A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Something Has Gone Very Wrong

I know a few things to be true:

1)      People are definitely getting fatter.
2)      Guilting, shaming, and attempting to regulate them via government mandate (a soda ban? Seriously?) does not work to make them any thinner.  Personally I’ve never spontaneously lost any weight from being told to, “Just quit eating, already!”  I’m pretty sure that advice would eventually make me die, so it’s not very sound anyhow.

Awhile back, a friend of mine sent me a chart like this one.  Take a look, I’ll wait.

Do you see something interesting happening right around 1985?  That’s where it hits.  The percentage of Americans who are obese takes a sharp upswing, and it continues to steadily rise to this day.

The question that Science needs to answer for us is: what the heck happened to us in 1985 that has not stopped?  Before anyone suggests it, no – a large number of us did not suddenly become “weak willed” or “lazy” or “gluttonous”.  The accusation that being overweight is just a lousy character flaw is no longer a scientifically sustainable one.  One reason being that this is also happening to animals.

The same friend who sent me the chart also sent me this article which discusses the sharp rise in rates of obesity among our wild and domestic animal population as well.  Something entered the food supply or the environment of a large number of the animals on this planet right around 1985 that is obviously causing a problem – so what is it?

I’ve heard people blame high fructose corn syrup.  I agree that HFCS isn’t a good thing.  Much like artificial sweeteners, it’s an industrially produced chem-lab experiment that the body does not know how to break down very well.  I try to avoid it.  It was invented in the 1950’s, but didn’t attain widespread use in the American food industry until 1975 to 1985.  Is it the culprit?  I call it possible.

Artificial sweeteners (something I am known to studiously avoid) are older than you probably think.  Saccharine was discovered by accident all the way back in 1879 during a search for useful new food preservatives.  It became widely used in the US as early as 1917.  I gave it up over a year ago now, and I don’t intend to go back because giving it up has caused me to stop being an insomniac, which I find to be ample proof it was doing something very unpleasant to my brain.  However, I can’t blame it for making me fat – because I have not lost significant weight since cutting it completely out of my life.

The chart I showed you seems to be blaming carbohydrates in general.  However, carbs are really just a form of energy.  Since we’re omnivores they, like everything we consume, need to be taken in moderation – but I find it short sighted so simply say, “you’re eating too many carbs!” and leave it at that.  If carbs are the problem, then why did we suddenly start to crave them in excessive amounts in 1985 when we were apparently not overindulging in them before?  What changed?

I read one study that suggested that when someone is malnourished it triggers a gene in their offspring that causes them to eat to excess.  Meaning that since I had a grandmother who often went hungry, she passed on a gene to my dad and I that causes us to eat more food than we need.  Essentially citing a possible cause for the existence of a food addiction gene.

I know a lot of people who do not eat wheat, either because they have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or believe that wheat has been genetically modified into Frankenplant is and is now deadly bad for us all.  The first person I knew who had celiac disease was my cousin’s daughter who is now in her early twenties.  At the time of her diagnosis as a very little girl, not a single person in my family had ever heard of celiac disease before – the idea of someone being allergic to bread was utterly alien.  Now, twenty years later, I plan the menu for parties around what people won’t or can’t eat, and wheat tops the list for many, many guests.  Which means that sometime in the last twenty years, wheat did start making people’s immune systems go haywire.  Why did that happen?  Is it the genetic modification at work?  Is it partially the power of suggestion?  Genetic modification of edible plants is a fairly recent phenomenon, beginning in the mid 90’s, well after the upswing in American obesity.  There may be many things wrong with the practice, and it may very well be making people sick, but I don’t think it can be solely blamed for our fattening process.

The artificial bovine growth hormone was approved for use by American cattle farmers by the FDA in 1993.  Since then it has been blamed for an increase in breast size among young girls, preventing our bodies from decaying normally after we die, and making us all fat.  I don’t like it’s use or think it’s a good idea, but the timeline doesn’t match up to make it the culprit for widespread obesity.

Maybe, some suggest, we have all simply become lazier because our entertainment practices shifted from doing to watching?  The television was invented in the early 1900’s – but every household didn’t have one until around the 50’s.  Still, watching the boob tube can’t be the sole cause of our fatness because we didn’t start to change until a good thirty years after it showed up.  I grew up during the advent of Atari and other video game consoles, but I still remember going to school with some really active, thoroughly sporty kids.  I also know many computer-addicted nerds today, and oddly the ones I know don’t tend to be fat.

How about fast food!  TV dinners!  Nope, sorry – it’s probably not these.  Which you’d think might cause sanctimonious thin people to quit yelling at the overweight to, “Put the McDonald’s down!”  Sadly, it’s human nature to want to feel superior, so even though thin-superiority is looking increasingly like an accident of genetics, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.  TV dinners, as it turns out, went into mass production in the 50’s when we were all still relatively svelte.  McDonalds franchises burst onto the scene also in the 50’s.  It’s true that in the 80’s and 90’s their portion sizes got extremely large, but they have since then both paired portion sizes back in response to public scrutiny and begun using cooking oils that contain less saturated fats.  And these adjustments have not assisted Americans in losing weight one tiny bit.

Personal case in point – in my family of three I am the only one who deliberately and regularly exercises, and I am also the only one who is overweight.  The two tall, screen-staring nerds that I live with who consume fast foods on a weekly basis are both either slim or of normal body weight.  What have I been exposed to either mentally, environmentally or genetically that is making me overweight and not them?  What is either triggering food addiction in my brain and/or grinding my metabolism to a screeching halt?  Here’s a scary thought: of the three of us I am also the only one who deliberately seeks out “healthy” foods.

That same friend I first mentioned?  He suspects whole grains.  You know, the “healthy” kind that the FDA and numerous Doctors and weight loss experts are always encouraging you to consume.  The 80’s is when the big public push toward whole grains and wild rice began and everyone became convinced that anything white or with the hull removed was automatically bad for us.  And, the 80’s is also when our collective weight problem went completely off the rails.

The reason I’m throwing so many theories around is because I don’t know what exactly the problem is, maybe it’s one of them, maybe a few or all of them.  I’m not a scientist; I’m just one of the end results of whatever has gone wrong.  Somebody with a PhD seriously needs to figure this thing out because the numbers are continuing to rise, and they are not stopping.

This is a serious problem.  And the collective shaming of America for being such weak willed big fat fatties is very obviously not the solution.


  1. I expect we can't blame one thing alone for the sudden increase in obesity starting in the 80's, but one thing you didn't mention that probably has an influence on this issue, is the encouragement of consuming less fat (which by definition increases either carb or protein or both, to make up for the decrease in fat), as well as increased aerobic exercise to burn the fat we already have. Some combination of all the things you mentioned, and probably a bunch we are somehow overlooking, are at least in part to blame for our survival trait from centuries past, biting us in the ever growing butts.

    1. You're right, I didn't even think of that one! I've also heard that when "health food" companies rip all the fat out of their products they will often try to replace the lost flavor by loading in extra sugar or salt - which have their own host of problems.

    2. The plot thickens (no pun intended) when I realized that in the 80's the cholesterol watching craze started (although this was really in the late 80's as opposed to the mid-) and people started to use microwaves to reheat leftovers, and I remember my mother having entire microwave dinners made with her special microwave cookbook. I think the 80's were a revolutionary decade for food, and looking back, it might have been as negative as it was positive, since it looks like a lot of the new information we learned might have backfired on us.