My title is not to suggest that obesity is not a problem anywhere else, just that I’m an American and so I can see with my own eyes where this stereotype comes from. The statistics on obesity in America are totally astounding. The rate of increase is astounding. If this were simply a matter of lots of folks who look bad in a bikini, that would be one thing, but there’s a whole shopping-cart-load of diseases that like to travel with obesity. It should alarm you for your own health, if not for the health of the nation as a whole.
Why are we so fat and getting fatter? I understand this is a complex and multi-faceted problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. Here are some causal suggestions:
- Americans eat large amounts of food (i.e, excessive calories)
- Americans eat a lot of “junk” food (i.e, fast food, cookies, soda, candy, donuts…)
- Americans sit around on their butts watching America’s Got Talent
- Americans are too busy to make healthful homemade meals, so…. (see Point #2)
- Americans are just genetically big
All of these correlates are interesting to me because, while one or more of these points can be said about almost all of us (at least some of the time), it doesn’t fully explain how Americans of every stripe – East Coast, West Coast, Republican, Democrat, Deep South or Uptight Northeast are trending fatter on the whole.
Then, too, I become curious because I have heard so often someone saying they do not understand why they keep gaining – they exercise, they don’t eat such a lot of food and not as unhealthy as you might assume, yet fatter they get. Why? I’ve heard the lament often enough that I cannot imagine they are all lying or have no self-awareness. Clearly, something is going on.
I personally don’t struggle much with weight. I am predisposed towards leanness. But I have had a hard time for the last few years with nearly constant digestive squirreliness. This makes my gut bloat or retain water or just plain look like a sack of potatoes (which, could be telling, actually). In extreme cases, I will be in gastric agony until I sleep it off. Eliminating dairy products a few years ago helped, but it didn’t turn me around completely. It was puzzling.
I’ve long considered the possibility that gluten could be a part of the picture; I’ve even had the blood serum screening for Celiac done once or twice. I didn’t really want to know this could be the problem, if I’m honest, because life without gluten seemed to me super-hard and no fun at all.
Through a combination of curiosity about the fattening of America and my own concerns about my belly, I wound up downloading the book Wheat Belly and beginning to read it. Author William Davis makes a mighty good case for why wheat (of today) is not the Staff of Life that it once might have been. I decided abruptly to chuck the wheat in my diet and see if any of my problems resolved. I did not finish reading this book, however, when I stumbled onto two other more pertinent books.
I discovered the two books Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, both by Gary Taubes. These two books were salve for my research-starved mind on this subject. Seriously. Every single American should at least read Why We Get Fat. People who like science and research should also read Good Calories, Bad Calories. Why We Get Fat really does explain why and, what is more, I believe Taubes is almost assuredly correct. I hate to spoil the surprise for anyone who wants to read it for themselves, but you could Google it and find out the gist anyway, so I’ll tell you. The two major principles he speaks to that I believe are correct are: 1) You have a genetic predisposition to be a given size; and 2) It’s the carbohydrates.
Every muffin, every pizza, even my much-beloved homemade bread is working hard to make me fat. (Luckily, I won the gene lottery.) Every tablespoon of sugar in my coffee (okay, two), every beautiful angel-hair pasta with homemade meat sauce, every Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake (seriously, the best recipe for chocolate cake ever created), and yes, Virginia, even every apple, orange and Ranier Cherry is a tank of carbs well-armed to squeeze me out of my favorite jeans. It has nothing to do with the butter I spread on the bread. It’s the bread.
Never in a million years did I think I would find sense in restricting carbohydrates. I have watched friends try Atkins, lose a bunch of weight, then return to mashed potatoes and gain it all back, with company. But Taubes’ books make SO much sense, I cannot help myself. He’s right as rain.
So, I started my little “diet plan” by taking out wheat or, essentially, going gluten-free. This was on July 4th (obviously, the *perfect* time to change your diet). I weathered the holiday sans buns for my hot dogs, refusing the Magic Bars, and not eating bagels. The first thing I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that either wheat specifically or gluten in general is what gets my intestines all out of whack. Dairy may also share some blame, but if there’s a major culprit, it’s gluten. Since going GF, my stomach has not bloated one bit. Before, I had strategic packages of Gas X everywhere, so I would never be found without it. They were in my purse, my car, my desk drawer, my nightstand and my backpack. I haven’t had any digestive potions since before July 4th; I haven’t needed them once.
As I continued to read on, I moved away from just gluten to a more expanded view of restricting carbs on the whole. Essentially, I’m eating mostly in the Paleo dietary style. Now I see other benefits. I am not hungry. I don’t crave sweet things. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on stuff I want. I’ve lost my addiction to carbs, I believe. And my belly is almost as flat as an army bedsheet.
I am doing a lot of investigation on this topic and do plan to research some of the studies that Taubes cites in his books. I want to see them for myself. See if I come to the same conclusions. Anecdotally, the Paleo dietary theory does appear to work for me as expected. I plan to write much more about this topic. Comments on this matter are welcome as I explore.
P.S. I have no financial affiliation with, or paid endorsement of, any of the linked sites or materials.