America’s greatest enemy doesn’t lie on some foreign frontier. It isn’t a radical indoctrinated group seeking to terrorize us with random acts of violence or a foreign dictator threatening us with nuclear war . . . no. Our greatest enemy is already on our soil and in our homes. It is the growing obesity epidemic affecting millions of Americans.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a little more than 36% of American adults and 17% of youths are currently obese. The CDC defines obesity as having a BMI (body mass index) of over 30 in adults, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion in 2008 . . . that’s right, with a B. Several top officials have stated that medical costs related to chronic disease will be the greatest threat to our national security in the future. And the disturbing part is that even with all of the current focus on nutrition and healthy eating in popular culture, the trend is rising.
So why is that? Most people understand at least the basics of nutrition, i.e. donuts and sodas are bad and fruits and veggies are good, so why do we keep getting fatter? The American Dietary Association website is rife with tools to help you count calories and understand healthy food choices, yet, despite the best efforts of an army of nutritionally-educated professionals, the numbers continue to climb. Until recently, it has been a puzzle wrapped in an enigma, but more current research in the weight loss field is revealing some interesting facts: the battle for a slimmer waste line is won or lost in the mind!
The compulsion to eat high energy foods is a naturally programmed part of our genetic code. In our hunter-gatherer past that lasted eons, more calorie dense foods like grains, sugars and other rich sources of energy were the most valuable because they gave us the energy to stay alive through the times when less was available. Not only that, most of these types of foods have a longer shelf life than their more nutrient dense counterparts like veggies and meats. Our cerebral reward centers are programmed through thousands of years of evolution to light up with joy every time we eat these calorie rich, but mostly nutritionally devoid foods. They can be as addictive as drugs.
However, there is hope! A wonderfully powerful tool that you can begin to use immediately in your own struggle against a higher BMI is a simple trick that gives you the power over the food, not vice versa. When faced with a food choice that you know is less than ideal, simply tell yourself, “I don’t want it,” as opposed to, “I can’t have it.” Let that sink in.
As humans, it is natural to want something you can’t have, and when you tell yourself, “I can’t have it,” you have ceded all of the power to the food itself, making it more likely that you will make the poorer choice. By saying, “I don’t want it,” you take the power back over the decision to down that chocolate crepe. It suddenly loses its appeal.
In the day of full refrigerators and desk jobs, we don’t need the quantity of calorie dense foods that we did when we had to chase them for hours. It is a simple mathematics question of calories in versus calories out that, if you can use the right mental tools to better control the impulses that push you towards consumption of calorie dense foods, you can keep the numbers on your scale down. Start using this trick at your next meal and give yourself the edge that you need to stay healthy!