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I’m Fat. Is it My Fault, or the Culture’s?

Snack-Food Stores, Insulin Resistance, Health and Weight

Meditating on junk food — John Hain on Pixabay

I have lost 40 pounds in 4 years in retirement. Yup, that’s really darn slow. I had resolved, when I retired, to eat better and exercise more. The near elimination of stress was a major factor that supported my focus, as was available time. I can look at the line in my Fitbit chart, and see where my weight loss spiked up to weight gain during a stressful six months. I knew that stress was a factor in overeating, but the Fitbit chart proves it.

I moved when I retired to Portland, Oregon, which has more vegetarians and more natural food stores, and more foodie culture — emphasizing fresh ingredients, whole foods, independent restaurants. There also is an emphasis on the outdoors, which includes walking and hiking. My son, who lived in the Midwest in his young adult years, said that his physique was more like an “Oregon” physique than a mid-western physique. He is lean, buys his clothes at REI, and embraces healthy foods and an outdoor lifestyle.

When I first moved here, I was put off by the extensive organic sections of grocery produce and the somewhat higher prices at the farmers’ market. Now I embrace both, and my purchase of processed foods is minimal. The growing season here is longer, and the Willamette Valley is filled with truck farms, instead of fields of sugar beets and corn. Minneapolis has many food cooperatives and Whole Foods stores, so it is not that the options were non-existent. They just weren’t as mainstream as it feels here.

I was jolted by two recent news stories. One was on CNN and stated that companies are reviewing their strategies in the wake of Ozempic and other weight-loss drugs. Food companies may have to rethink how they sell food and create smaller portions. Smucker’s recently bought Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, but reports that there will always be a place for sugary snacks. Walmart’s data says that Ozempic users buy smaller food baskets.

While this story makes it sound like corporations follow customer choice, corporations also shape customer choice. I’ve been appalled when I am traveling and at a small service stop, I only have a choice between fast food or snack aisles. Sometimes the nutritional choices are among sugar, fat, and salt. In the western states, especially, you can drive for many miles between rest stops.

Corporations have a profit motive for keeping us fat with large appetites and consuming more salty, sugary, and fatty snacks/foods. If caloric consumption went down in this country, corporate profits would go down. Product lines would change. Agricultural commodities in demand would change.

I personally think we should get rid of the easy accessibility of junk food — food with no nutritional value — but I know there would be a firestorm of opinion about the right to make choices that are bad for us. But our collective bad choices are bad community/cultural choices. I am not suggesting a corporate conspiracy; it’s just reality. In order to save the extraordinary burden on our health care system because of the increased medical attention, we should save money at the front end.

This is coming from a person with an elevated BMI, still, after forty pounds gone. I’ve been a fan of Dan Buettner, who wrote Blue Zones, for many years. Our built spaces need to — and are beginning to — be made for walking, biking, and non-car-dependent chores. I also am appalled by recent stories of where diabetes is going in this country. At the same time, advocates have been pushing for fat acceptance and promoting that body shaming needs to stop.

Well, maybe. I am almost seventy and can tell you that carrying around extra pounds for too long has damaged my health. My knees are bad. I have had some GI scares that are caused by pressure on organs because of fat. Fat is an inflammatory tissue, contributing to a cycle of inflammation. I became insulin resistant, meaning I didn’t yet have diabetes but my body wasn’t functioning on a calories in, calories out basis anymore. It wanted to retain fat.

The last time I lost forty pounds (15 years ago), it took me five months, not four years. What I would say about fat-shaming is that we need to understand it as a cultural problem, and not only an ‘individual success’ or ‘failure’ problem. When I lost luggage on an Italian vacation and needed to replace some essential clothing items, I had very limited extra-large choices and felt like the “fat American” at the retail shop. Well, I was.

Cigarette fashion girl on Pixabay

I remember when smoking was at its height and was portrayed as sophisticated. Smoking has fallen 68%, from about 42% of the population to under 14% between 1965 and now. The change in smoking came about because of research, a campaign by the government to reduce smoking, and the gradual shift in cultural norms to being anti-smoking. I thought the first indoor bans by states on smoking were ridiculous. Now we all look up and snarl if someone is smoking in an inappropriate place.

It is crazy-making, isn’t it? The plethora of articles or posts or advertisements about some sugary or salty or fatty new treat used to make me drool. I still indulge occasionally. I like ice cream.

Those ads are in the same feed or pages as the stories about health problems caused by American obesity. I remember when an overweight friend told me she had never had career success because of her weight. Then she looked at me and told me I was an exception.

I don’t think so. I think I denied my reality for a long time and believed I was just a few months away from my svelte self, so that’s how I saw myself. By then I was parenting, and managing an organization, had or made no time for self-care, and had different priorities. If there is one thing I could do, it would be to shake that woman and say “Wake up! Your future self will thank you.”

Covid-19 was a real wake-up call. People who are overweight, diabetic, or have other comorbidities are most at risk. People who are aging. People like me.

That’s what I want to say to those who criticize the culture about fat stigmatization and fat shaming. Wake up. Criticize the culture for offering an unsustainable lifestyle to you. Recognize you also need to take responsibility for changing what you can, even if that includes your own choices and habits.

We also need to change the culture, but if we use smoking as an example, that will take over 40 years. So, we can work on both.

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  1. Elise Albert
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    We have been shocked traveling overseas to find the truck stops have a abundance of delicious and healthy foods to choose from—-in France, Italy, Turkey, the food was as good as most restaurants. We could do that here as well. It’s a choice.

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