How Did We Get Here?

Here, as in, how did we as a population get so overweight? Get ready for a little bit of science.

A 20% increase in snacking?
Studies reveal that there has a 24% increase in snacking when comparing the late 70s to the mid-90s and the shift seems to have been toward saltier snacks, such as potato chips.1 I certainly recall not being able to eat just one potato chip! However, snacks haven’t been the only items that have increased in consumption – sweetened beverages have as well, which often contain high fructose corn syrup.1 Dr. Lustig has certainly been vocal regarding fructose and how its intermediary metabolites can lead to insulin resistance in the liver through mechanisms of overwhelming the liver’s capacity when glycogen stores are full.2 Insulin resistance in the liver can lead to the development of chronic disease, promote reactive oxygen species formation, aging and alter the brain’s reward system.2 Considering the brain’s reward system alone, it is no surprise that high fructose corn syrup also keeps you coming back for more.

The mundane details
Technology supposedly helps us be more efficient and have more time for other things, such as preparing healthy meals, yet many tend to eat out for convenience. A lack of planning for meals outside of the home is also a tremendous contributor to weight gain, such as what you will eat while at work, because we somehow believe time does not exist for planning such mundane details. Therefore, we choose to eat in the cafeteria at work, which is also never as tasty as what we could be eating and it is almost always calorie-dense. Alas, there is no shortage of fast food restaurants waiting to lure consumers in with the temptation of the .99 or $1 menu which are just begging to be super-sized. Of course, we can’t ignore Happy Hour with co-workers that presents the conundrum of reduced-price appetizers and draft beer, or other fancy beverages.

The image of “healthy”
Of course, restaurants exist as sandwich shops, which creates the mental picture of “healthy”, even though a sandwich may have the same amount of calories as a hamburger nearby.3 It’s not to say that one cannot choose “healthy” items, or enjoy dining out occasionally, but in general, restaurant food is calorie dense.1 Additionally, already having established that we spend less time dedicated to physical activity, many of us cannot afford the “extra” calories.1 I can’t say that in all of the times in the past I frequented the Olive Garden that I chose the grilled chicken with roasted vegetables. After all, who wants grilled chicken when you can bathe your emotions in creamy fettuccine?! The old me would say “Yes, please!”

Although healthy items may be available to us when dining out, I have never associated dining out with “healthy” options, which is likely a reason why I don’t dine out frequently. Not only that, but I have learned to cook delicious meals, so I often end up disappointed, and at times even downright angry, when the final bill is placed on my table if the meal was not tasty.

How we con ourselves
In case you were thinking that splitting your lunch or dinner is the answer, you might be surprised if you actually knew the caloric content of the entire meal. Don’t get me wrong, splitting is certainly better than not splitting the meal! I have had family members say to me, “We order that chicken dish with the pasta and alfredo, and split it.” And what about the three baskets of bread on the side with butter? And the dipping sauces? Those aren’t calorie-free. And what about six glasses of sweet tea? Then there’s dessert – twelve chocolate crème doughnuts right around the corner, three of which will disappear during the drive home.

What is particularly disheartening about the situation I just described is that my family members are not alone…so many cannot break the cycle. It wasn’t easy for me either. There were many days when I literally wolfed down three doughnuts before I reached home, and then enjoyed another with my spouse after discarding the evidence. Like many of us, I had developed a taste for highly palatable food, and had decided that even if I had time to cook that it would never be as good as what I could order elsewhere.

Commitment to change is everything
Of course, this way of thinking began to slowly change in 2014 once I finally figured some things out in terms of nutrition. It wasn’t easy to implement changes in the beginning, but I was so committed to my nutrition plan that I would have done nearly anything to make it work. Here’s the thing – I got curious – curious about the right things. I asked questions and searched the science for answers. And I did this for many years.

Have I found all of the answers? No, but come to my house for dinner and I will prepare a juicy steak you will not soon forget, accompanied with my own version of a delicious pasta (shirataki noodles) topped with gorgonzola and kalamata olives. If you are lucky, I may even plate a delectable slice of my homemade cheesecake for dessert.

It’s all about priorities. Get curious. Commit to making a difference in your life, and you can start here.

1. Crawford D, Jeffery RW, Ball K, Brug J. Obesity Epidemiology: From Aetiology to Public Health. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press; 2010.
2. Lustig R. Fructose: It’s “Alcohol Without the Buzz”. Adv. Nutr. 2013(4):226–235. doi:10.3945/an.112.002998
3. EurekAlert: The Global Source for Science News. You’re likely to order more calories at a ‘healthy’ restaurant. University of Chicago Press Journals. Published August 29, 2007.