Thoughts and Reflections
About age 11, I became painfully aware that I was bigger than the rest of the kids in school. From that point on, surrounded by parents that were constantly battling excess weight, I tried emulating the adults in my life. They counted points, I counted points. They ate dry melba toast and rice cakes, I ate dry melba toast and rice cakes. They worked out on the Nordic Track, I worked out on the Nordic Track. They ate cabbage soup, I ate cabbage soup. I vividly remember sitting in a circle at a Jenny Craig meeting, finally old enough to join a program of my own, trying to figure out why I was losing this battle while most other teenage girls didn’t even think about their weight.
Through my twenties and thirties, I battled the same forty pounds – gaining and losing them over and over again – always focused on food and eating and, most importantly, berating myself for what I considered my lack of willpower. As an avid reader, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding weight loss and nutrition – and I still struggled. It wasn’t until I dove into the world of Obesity Medicine and started learning the science of food and the biochemistry of hunger and satiety, that I finally started to get a handle on the problem. I was finally able to shed those 40 pounds and keep them off. Losing the weight was a process; lots of trial and error and self-analysis. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was finally achievable.
Although it doesn’t take much effort anymore to keep those 40 pounds from coming back, that part of me isn’t gone forever. I constantly have to remind myself that without continued focus, I could find myself sliding back into that person again. Not just someone with excess weight – but someone that is constantly thinking about weight and food and comparing herself to what she should be – and speaking hatefully to herself about her poor self-discipline.
In all of my obsessive research, I have come to several conclusions.. First and foremost, and most importantly, weight loss is hard. It’s complicated. It requires a lot of daily effort to make changes in how you think and what you do. Most people have tried to lose weight many times before and failed. And failure is hard to deal with. It’s human nature to be less than enthusiastic about trying something that has resulted in failure in the past.
Second, the entire notion of calories-in, calories-out is wrong. Although it sounds like a logical assumption, it is a concept that has absolutely no grounding in facts and needs to be thrown out completely. Unfortunately, the world has created a multi-billion dollar industry founded upon that erroneous principle. Companies make lots of money every year based upon that false idea and they don’t want you to replace iit with something scientific. Most of us have heard it so long and so often that deep down inside, we really do believe it ourselves. We have to change this. We have to use science – not dogma – to understand the human body.
Finally, we have to think outside ourselves. By perpetuating the notion of calories-in, calories-out, we have placed the blame for excess weight on individuals. We consider excess weight a personal problem – a lack of self-discipline, sloth and gluttony. That couldn’t be further from the truth – but most of us believe it anyway; we believe it about ourselves and we believe it about others. By viewing excess weight as an individual problem, we as a society allow the prevention and treatment of excess weight to be placed in the hands of the individual – rather than society as a whole. Health insurance will cover your mammogram, your allergy shots and medication for your erectile dysfunction – but it won’t cover obesity treatment or anti-obesity medications. It will cover consultation with a physical therapist for your knee pain, but not consultation with a dietician to try and find ways to eat healthier (unless you already have managed to get a disease related to your eating behaviors).
Government subsidies exist to make highly processed, unhealthy foods inexpensive to produce but fresh produce has no subsidies to make it equally affordable. School lunch programs have regulations dictating what they can and cannot serve – with policies that specify that pizza and french fries count as vegetables and that chocolate milk is OK as long as it’s skim milk. Fighting this obesity epidemic is going to take more than individual efforts. It is going to take big sweeping changes in the way we view excess weight and nutrition. It is going to take a collective effort to change the way we purchase food and prepare food.
Most people that struggle with excess weight don’t want to struggle. Most don’t want their kids to have to wage the same battle. We have to work together to find a way out of this mess. It’s going to take work – effort – sustained motivation – vulnerability – bravery.
I think its worth it
Have a wonderful week
Courtney Younglove, M.D.