succumbed to not only the desserts, but also those famous French croissants (yes, they are excellent)!! If it is difficult for a committed low-carber to avoid these temptations, then think how difficult it is for those folks for whom these foods are not necessarily off limits! The fact is today in France, 5.9 million people are obese, of which 2.3 million are nine years old. That is plain old shocking to me and it makes me feel so sad, for the children in particular. It is cruel what is happening and we have to look at ways to stop this from continuing. Admittedly, organizations and countries are looking into ways to stop this epidemic. Yet, to this day, low-carbing is not provided as an option and that is too bad, as it is a solution for many people who have carbohydrate intolerance due to insulin resistance. In fact, a person with diabetes (definitely a carbohydrate intolerance disease) will often become a latent diabetic on a low carbohydrate diet. A low fat diet (usually high carb and low calorie) still contains far too much carbohydrate for some people to get a handle on their hunger longterm, because too much insulin is being produced in response to eating carbohydrates frequently. It stimulates hunger, when the blood sugar drops too low due to the insulin grabbing too much sugar out of the blood stream. The cravings at this point are usually for more quick-fix carbohydrates, creating a vicious cycle in the body.

In China, the obesity rate has climbed to the point that some cities have 20% of people considered obese. I always thought of Chinese people as incredibly slim and petite and usually felt quite large with my broad shoulders and big chest next to a Chinese woman. Did MacDonald’s and other fast food places from the West cause them to develop insulin resistance as well?

One thing we can do besides eating less (low-carbing makes this easier as it cuts cravings for the bad carbs that call our names) is increase physical activity. The easiest way is to find time to walk. I prefer evenings, but some people would prefer the early morning. Walking is weight-bearing exercise that helps prevent osteoporosis, plus it is using up calories and keeps the metabolism humming, even while reducing calories. Other forms of exercise, including weight lifting, are also beneficial. Anything that gets the body moving is far better than being sedentary, which combined with a bad diet and being overweight is implicated in an increased susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, etc.

On the bright side, the facts are that having some of these things go wrong and being very overweight often does not shorten one’s life by more than a paltry few years, but it is the quality of life that goes down the tubes sometimes. I have known people classified as obese, who’ve been that way for most of their latter adult years, who have lived to 100 or close. However, sometimes they had challenging health problems that made life less enjoyable for them. Longevity is still mostly controlled by one’s own particular genes, I think. However, we can definitely improve the odds of living a healthier and thereby more enjoyable life, by being proactive and finding what works for us to either lose weight (difficult, I understand), or at the very least remain as active as humanly possible, and adopt a healthier diet, by cutting out the sugars and foods with hidden sugars and white flour (a friend calls them: “white death” and the late Dr. Atkins called them “anti-nutrients” that steal nutrients from the body in order for the body to process them).

I hope I reported on the facts fairly well and at the same time was sensitive to people’s feelings and also gave some food for thought and awareness along with hope for some people. I never want to hurt feelings – that is not my intent. People are people irregardless of size and we all have feelings and living in an overweight body is challenging and stressful to a person living in a narcissistic society, where we acutely feel that others may be judging us.

In the end, life is not about looks or weight, it is not about things either, but it is indeed about loving people and about relationships and most of all, it is about finding and loving God. Just my thoughts today….knowing also, that some relationships are beyond mending on this earth, but by praying and asking God, just maybe it will be different in heaven one day. I speak from my own life script, so please remember to cut me some slack. Thanks.

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