Recently, journalists and scientists have attempted to explain why Americans are bursting at the seams. While they movingly described the challenges and issues in fighting fat, they may have left out one of the critical components of those who succeed.
In The New York Times Magazine story, ‘The Fat Trap,’ Tara Parker-Pope shared her heartfelt and personal account on the profound impact genetics and the home environment play. Parker-Pope conveyed her frustration: “What is clear is that some people appear to be prone to accumulating extra fat while others seem to be protected against it.”
In other words, there is science behind why obesity may run in the family. If obese parents raised you and their pantry was stocked with fat- and sugar-laden foods, there is a greater chance that you too have struggled with your weight. But there are people who grew up in similar environments and have managed, with difficulty and diligence, to wear a trim frame.
She also noted the results of a study that showed, “some people were more likely to eat fatty foods, presumably because they thought being fat was their genetic destiny and saw no sense in fighting it.” That approach is like putting out a welcome mat to heredity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease when in fact, we may not be able to pick our parents, but we can pick what goes on our plates.
In his Huffington Post piece, Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center eloquently wrote that he believes, “obesity is neither a psychological nor a biological disease, if it is a disease at all — it is a social disease.” Katz reminds us, “Since our genes and hormones have not changed appreciably in 50 years, we must attribute the advent of epidemic obesity to environmental change.” Becoming more familiar with the stove in your kitchen than the drive-through restaurant in your neighborhood, or remembering to not leave cookies on the counter or perhaps not buying cookies at all, would certainly cut the cues that stimulate us to overeat. For many, the answer may in fact be an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach.
We do know that fad dieting doesn’t work. In an Ontario Morning Show radio interview, Jacqui Gingras of the Ryerson School of Nutrition and supporter of the Health at Every Size Movement, tells us that extreme dieting and its resulting weight cycling, or yo-yo syndrome, can actually lead to conditions like insulin resistance and hypertension. She encourages ditching the guilt that may result from obsessing about the numbers on the scale and instead, “eat according to hunger and fullness signals from inside your body.” I appreciate and encourage the concept of maintaining a more mindful approach, but most of the people I counsel haven’t felt hungry in years. Even the thought of that rumbling stomach sensation makes them feel uncomfortable, agitated and insecure.
After counseling patients for more than three decades and battling the burden of an overweight body as a teen myself, my response to the above accounts is that an essential component must be present to promote healthier eating and for long-term weight loss to occur. That is, the key may be an internal dialogue with respect, trust and compassion for oneself.
When patients tell the tales of how they overdid it at a holiday party, it’s not the specific foods they consumed that I’m interested in as much as the answer to the one question I often ask: “What were you thinking of when you saw that food and what kind of conversation did you have with yourself while you were eating?” Sadly, the most common response is, “I wasn’t saying anything.”
The patients I see that are the most successful are those that not only learn the benefit of reading a food label or choosing wisely from a restaurant menu or accepting that the cards they were dealt created a tough hand to play. They come to value themselves and care about how they look and feel. They want to make better choices — life-saving choices.