Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dieting is Hard

Today Michelle Obama gave a speech about childhood obesity. In fact, everyday, someone is lecturing about America's problems with weight. There are thousands of diet books, millions of magazine articles, and dozens of television spots all dedicated to helping people get fit and trim. And they all make it sound so easy. But the truth is, it's one of the hardest things a person can accomplish.

A tobacco user can stop smoking or chewing. An alcoholic can stop drinking. A drug addict can stop using. A gambler can quit gambling. But an overeater can't stop eating. S/he must learn to deal with food in some other way.

And it's not like we don't know what to do. The rules are simple. Eat fewer calories. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Eat whole grains. Eat less red meat and replace it with more legumes and healthy fish. Eat much less sugar, salt, and saturated fat. Eat more fiber. Exercise more.

And yet, we keep getting fatter and fatter, myself included.

So what's the problem? One part of the problem is time. After working all day, who wants to have to spend time fixing a meal when fast food is so convenient, cheap, and easy to clean up?

A second part of the problem is motivation. Most of us can be motivated to eat healthy for a while. But lifetime motivation is a whole other story.

A third part of the problem is cost. The foods we're supposed to be eating are the most expensive. It's not right that a huge, greasy hamburger from a fast food joint should taste so good and cost so little. Preparing a meal at home of salmon, steamed broccoli, brown rice, and apple slices will take much more time to prepare and will cost much, much more. And if you're like me, there will be a huge mess in the kitchen to clean up.

I know that obesity is dangerous. The list of medical conditions attributed to overeating gets bigger everyday. There's diabetes, cancers, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, and more. And these are showing up in young children. Just yesterday, I heard that when autopsies of toddlers who've died in accidents are performed, there's already the start of plaque build-up in their arteries.

There's also the social stigma that every overweight person deals with. People watch what you put in your grocery cart. They watch what you eat in restaurants. They'll whisper and laugh behind your back, or worse, right in front of you. This is an unimaginable burden for school-age children whose peers can be so rude.

When I was in high school, the "fat" girl in class weighed about 180 pounds. Today, she's likely to weigh 300 or more. I remember how embarrassing it was for one of my students who could not fit into a desk and had to sit at a table instead. There's just not anything that can be said to make that situation better.

So what can be done? Well, like I said, there are already a countless numbers of resources out there and we already know what we need to do. It really comes down to how much a person is willing to take before he or she is willing to change. How many medical conditions can be suffered through? How much ridicule can be stomached? How long is a person willing to sit on the sidelines while his or her friends play the game?

When overweight people have had enough, they'll make the change. Unfortunately, by that time it may be too late. The best thing is to never let obesity start.

And all of this is so much easier said than done. Dieting is just hard.

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