By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
There is a good article in this months’ Men’s Health Magazine about fat phobia and America’s obesity problem, titled “I Hate Fat People.” The author, Richard Connif, did a thorough job of explaining how BMI numbers have been revised and how this affects our perception of our fatness in his article about fat phobia and prejudice. He also did a great job explaining the controversy between those that celebrate their fatness (and contend that fat doesn’t mean unfit and that thin isn’t necessarily more healthy or fit) and those that believe that obesity is a ticking time bomb of health problems that tend to manifest later in life no matter how fit an obese person is. But he also notes that obesity tends to cause health problems later in life as the extra weight takes its toll on the pancreas (contributing to Type II diabetes), heart disease, and I would also add, joint issues and back pain.
But what’s the cause of our obesity? I have read articles that explain that we as human beings are biologically predisposed to crave fat and sugary foods as well as protean to stave off hunger. For the majority of time humans have been on this planet, we were living in food scarcity. But in the last 100 years, and especially the last 30-40 years, we’ve been afforded an abundance of food in most developed nations. Walk the aisles of any grocery store and you’ll find more food than our ancestors likely ate in a lifetime. Advertisers, trying to sell their companies products, cater to our inborn cravings for fat and sugar and salt and load our prepared foods with it. Like literally giving candy to a baby, food manufacturers and retailers tempt us with sweets and treats and we, creatures of our biological nature, snatch them up, and eat as much as we want or can afford. Over time, as we add in the more sedentary lifestyle most of us now enjoy, due to car travel, television and long work hours and commutes. Add this all up and it’s a simple math equation. Too much fat, sugar and calories coupled with low activity levels and our bodies do what they are supposed to do: protect us from starvation and store fat.
There may be more to this picture than all that. Some believe that obesity isn’t a sign of lack of self-discipline or solely our biological drives. It may be caused by an addiction: Compulsive overeating. An article in WebMD by Elizabeth Lee talks about former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, MD ‘s book, The End of Overeating. In the book, Kessler, a Harvard-trained pediatrician and medical school professor at the University of California, San Francisco, described Hyperpalatable foods. He defines these foods as those high in fat, sugar, and salt that stimulate the senses to provide a physiological reward that causes many people to eat more to repeat the experience. Kessler explains that when a person eats a high sugar, high fat food they like this stimulates the body to produce endorphins, the brain chemicals that tell us we are experiencing something pleasurable. (Similar to runners high but less calorie burning!) Since our brains feel so good from the ingestion of endorphin producing sugar and fatty food, we want more. Eating more momentarily calms our nervous systems and makes us feel good. Eating these foods also stimulates our brings to produce more dopamine. This in turn signals us to eat more of that feel good food. Visual cues lead us to seek more of the feel good food-pictures of food on TV ads, the signs of fast food restaurants, the packaging of our favorite candy bars in vending machines and at the checkout line. We eat without thinking and don’t realize why it’s so hard to control our cravings and eating habits. Once we get “hooked” on these feel good foods, we may develop a tolerance. And then we need food with more fat and sugar to bring us the same high, Kind of sounds like cocaine addiction, doesn’t it? Well, chemically, to our brains there are a lot of similarities. Read the full WebMD article here.
Not everyone is susceptible to the hyperpalatable foods. But for those that are, similar to people who are more susceptible to becoming alcoholic or addicted to other substances, there is help. One of the self-help groups that many people with compulsive overeating issues can turn to is a group called “Overeaters Anonymous.” Link here to take short test to see if you may be considered a compulsive overeater.
More about OA from their website:
What is OA?
Overeaters Anonymous is a Fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating. We welcome everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively.
There are no dues or fees for members; we are self-supporting through our own contributions, neither soliciting nor accepting outside donations. OA is not affiliated with any public or private organization, political movement, ideology or religious doctrine; we take no position on outside issues.
Our primary purpose is to abstain from compulsive overeating and to carry this message of recovery to those who still suffer.
Who belongs to OA?
In Overeaters Anonymous, you’ll find members who are extremely overweight, even morbidly obese; moderately overweight; average weight; underweight; still maintaining periodic control over their eating behavior; or totally unable to control their compulsive eating.
OA members experience many different patterns of food behaviors. These “symptoms” are as varied as our membership. Among them are:
- obsession with body weight, size and shape
- eating binges or grazing
- preoccupation with reducing diets
- laxative or diuretic abuse
- excessive exercise
- inducing vomiting after eating
- chewing and spitting out food
- use of diet pills, shots and other medical interventions to control weight
- inability to stop eating certain foods after taking the first bite
- fantasies about food
- vulnerability to quick-weight-loss schemes
- constant preoccupation with food
- using food as a reward or comfort
Where can I find OA?
Go to Find a Meeting on this Web site and follow the instructions to find a meeting in your area. Or you can contact the World Service Office at (505) 891-2664 or email for further assistance. You can also look for Overeaters Anonymous in your local telephone directory and in your local newspaper’s social or community calendar section.
- What are your experiences with Overeaters Anonymous? (ask.metafilter.com)
- Overeaters Anonymous and the US Military (weightymatters.ca)
- Food and Eating Addictions May Not Be the Same (drsharma.ca)
- US Adult Obesity Rate May Hit 42% Before Plateauing (treehugger.com)
- New law is first step in fighting obesity (news.theage.com.au)
- Mark Hyman, MD: Food Addiction: Could It Explain Why 70 Percent of Americans Are Fat? (huffingtonpost.com)
- ADHD Symptoms Raise Obesity Risk (webmd.com)
- Former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler analyzes our urge to overeat (boston.com)
- U.S. Adult Obesity Rate Expected to Climb to 42 Percent (aolhealth.com)
- McDonald’s Obesity Suit: Judge Fines Company $17,500 For Obese Employee (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Study: 78% of Americans Are Obese” and related posts (weeklyworldnews.com)
- Fat Epidemic: 3 Out of 4 Americans Will Be Obese By 2020 (blisstree.com)
- “US Obesity Rates Will Continue Climbing Till It Reaches 42 Percent of Population: Harvard” and related posts (medindia.net)