Over the past ten years, as a public health servant, I have learned you cannot tell someone what to do. No matter how much chaos in their lives is shaped through their actions. It’s impossible to make someone do something. Even though, you may know deep down just how detrimental the person’s actions can be. It’s impossible to tell someone to veer from making a choice. Especially if it’s a daily habit.
Let’s explore this. I cannot tell someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day to quit because smoking causes cancer. Smoking is directly related to so many health detriments, which encompass every organ in the human body, that I can’t even list them all here. Everyone knows smoking can cause cancer. EVERYONE! I could see someone not knowing that correlation maybe if they lived under a rock, or on another planet. Or, maybe lived somewhere where the message is not regulated and big tobacco continues to target the young. Smoking is so bad for the human body that even former smokers tend to develop issues later on in life that can be directly contributed to smoking. Yet, even with this powerful information, people still choose to smoke.
On to my story!
I have learned…
I cannot tell a teenage mother that cereal in her four month old’s bottle could potentially do more harm to the baby’s digestive system than good. I cannot tell a caregiver they absolutely need to practice self-care while caring for a loved one because caregiver burn out is directly associated with mental and emotional problems. I cannot tell a caregiver that the best thing they can do for themselves, and their loved one, is to take time for their own self-care. Siting statistics to a caregiver, about caregiving, the high rates of disease, and low rates of health outcomes would go in one ear and out the other. I cannot tell someone to stop the 10am vending machine snack attack.
Today, I woke up thinking about food. Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that my passion for my health and the overall health and well-being of others, can get borderline obsessive. I mean, I will admit I tend to solicit unwanted advice sometimes. I’m kind of sorry, but not really.
I’ve studied food and longevity as a hobby over my tenure working in the public health field. I now see the elephant in the room. The biggest reoccurring theme links daily eating habits directly to health determinants. Believe it or not, there is a right way to do food (sans food access issues). Please see the recommended Health.gov info-graph on daily food consumption guidelines below. Also, note they change every decade or so.
graphic via health.gov
I have been pretty active since age 18 when I started cycling. I had also been a pretty active kid. My activity habits pretty much remained fine as I’ve become an adult. It was my eating habits that needed addressing. Once I hit 25, I found that I had developed some pretty unhealthy food habits. I’d casually snack throughout the day. I didn’t understand why the pounds packed on with each pretzel and extra meal. After I gained almost 15 pounds, I began to run. I would reward myself with some toast ‘for energy’ or an extra bowl of ‘health’ cereal. At that time it was important to have a low-fat diet, right? This was the way to a healthy body, right? Like many, I bought into the hype and thought fat caused a person to get fat. I’d later find out that statement is so far from the truth.
The low-fat diet fad is now linked to many health issues in the US such as obesity, diabetes, hyper-tension and metabolic disease. Why? The fad brought this very special marketing mind-set with it. Many low-fat practitioners felt they could pretty much eat what they wanted as long as it was labeled ‘low-fat’. Popular boxed and processed foods were marked as the holy grail of food because they didn’t have fat in them. Instead, they were filled with high amounts of sugar and salt in order to make the items taste good. Enter high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) encompasses highly processed items with minimal nutrient value. The diet also includes an abundance of meat from who knows where. Large corporations (I won’t name them, but we can guess) lobby the government for special privileges regarding food production, labeling and marketing. The food is made in labs and marketed to what humans like to taste. Unfortunately, we humans like salty and sweet. As our paletes evolved over time, we got to know through a lot of trial and error that sweet tastes meant not poisonous.
During the no-fat phase, scientists found once the fat was taken out from the food they made, they were left with a tasteless product. So, large food corporations needed to replace taste with something else in order to make the processed foods taste good. Step in synthesized sugars and more salt. Upping the sugar and salt content seemed to do the trick. Enter the final phases of chemists manipulating the SAD diet.
Hello high fructose corn syrup! This sugar substitute is everywhere. High fructose corn syrup was, and still is, in everything! Pretty much any processed foods have high amounts of sugar. Odds are, if you flipped over a box, and read the ingredients, high fructose corn syrup is up there with some of the main ingredients. The substance is easy to make and it’s even easier to get people hooked on. High fructose corn syrup is super sweet! The amounts of these added sugars directly correlates to added pounds and pretty much every other health detriment known in our modern times (more on that later.)
I am not telling anyone how to eat. That would be like arguing abortion rights, or religious freedoms, or human rights at the kitchen table on a mandated Holiday family gathering. I am merely telling a side of food that is usually over looked. One would need to be actively looking at various sources to see hidden market agendas related to food. You know, the body actually needs healthy fats in order to function. Come to find out, fast forward 25 years later, we see the daily fat intake recommendation change from 0% to almost 30% of daily caloric intake.
The mushy engine we’ve come to know as the human body actually needs good fats to function. Fats maintain proper cell and organ function. Fats should be good fats. We’re talking plant fats, lean meats, nuts and seeds. Not these strange chemicals found in boxed and processed items.
I seriously could write for hours on this. Diet trends, fads, and the health detriments correlated with yo-yo dieting. Anyone remember the Slim-Fast diet? Or the cabbage diet? Hey, there’s even the egg diet? What is the common factor in these diets? It is simple. The person changes their daily eating habits and they lose weight.
EVERY new health regime touting results.
People lose weight.
Each fad has one denominator. The person chooses to make a lifestyle change. Period. That’s it. That’s all.
The answer to long term health is this: commit to a long-term lifestyle change. Change does not happen over-night. There is no quick fix for maintaining a healthy weight. It’s hard, arduous and happens over time.
It’s when people take on the responsibility of their own diet; when they begin to look at food quality verses quantity, we see their lives change. I guarantee it. I’ve seen it!
Food should be seen as fuel. Everything changes once a person begins putting high-end fuel in their tank. Fighting the global obesity epidemic comes with personal insight and a lot of trial and error. What works for me, most likely will look different for you.
Personally, I have managed to maintain a newer version of my self at the age of 35. I was at the exact weight and size for years. I’ll admit it, I was a little heavier than I should have been for my size, even though I was an active runner, cyclist and crossfitter. It took a complete lifestyle change for me to see my ways. All those years I was heavier I found I was doing the wrong things! Self-realization goes really far if you’re willing to learn new things and practice good daily habits. Once new habits are established, it becomes difficult to change them because they become part of you.
As a public health servant, I know I can’t tell anyone what to do. I know the person has to want to do it.