America has an eating problem, and thus an obesity problem ... that isn’t going away.
After research pointed to obesity rates leveling off for a few years, the latest research shows that these rates are on the climb again. According to the National Center for Health Statistics nearly 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of youth are obese.
The answer to why Americans eat so much isn’t a simple, clear-cut one. There are both internal and external forces driving our desire for big portions, unhealthy food choices, and how frequently we eat. It’s not just about self-control, it’s also about trying to control external factors.
• Americans prioritize value. It has been Ingrained since childhood. This attitude may be advantageous in some areas of life, but not when it comes to what we eat. Americans tend to value quantity over quality, trading in cheap ingredients for big portions.
• Portion distortion. Americans aren't clear on the notion of normal servings and normal-sized meals. We used to think a hamburger and small fry would fill us up. Now we believe we need a double cheeseburger with a large fry, and anything less isn't going to do. This has become the norm in society.
• Excessive food marketing. There is the constant reminder of food on every corner. We are constantly being bombarded with messages of delicious, unhealthy food that is within reach of us at all times of the day. This makes getting through the day without giving into high calorie foods nearly impossible.
• Too much sugar. Americans eat 150 to 170 pounds of sugar each year, compared to Canadians, who eat 88 pounds per year. In America, sugar is added to everything from bread to an array of drinks, as well as condiments. This gives the opportunity for a sweet tooth to grow, which can lead to sugar addiction.
WHAT TO DO
• Respect food and where it comes from. It takes a lot of time and sweat to grow food, and we tend not to value that. We have so much excess food (that doesn’t even resemble its unaltered state) that it becomes hard to appreciate its origins. Educate yourself on where food comes from, and the care and respect needed to grow it.
• Have family dinners. Adults and children who have family meals eat better, are healthier, and slimmer. Family meals have been shown to help adults and children learn to like a variety of food, promote better eating habits (coming to the table hungry and leaving the table comfortably full), and helps to teach what the right amount of food is for them.
Family meals keep food in its place as only one of life's great pleasures. You pay attention and enjoy it when it is time to eat and forget about it between those times.
• Eat less sugar. Combating sugar addiction can be difficult, but remember that the more sugar you eat, the more you crave. Retraining your body to be fueled and have energy as fuel from healthy fats and actual nutrition is one of the best changes you can make for your health.
• Slow down. We eat way too fast. A large percentage of our culture doesn’t understand the value of eating slowly and intently. Eating quickly, on the run, in the car and on the go is not nurturing a healthy relationship with food. It encourages you to eat fast food, junk food and packaged food more often. Take time to eat, eat slowly, eat thoroughly and chew your food.
Always remember that small changes to your diet and lifestyle are much better than drastic changes and fad diets. Re-evaluate your relationship with food and learn to respect it. When we slow down, and teach ourselves to respect hunger and satiety, our bodies find the shape and weight that they are meant to be.
• RENE FICEK, whose column runs the last Tuesday of each month in The Times, is a registered dietitian nutritionist for Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.