Why is America so overweight?

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First, I’ll tell you why not. It’s not gluten. It’s not fat or carbs or sugar. No, it’s not animal products. Or dairy. Or because there aren’t enough gyms. It’s not because you don’t workout enough. 

So then, by this logic, none of the following are going to help: more diets, more diet foods, more gyms, more obstacle course races and 5ks, or more trainers crafting clever blog posts about making sensible lifestyle choices.

There are three main reasons why America is so overweight and they all stem from the fact that we’ve spent hundreds of years attempting to create the most luxurious, convenient, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey lifestyle of any human beings in history, ever. 

I mean, it makes sense, why would we make food less accessible if we don’t have to? Why use manual labor when we have machines that can do twice the work in half the time?

We live in this age of technology and information. But unfortunately, half of the information on the internet is outright wrong and we’ve forgotten that human beings are actually just gorillas that can drive to Starbucks and order a latte.

We don’t move enough because why bother standing for work when you can sit in an ergonomically-designed chair?

Humans are meant to move. And our metabolism is literally dependent on it.

You metabolism can basically be broken down into four parts: your BMR (which is what your organs need to literally do the bare minimum for survival), breaking down food, working out, and movement that isn’t working out.

Your BMR is pretty much set. If you have more lean mass, it takes a little more energy to stay alive, but it isn’t a huge difference. These numbers stay pretty consistent across people because something like 80% of your BMR is organ expenditure. In fact, the majority of your BMR is built on osmoregulation, otherwise known as balancing your body’s fluids between tissues.

Even so, humans can have small differences in overall BMR because of things like genetics.

The second part of your metabolism is breaking down food, otherwise known as thermogenesis. This only accounts for, like, 10% of your total metabolic requirement for the day so you can just ignore, unfriend, and block anyone that tells you that eating protein is the key to losing weight because it’s harder to break down.

No. You know what’s hard to break down? Corn.

But I work out a lot.

I know, reader, I know. And at first glance, it would seem like working out accounts for a large part of your daily calorie burn, but it really doesn’t mean that much. Let’s take myself for instance. If we estimate that my total calorie needs are approximately 3,000 kcal/day, then I’d be effectively burning about 125 calories per hour.

But since I’m sleeping for eight hours and moving for sixteen (including standing and walking around at work all day), it’s probably closer to 150 per waking hour, more when I’m at work and a little less when I’m not.

Now subtract that from the total burn you could achieve in an hour-long workout (which could range from 300 kcal to 800kcal or more) and you get an extra burn equal to one half-pint of Ben & Jerry’s – which you’ll probably now eat as a reward for working out.

The conclusion: workout calories just don’t matter that much.

What really matters is your activity level throughout the day.

It’s called non-exercise activity thermogenesis and it matters more than you think.

By working a job that requires standing or walking, you could easily tack on an additional 20% to your daily energy expenditure. And by doing some manual labor, you’ll gain an additional 40%.

America is overweight because we don’t move enough. Most people struggle to get 10,000 steps in each day. We’ve built our lifestyle around information technology and desk-jobs and our health is suffering for it.

We wake up, sit at the breakfast table watching the news, get in our cars, sit in an hour of traffic, sit at work for 8-10 hours, sit in the car on the way home, sit at the dinner table, and then lay on the couch watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory – it’s no wonder we’re all overweight.

The second piece of America’s weight issue deals with the types of foods that we’re eating.

But before I get into it, let me make a little disclaimer here. As I mentioned above, America’s weight problem is not because of fat, sugar, gluten, dairy, animals, carbohydrates, or soy.

And if anyone in the world ever tries to tell you differently, if somebody ever walks up to you and tries to tell you that there is one easy, simple solution, they are lying to you. They’re lying to you because they have something to sell you: a book, a shake, a diet.

If all we had to do was eliminate one “food thing” from all of our diets and every preventable disease would be cured, don’t you think it would have worked already?

But there are still problems with the foods that we eat, much thanks to the business of food itself.

See, the food industry isn’t necessarily interested in being socially or environmentally responsible. They can be, but aren’t always. They’re interested in making a profit. And while our capitalistic society comes with so many benefits, there are also downsides.

The downside in the food industry has been the creation of inexpensive, extra-refined, hyper-palatable foods. We’re encouraged to eat more than we need to and then purchase the “family pack” next time.

They’re deficient in almost every important nutrient that human beings need to thrive (e.g. protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals). And they’re packaged as diet, low-calorie, low-sugar, sugar-free, low-fat, vegan, and gluten-free.

Worse yet are the less obvious like ultra-refined meats (e.g. deli meat, bacon, sausage), grain items with extra fiber, and vitamin-fortified everything.

The answer to this problem is simple: eat as many whole, unrefined foods as you can.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s not just about the foods that we’re eating.

It’s about how we’re eating them.

Distracted. Busy. On-the-go. Heck, I’ve made on-the-go handouts for our members. We’ve been trying to address the foods before addressing the habits.

It’s not about bringing protein powder and tuna fish in the car with you, it’s about recognizing that your body is more important than your next sales call. And if you don’t start taking care of it, nothing else will matter.

You can’t just workout more. You can’t eat a few extra pieces of broccoli at dinner.

Our lifestyle has made food so abundant that we have no appreciation for the food that we eat. We have no clue where it comes from. And we don’t worry about where the next food will be.

Food has become an inconvenience to our fast-paced lifestyles. “I’ll just work through lunch today so that I can get more work done.”

With reckless abandon, we scarf down cheeseburgers, pasta, and Subway sandwiches. That 2:30 feeling? You’re not supposed to get that. But without thought, we stuff ourselves at lunch and can barely stay awake through the low-glucose crash that almost always follows.

Food pressure is this new thing I made up where nobody’s hungry but you can’t bear to make conversation without doing something else at the same time. So you order nachos.

Maybe everybody would live longer if we spent less time looking at menus and iPhones and more time making meaningful connections with other human beings.

America is so overweight because work has become the identity.

Your parents worked hard. Your grandparents worked hard. And you should work hard, too.

But there’s a difference between working hard and being busy. Working hours don’t increase productivity. Neither does extra stress.

Look, we can boil our health issues down to sleeplessness, high-stress, and poor nutrition. But the truth of the matter is that no matter what the reason, our health is suffering because it’s on the back-burner.

You aren’t moving enough because work is more important. Your title and salary are more important than your ability to stay alive and do cool stuff with your friends and family.

You’re spending most days eating these inexpensive, hyper-palatable foods because you can’t be bothered to learn how to sauté kale after a long day at the office.

You’re eating everything on-the-go because how will work get done otherwise?

So if you’re made it this far, thank you.

Thank you for reading through this behemoth of a post. It’s obvious that you have a passion for creating a healthier body beyond just bragging about your workouts on Facebook.

And if you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the minority. Because most people got to the sentence about working too hard and probably said, “What does a twenty-something personal trainer at the culmination of a quarter-life crisis know about working?” And then they closed the tab.

But that’s a good thing. If everybody in the world decided that they were going to change careers to something that allowed them to make their own health a priority, the world economy would likely collapse.

The healthiest countries in the world didn’t get there by going to the gym a lot or restricting carbohydrate intake. Their lifestyles are different. They move more, eat more whole, unrefined foods and do so at a slower pace. Most importantly, they don’t focus so much on how many Excel sheets they can build before 5 pm.

Ever been to France? Me either, but I’ve heard from our members that it takes them, like, six hours to eat dinner.

If you want to get healthier, you need to change a few key habits in your life.

  1. Move more naturally. This might mean changing your career and I know that’s a difficult consideration. At the very least, go for a walk every day after work.
  2. Eat more whole, unrefined foods. This means vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and less-refined versions of your favorite carbohydrates & animals.
  3. Eat slower, only when you’re hungry, and only until you’re satisfied. Don’t fall into “food pressure.” Listen to your own body. Stop trying to work through lunch and be mindful when you’re eating.

In fact, be mindful at all times, not just when you’re eating. Be mindful and productive when you are working. This post wasn’t meant as a way to bash hard work. But if we’re talking about improving the health of our nation (which is a pretty tall task), it’s important to recognize that “being busy” has become as much a detriment as it ever was a positive.

It’s not gluten. It’s not fat or carbs or sugar. No, it’s not animal products. Or dairy. It’s not because you don’t workout enough. 

We don’t need more diets, more diet foods, or more gyms.

We just need to make our health a priority. Not one-workout-a-week priority, but an actual priority. An every day, top-of-mind, your-life-depends-on-it-because-it-actually-does type of priority.

*puts laptop down to take a break and eat breakfast*

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