Tag Archive | Obesity

so-duh

I have a confession to make. I recently had a soda. Yes, I did. That means, of my own volition, I purchased the vibrantly colored 12 oz can, pulled up on that little flip top, and brought that fizzy, bubbly nectar–rife with all its high fructose corn syrup–up to my own lips…and swallowed. Then I swallowed again. And, I did all of this under the bright lights of the  public eye. I tell ya. That little burst of Sunkist Orange Soda was quite satisfying.

It was a cold winter’s night. Pete and I had gone to our little local community-run movie theater where nice volunteers staff a humble concession stand. I don’t really know how it happened. I was thirsty. Ordinarily, I would have just purchased a water–which was what I was assuming I was about to do again as I approached the counter. However, uncharacteristically, my thirst informed me right then and there that it would not be humored this time by just plain water and it insisted that I consider the offerings stocked in the small glass-front refrigerator.  

I was stunned. I did not know what to do. Healthy-oriented me does really enjoy a few lines of lightly sweetened specialized iced teas but there were none of those to be found in that bastion of freon-cooled fare. Instead, there were just waters, sodas and those pouches of Capri Suns that you stick  little straws into. I panicked. The cloyingly sweet fruit juice concoctions aroused a mild nausea, the sodas provoked my usual disgust and disdain and the concession people were beginning to look at me funny.

Suddenly, the sun logo on the little orange can seemed to wink at me and I found myself saying, “Yes, I’ll have an orange soda.” When I went back to sit in my chair, Pete turned to tell me that the seat was saved…for me. He really did not recognize me with that can in my hand. The last time he saw me with a can of soda was about 1981 when we were parched and poor living in Dallas, Texas.

Now, you might not think this was such a big deal without appreciating that I have about the lowest per capita soda consumption and am kind of like the Carrie Nation of the soda-drinking world. I tote around soda bottles emptied of their original content and refilled with their hidden sugar equivalency. I  paste pictures of skulls and cross-bones on these bottles. I make my victims hold those bottles while I read them the insidious list of ingredients that their beloved brands contain. I make them weep as they promise to not ever imbibe again. When forced on rare occasions to empty the bottles of their original contents so I can use them for my own devices, I don plastic gloves and a face mask. That is how corrosive I consider these substances to be. And, if anyone had ever dared offer my own kids a soda in my presence, who knows what their fate may have been.

So, imagine my inner confusion as I leaned over and whispered to Pete during the movie, “This is pretty good.”  Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not like I never had the stuff. I was raised on soda. The only thing that had stopped me from having a relationship with it long ago was an early adoption of a whole foods/crunchy granola lifestyle, an understanding of the depleting aspects of white sugar and a resistance to large multi-national corporations. If I had not had such a strong philosophical position on such matters way back, I might have just gone along enjoying these nice little fizzies with the rest of the masses. Especially the innocent flavors like orange, black cherry and ginger ale. Sometimes they do just hit the spot like nothing else can. If not bolstered by my iron-clad conviction that soda should be a banned substance, I could easily imagine getting another one of these little cans of sunshine the next time I go to the movies. And then, maybe when I go to a restaurant or if I am on a trip. I could then just keep a few in my own fridge.

Maybe I should have relaxed a little last week with my lovely 35-year-old-client–300 plus pounds, diagnosed with diabetes a year ago whose blood sugars are better but still not in good control. He is drinking way less Pepsi than he used to. Now, he only has one or two cans a day, sometimes none, while on the job during the day as a building maintenance supervisor. Should the fact that he is the father of five– the youngest of which was with him during our consult and who was the cutest thing ever–matter?  Is it just a coincidence that he sees a connection between his blood sugar levels and his soda consumption?

Maybe I shouldn’t have tried so hard last week to figure out what was up with my 34-year-old pregnant client. Prior to this pregnancy, her chart indicated that there was evidence of high blood sugar–hyperglycemia–without a full diagnosis of diabetes. She came in bemoaning her foul moods, agitation and lack of both patience and energy. Came to find out she has been consuming 2 to 3 liters of Cherry Coke daily for a long while. Imagine her surprise when I pulled out a sugar-filled bottle of her favorite blend from under my desk.

Once again, there is new hoopla in the divisive soda world as Coca-Cola is releasing these commercial spots touting their supposed corporate responsibility in the fight against obesity while at the same time ignoring the true effects of their confectionery concoctions. You can watch one of them here. My peeps, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, CSPI and others  are thankfully responding to this deceptive campaign accordingly. This is good because I am busy in the trenches. These little stories I cite above are just examples of situations I really encounter over and over, even in the course of a day. Corroded teeth, eroded stomachs, poor mood regulation, extreme belly fat and of course, diabetes lie in the wake of soda consumption and its adherent addiction. It is this that fuels my manic reaction to the stuff–and will continue to do so.

Being diagnosed with diabetes is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Every day, I meet the people who have unfortunately fallen into the hole chasing some elusive White Rabbit. Reality changes mighty quickly and quite extremely. Simply awakening from a strange dream will not make it go away. Eating cake will certainly not help and the Red Queen is apt to yell, “Off with her toes!”  And, Coca Cola and Pepsico will have nothing to offer except a Cheshire Cat smug grin.

So, though I enjoyed that little refreshment, it will be a long time until my next one. In the meantime, I leave you with a link to some powerful stories.  A Widow’s Story and Simply Raw.

As always, I look forward to your thoughtful comments and warm hellos.

In health, Elyn

I am so glad to introduce the new My Plates. Thanks to those who have submitted their beautiful plate photos. Photos and haikus always welcome.

erin's plate

erin’s plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

by Gordon

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a bushel and a peck of ways to address childhood obesity

This is a slight revision of a previously published post.

It seems that we spend a lot of time fixing things that should not have ever become so broken. Not only time is wasted but a lot of resources– that seem to be rather scarce these days.

As this relates to the care and feeding on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels of  human beings, we certainly have been drawn off course. Some significant digressions from what should have been a rather intuitive  matter or a natural symbiotic relationship with the natural and nurturing environment have occurred.

Healthy Children

Healthy Children (Photo credit: Korean Resource Center 민족학교) drawing by 13 yo Suzy An, Irvine, California

Though early humans expended much of their energy trying to procure food for survival, they still seemed to have had time for other endeavors as well–like discovering fire, inventing the wheel and designing clothes. Nomadic cultures certainly had to find to go or take out food solutions. One would think that at this stage of the game, we too should be able to both nourish and progress.

Listening to the persistent conversation about the problem of obesity one might think evolution-wise we were still inventing the wheel. The top experts in the field are engaged in the mandate to ferret out the problem and find solutions, huge research projects are undertaken, big monies are allocated, programs are created, public health campaigns are rampant. The hunt is on and it has been going on for decades. This time its pursuit is not roaming bison or wild turkey but the reclaiming of our natural homo sapien form and functioning. So far, we seem to have only snagged the primordial beast of eat less and exercise more.

I wonder if this all has to be so difficult. Where and how did we stray so far off course?  How did we allow the school food situation to get so bad? Other nations with way fewer resources than ours have maintained a large degree of nutritional integrity,even if  in the form of some hearty gruel. Jamie Oliver, a simple lad from England, has managed to bring nourishing food into kids’ cafeterias.

Today, sadly aware that September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, I venture into the childhood obesity debacle to suggest that maybe we can shift the focus, listen to our inherent wisdom, reclaim our cultural connectedness and tweak the approach, to save some on the expended resources that we are currently draining. I know these are complicated matters but perhaps there really are more holistic solutions.

Here are some possibilities:

ð  Mandate paid maternity leave of a valuable length. The United States is one of only three countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. The other two are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. Most countries provide paid leave of between 14-22 weeks. Norway allows 44 weeks, while Canada allows 50. Most mothers here who do get to stay home for a meager six weeks after the birth of their babies generally are those whose jobs provide disability insurance. Wow. What a warped difference in consciousness. We are also quite stingy in terms of annual vacation time. Without time for parents to establish healthy routines, many important aspects related to family and child health are neglected. Additionally, one cannot even begin to discuss weight matters without considering the role of stress on our eating and metabolism. maternity leave comparison   maternity leave petition

ð  Revisit infant feeding recommendations. Our early feeding practices rely on the introduction of cow milk and soy-based proteins, processed grain cereals and juices as babies’ first foods. Infant feeding recommendations promulgated by physicians professionally under-educated on nutritional matters and baby food manufacturers seem almost sacrosanct in our society. The digestive imprinting and physiological adaptations to our first foods provide important clues as to children’s feeding inclinations. Ignoring this stage is short-sighted.

ð  Teach our Children to Eat like the French (and other food conscious cultures). This article by Karen Le Billon highlights this important issue. I might call this Nurture Children’s Developing Food Palates Appropriately. This means we should not be catering to children’s unformed palates. Doing so dwarfs the development required to appreciate more sophisticated and healthier foods, tastes and textures. Overexposing children early to an onslaught of sweet and chemically-produced tastes inhibits acceptance of the wide variety of foods required for a balanced diet. This is a major problem.  how the french feed their children

ð   Stop advertising and marketing food to children. Over thirty-five years ago Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Action for Chidren’s Television petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to restrict advertising aimed at children–in large part due its effects on children’s dietary preferences and intake. The FTC agreed that such practices were inappropriate. However, the food, toy and advertising industries pushed back and unfortunately pressured Congress to halt taking action. Today,17 to 20 billion dollars are spent annually on the marketing of non-nutrient foods to children. Additionally, while our FDA continues to hold to its stance that artificial food dyes and preservatives in our food are safe, other countries have begun to take progressive action to remove these substances from their products–even in foods made by American manufacturers–for their children’s sakes.

Michael jacobson   television food advertising      elimination of food dyes

ð  Likewise, redesign supermarket and drug store layouts so that they do not cater to 4- year-olds’ sensibilities.  Next time you shop, pay attention to how many cartoon character endorsed products are populating the food aisles, especially at the eye-catching “end caps” and checkout counters.

ð  Respect recess. Put it back in the school if it has been taken away. Provide it daily and preferably before lunch.

ð  Integrate relaxation/yoga/resilience training and cooking/gardening curriculum at all grade levels.  

ð  Protect farmers and subsidize fruits and vegetables.

Well, using agricultural measurement, I think that is enough for now.  If we truly and intelligently wish to address this matter– and to heal what should have never become so broken– we have to restore the capacity of those best equipped to nourish and protect our children–the parents, farmers,cooks, teachers and schools. And yes, it may require the creation and implementation of policies on a larger-scale which will facilitate that as a culture we are prepared to do so.

Regarding the Let’s Move initiative, my contention is that children innately know how to move–it is not them who need to get their butts in gear. May we love our children a bushel and a peck.

In health, with a hug around the neck, Elyn

please share your thoughts or additional ideas on this matter.  thanks.

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen

the humanist imperative to nourish and care for our children accordingly

Wednesday morning, upon logging in, I was greeted by the juxtaposition of the following subject line messages in my inbox:

Race to Fight Childhood Obesity from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation;

Censored: Michelle Obama‘s Biggest Mistake from Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances with Fat; and,

Lock-In Drill from my daughter’s high school.

Where shall I start? To begin with, on Wednesdays, I am not at the Health Center, and on that particular morning, my private client needed to reschedule. So, though I receive an onslaught of topic-related information constantly, I had on that day more time than usual to slowly digest these matters that are so relevant to what I do.

receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the...

Frances Moore Lappe receiving the 2008 Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ragen’s offering attracted my attention first. I have referenced her work previously. She is a committed activist and a powerful voice in distinguishing the difference between health and weight issues; preventing fat shaming; and, shining light on the lies and manipulations of the weight loss industry. I can always count on her to keep me informed of something meaningful. Here, I learned that Michelle Obama was planning to go on the show The Biggest Loser to thank the contestants for being role models. Ragen’s reaction was quite pointed and the story of what happened when she and filmmaker Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful) tried to field a response to the media is quite interesting. read here. However, it was this comment that contributed to the theme of my day.

The worst thing is that all this focus on the weight of individuals is distracting us from the systemic issue of lack of access. Many people do not have access to the healthy foods that they would choose to eat–including foods that are not genetically modified or full of hormones or government subsidized high fructose corn syrup. Many people do not have access to safe movement options that they enjoy, or to affordable evidence-based health care. But as long as we focus on little Johnny’s BMI, we don’t have to address the real problems here and we can just keep shaming and blaming fat kids and adults and misinforming them and everyone else about the odds of becoming permanently thin.

I strongly share these sentiments and it took only a few clicks on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s page to confirm this dismissal of the larger issues. The articles in their In the News column included, Schools Find Active Kids Make Smarter Students and Virginia Legislation Calls for School PE Guidelines. Both are sad statements about the current state of affairs on such seemingly obvious matters. I applaud the work of the Alliance which I have discussed before, post, but I am often sad to see their amazing talents and resources going toward small, simplistic efforts to repair an intuitive intelligence that was broken by bad policy making and vested interests disenfranchising the well-being of the citizens of the world.

I also have a visceral reaction to the term the fight against childhood obesity. Obesity is not the only consequence our children are suffering–it is just one of the manifestations of poor nutrition and the ignoring of all the ingredients that contribute to both physical and emotional well-being in early stages of development. If this was only about obesity, my daughter would not have had to, unfortunately, participate in a lock-down drill. Furthermore, fierce language is not what is needed even when details may make us wish to brandish our childhood obesity-fighting swords.

Thankfully, on that Wednesday morning, I was also fortunate to hear a really beautiful interview with Frances Moore Lappe, who has certainly had a strong influence on my own path. I will leave you with her words.

“We don’t have a shortage of food, we have a shortage of justice.  As we shift to focus on our relationships with each other, and with the earth, as we align our lives and our economy with what is true about our nature and is harmonious with the wellbeing of nature, we find answers to so many of the questions we face today. Hope is not what we find in evidence, it’s what we become in action.”

So, I hope the connections make some sense and perhaps my title of this piece suggests such a shift of intention toward the task at hand.

Would love to hear from you.

In health, Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Are we what we eat

Or do we eat what we are

Are they the same thing?

by Julie

skinny boys

Skinny boys.  Now there is a group who could use some love. Skinny boys usually, though not always, start out as skinny little kids and stay that way into their teens and young adulthood. You see them everywhere.  In spite of this obesity epidemic, these poor boys far outnumber the fat kids everyone is clamoring about, but still, they get no attention.

It was not too long ago that skinny boys had their pants buckled up under their armpits for the protection of their private parts or they were required to wear corny suspenders. Nowadays, it is quite common for their pants to fall below the level of their BVDs even with the use of securing devices like belts and drawstrings–so they are often walking around with their undies showing. How embarrassing. If they do have a belt, they have to force a homemade hole into the leather or hemp, whatever, and the non-buckle end goes wrapping around them like a snake, in order to fit.  

Then, their ribs stick out something terrible. Even nicely developed abdominal six packs cannot cover up those ribs. Ouch. It must be hard for them to sleep–their bones jabbing into even soft forgiving mattresses. When they walk down the street, even strangers like Italian and Jewish grandmothers, are apt to want to take them home and feed them. What is up? Are their parents not feeding them?

Despite these emotional and physical challenges, there are no programs, whatsoever, designed to help them. There is no foundation for the Prevention of Adolescent Scrawniness, nor a Let”s Chill! initiative coming from the White House. Teachers, mothers, and fathers everywhere need assistance in just getting these kids to sit still.  Instead, they are flying off concrete ramps on skateboards, incessantly shooting basketballs, playing guitars and drums with manic enthusiasm, and turning everyday household items into objects d’sport. TVs, video games and writing angst-ridden poetry are the only way to get these kids to stay in one place for any decent amount of time.

One might assume that these skinny boys, when they do eat, are eating carrot sticks and turkey rolled in lettuce leaves. How else could they be so skinny? But, what’s that? They are eating sugar and junk food just like those fat kids? How can that be?

A few months ago, I saw two teen-aged skinny boys walking.  One of them carried a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew, the other a big box of Cap’n Crunch cereal. I say carried, but it was more like they were cradling these products like a young child might cuddle their favorite stuffed animal. As there had been rumors circulating wildly then that the Cap’n might be retiring from the high seas as well as supermarket shelves, their procured box might have generated even additional testosterone excitement and desperate attachment for the two.

And, just the other day, as I was doing my usual investigative journalism in the local supermarket, I came upon two young, lanky, twenty-somethings crouched down in the cereal aisle, doing some serious nutrition label and ingredient reading. I was touched. After serious deliberation, they stood up and strode confidently away–a box of Frosted Flakes in hand.

Liquid, syrupy, intense, colored sugar, seems to be the lifeblood of skinny boys as coffee is to adults.  As many rational grown-ups swear that they cannot survive without their daily Joe, keeping the skinny boys from their sugar would be akin to blood-letting.  How else would they thrive? With their powerful internal engines burning high and hot enough to power a jet plane, what else could better serve as jet fuel?

So, that is where skinny boys are at a serious disadvantage in this whole weight war. We direct a societal finger wagging at fat kids and their parents, preaching of the pain and woe that awaits them should they continue their wanton eating behaviors–but no one has given these skinny kids even a glimpse of what could just as easily be in store for them–that even their propelled metabolisms could be headed for a serious nosedive.

Because, when those adolescent male hormones finally begin to mellow out, even the best of the metabolically privileged, can find themselves in trouble. Tushies sink deeper into the couch in front of the TV, remote glued to hand; the zillion hours of organized sport become a thing of the past once that diploma is received and such play at best becomes an occasional weekend past time; all the pints of beer downed in solidarity or solitude accumulate in the expanding bladder of the belly and a gut begins to cover those once nicely sculpted abs; and the stress and worry of the real world turn acquired food from active fuel into evil, disease-producing stored fat. Excessive sugar intake is detrimental to everyone, and, I have never seen Mt. Dew, do a body good.  A pair of true skinny genes or a life pursuit that includes significant physical activity or hard labor are required to stave off the accumulation of pounds in this current climate.

Whereas only 12.7 percent of 15-24-year-old males are obese as defined by BMI, 22.2 percent of 25-34-year-olds fit that classification. That could be a pretty big shock for the unsuspecting ten percent who suddenly find themselves in the holes at the other end of their belts. Their husky elementary school classmates, once the brunt of jokes, have been way better prepared for their impending corpulence and may, in fact, get the last laugh.

Essentially, we need to provide all our children with the template of the basics of a healthy lifestyle and to have a society that ensures fundamental support so they can take better care of themselves throughout their lives.

So be kind to the thinnest amongst us. They have a hard road ahead of them. Chances are, you were once a skinny boy too. The next time you see a skinny boy, hold the judgment, give them a big hug and a prayer for a healthy life–but remember to be gentle, for they are pretty fragile creatures.

In health, Elyn

http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/10/capn-crunch-will-not-retire-but-he-probably-should/

my plate

 

Haiku:

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

By Gretchen

muse of the girl

Camouflage is definitely not for me. I prefer pretty patterns and soft silky and satiny fabrics. Give me beautiful bold colors or light pastels. Browns and faded olive are not in my color palette. I may be nicely disguised in a flower garden, but I am an easy target on the battlefield. That may explain why I am fielding a lot of enemy fire in the trenches these days. The obesity war seems to be raging on all fronts.  

It’s been a bad week for news journalism with the News of the World scandal, but a few stories got through from the correspondents. First, came the release of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “F as in Fat”, annual report on obesity. Apparently, obesity rates are increasing in 16 states, but, good news, there were fewer than 20 states with increasing rates. My state of New York, is apparently in better shape than most, with only 23.9% of its denizens classifying as obese. Our good showing can be due to the millions in New York City who don’t have cars; and still walk everywhere and climb stairs even to get in and out of the subways. Maybe an unfair advantage, but, Go team!

Then, there was the commentary article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Drs. Lindsey Murtagh and David Ludwig, of the Harvard School of Public Health, proposed that morbidly obese children be removed from their homes and placed in foster care, to control for the harmful behaviors by which they are affected. They gave exception to cases with genetic causes.

Reading this made me wonder if I should have been removed from my home due to secondary smoke exposure. I suppose the smoking could have been attributed to some genetic parental anxiety and my case would have been dismissed. Just imagine though what would it have been like to live with a normal, straight-haired and non-smoking family? But, maybe those parents would have drank too much or would not have had patience for my crazy curls? Didn’t everyone drink and smoke, even in pregnancy, back then? It took awhile for people to get serious at first, understanding the dangers of cigarettes, and secondly, for the tobacco companies to fess up. My folks didn’t mean to hurt me.

Now, most everyone has been eating  processed and adulterated food for a long while, but, it has taken until rather recently to catch onto what it is doing to us and few in the industry are fessing up. My kids tell me how all their friends’ kitchens are stocked with big bottles of soda, large bags of chips and huge boxes of fun cereals. I know they have at times wished for foster placement due to this. But, maybe I should warn those families. The jig might be up–well, only if their kids are fat.

Despite this multi-paragraph ramble, the headlines are exactly what I don’t want to talk about. I want to discuss the war that doesn’t get covered, that wages within the many girls and women–of all ages and sizes–who hate their bodies and therefore deny a large part of their selves. Or, who, by not loving themselves, direct a lot of abuse to their bodies in both thought and action. Though they often wish they were invisible, we see them walking around in all types of bodies including those we deem acceptable and those we envy.  Persons, whose self-worth has long been determined by the numbers on a scale or by an image in a mirror.

The confusion and dictates about food and eating cause as much, if not even more, distress for them, than for those who are large-sized without such negative judgment about their weight. The collective pain and problems here are profound as are those we ascribe to obesity–and the physical consequences can be even more severe or deadly. Here, much potential is lost and much love is denied. I think we all have wandered into and many have lingered in this place where reality is distorted and self-flagellation and deprivation seems deserved.

This is the ignored epidemic. Not many resources are designated here, but I have apparently been assigned to cover this beat. My field notebooks are filled with stories and quotes that are usually too intimate for me to share. But they imply a sense that so many girls and women believe that without perfection they cannot be whole and should not take up much space on this generous planet. It is heartbreaking to witness this.

Having been touched by the lives of so many amazing, intelligent, gorgeous, creative, warm, gentle, caring and funny individuals who have been broken in this battle of self and body, these are some things I wish would receive front page headlines: Bodies change, contours soften, bellies round, babies fill, bloat happens, hunger informs, weight is not absolute, judgmental words injure, beauty shines, food nourishes, wisdom evolves, body protects, hormones ebb and flow, pleasure is permissible, fat is often just a feeling in one’s head and restriction revolts.

If you are living this, put down the staunch resistance, begin the surrender and trust your inner feminine voice. Please know you are all so beautiful and you possess that which really matters. Take a moment to put your hand on your heart and belly and send love to yourself. Take a deep slow breath and be thankful to your body.  Send a healing thought out to other women, because I assure you, you are so not alone.  Hold the daughters and ask to be held. Reclaim your place. Change the internal tapes. Know there are many paths to healing available.  The world needs everything you have to offer.

Any sharings will be welcomed and respected.

In love and health, Elyn  

my plate

Haiku:

Deep scarlet red beets

 Reveal your sweetness to me

 Slip out of your skins  

By Elyn

have it your way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle

Happy Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Rabbit, but things may not be so cute in bunny land no matter what astrological system you ascribe to. Last month there were reports of a shift in the astrological alignments apparently due to an Earth wobble or precession. This wobble or twist of the Earth’s axis is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon on Earth’s equatorial bulge. I may not know a lot about astrology, but I do know about anatomy, and with the sudden burgeoning of obesity amongst 325 million people in China, I suspect that equatorial bulges may in fact explain the wobble.

About twelve years ago I caught a segment on television, perhaps on 60 MinutesLay’s Potato Chips were being imported to China for the first time and a massive marketing campaign was underway to introduce these thinly sliced, deep-fried and salted tubers served in a colorful and crinkly bag. One early morning as millions of  people in some enormous city were bustling to work on foot and bike, a very large display of cardboard boxes was stacked at the entrance of a market.  The boxes were marked with lots of Chinese letters–and Lay’s. People were being stopped in their busy tracks and asked to sample this wonderful new product. Many of them were holding small paper bags of peanuts–their centuries old “on the go” breakfast. The chips got a mixed review.

This segment was followed by a piece on the rapid increase in childhood obesity in China. Apparently, within ten years of the introduction of American fast food into China, ten percent of urban youth were overweight. Featured was a military boot camp like program where about one hundred rank and file uniformed kids were being led sternly through a highly supervised exercise program.  This did not look particularly fun, but to the Chinese government, this was no laughing matter.

Five years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Heart Association on obesity. A Chinese physician who now practices in the US was one of the speakers. He said, that twenty years prior–about 1985–when he attended medical school in China, it was extremely rare to encounter diabetes. For his training, he had to travel to a far off province to find a study case. He explained that now, diabetes is so rampant in China, that it a significant drain on the Chinese health care system, and subsequently on its total economy.

As I sat to write this, my original thesis was that the US had  purposefully set out to fatten up, sicken and slow down the industrious Chinese with fast food as an economic dominance  tactic– but my research now makes me wonder if it was payback for what the Chinese had done to us–in retaliation for what we had done to them. Chinese cooks and restauranteurs had long ago figured out how to alter their cuisine to meet and oversatiate the American palate– happily to their own economic advantage. Consider that the first privately owned restaurant only opened in Beijing in 1980; while the first Chinese restaurant opened in this country in San Francisco in 1849. According to http://factsanddetails.com/china, there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than the top three large fast food chains combined. Can that be?

I am often apt to echo Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation rant against food additives and flavorings and how their application to our food supply has fostered an epidemic of food addiction that afflicts even very young children. But, was not the MSG that peppered our Chinese take-out and addled our brains perhaps the grandfather of all such flavor enhancers? Had the Chinese immigrants who were so mistreated here, literally found a way to have us eating out of their hands? Nowadays, Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that Chinese restaurants here are not busy–apparently, it’s a big day for Chinese weddings.

One of the more difficult parts of my work is weaning folk off of General Tso’s Chicken, Beef and Broccoli and pork fried rice. Big grown men look at me with sad puppy dog eyes and whimper like puppies too. They whine, well how come Chinese people aren’t fat–(or didn’t use to be)? I respond harshly, make them do a hundred jumping jacks and tell them to walk home.

The second that China loosened its restrictions on the West, American fast food conglomerates were ready to flood its shores with a deluge of the additive enhanced foods we specialized in–and the modern, more prosperous populace was ready and eager to be seduced. The first American fast food chain to set up shop was Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1987. Apparently, what has been attractive to the Chinese diner is the cleanliness, efficiency and courtesy of the western establishments where customers get escorted to their tables. This gesture (perhaps along with the under 5-yuan menu) has put western establishments way above their Chinese competitors who actually serve food more accommodating to the Asian palate. However,once exposed to our mischievously enhanced food products, there is no looking back. Even the big Chinese national chain, Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle could not withstand the heat. Perhaps Confucius say: Kill enemy softly.

Though I know this is not breaking news, it is still hard for many people to fully comprehend the effects of these “manipulated” foods on our bodies. They have contributed to the alteration of the global waistline and median blood sugar level. It is really difficult for me to explain this to the many kind and gentle adults and children who sit  before me as clients. How could we  imagine that we are sold food that fosters a profoundly unnatural, addictive relationship? But, we are.

Well, I have a few more people in this country to tend to and then I may have to head over to China. Until I arrive, they may need to use some of those ghastly Chinese manufactured plastic food models that they ship here to teach us about food and proper portion sizes. Once there, I’ll have to convince them to reclaim their own cultural snack food of peanuts–or hua sheng. I am told that they do still magically appear if you say pi-jin–the word for beer. The stakes are high. The wobble may just make this the Year of the Hippopotamus if they do not act quickly.

I leave you with an old Chinese proverb: Wherever smiles happen and happiness is celebrated you’ll find Lay’s Potato Chips. So tell me, how are you going to celebrate?

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I Speak for the Fat People-last part

I was heartened to hear once, a man describe his joy-spreading tactic.  Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half, gifting them to people as morsels of universal love.  I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being.  The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline.  The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people.  However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic.  As a group we were to brainstorm how to counsel a postpartum woman with a BMI of 30.   The exercise had me squirming from the get go.  As the attendees were getting rather  dead-ended in their attempts to master this case-study, the presenter, a physician and researcher at a major university said, “Let me offer this idea.  I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone.  I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead I stand and pace as I am talking.”  My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.”  Not with my clients but in this article.  I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, real fat people.

TARTA DECORADA HOMER  Y BART SIMPSON

TARTA DECORADA HOMER Y BART SIMPSON (Photo credit: YOCUNA ARTE EN AZUCAR)

Hardly are all defined cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ.  Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them.  Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.”  My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts.   Besides, BMI is just a tool.  At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one.  It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type.  Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age.  Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas.  Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature.

Do not get me wrong.  I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing.  I understand its consequences perhaps more than most.  I see the implications of weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle and nutritional support.   I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT!  To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless.  To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play.  There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic.  Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult even for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on.  Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone.  In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control.  There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax.  For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself.  Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 27.  I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped.  According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS.   “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

I too, am rather shortish.  Oldish, brownish and mossy may someday also describe me.  For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum.  It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone.  It is a big piece of the puzzle.  Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people.  We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit.  Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

Let me know what you think.  Thanks.

Related Posts:  I Speak for the Fat People: First Part and I Speak for the Fat People: Middle Part

In health, Elyn

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

by Eva