I used to be fat. Being back in America for six weeks reminded me why.
I visited the US for the first time a few years ago and was shocked at how hard it is to buy food that doesn't have added sugar. Even at the Wholefoods supermarket in LA (supposed hub of the health and wellness industry) everything from yoghurt to soy milk to bread came with a ton of added sugar. This is a huge health issue, not just for weight gain but for inflammation, gut health, mental health and so much more. It was a relief to come home to New Zealand supermarkets and health food stores...
I would not change a sentence, which is rare for a piece on a subject as sensitive. Thank you. I live in a rural US community 17 miles from the nearest full-service grocery, and I make the round trip by bicycle at least weekly, including a couple of miles on a busy two-lane road with no shoulders, as well as through several suburbs. Since 2015, I’ve traveled everywhere else by bike, too, including a ride through all of the lower-48 states and most major US cities. Yes, this country is poorly planned for travel sans automobile, but you can. I did not come to this realization honestly — vision loss forced my transition — but having experienced bike travel, I regret that I ever drove. Walking or biking far is not as challenging as I would have thought before 2015. As lagniappe, the exercise keeps me fit, at least for a fellow 70, and forces that I eat for nutrition as well as fuel. So, win-win. My rule now is, if it’s 6 miles or less, I walk, if more I pedal. And once I got over the sore bum, which I admit took a couple of weeks, I’ve experienced less discomfort than I did when I was an aging fellow who drove. Mine is not one, but with e-bikes gaining popularity, that 34-mile grocery run would not be a challenge for most adults, even here in the US. Hope this helps. Thanks again.
To be fair, Costco carries a lot of things that aren't potato chips. It's where I get lemons (we go through a lot), canned salmon, smoked salmon, seaweed snacks (one of my kids loves those), frozen organic blueberries, sunscreen, and, yes, toilet paper. 🍋🧻 For families who can afford a membership, it can in fact make healthy eating more affordable.
Regarding walking and walkability, not to be all self-promotional but I wrote a book on exactly this subject, walking and the loss of walkability in America. There's a whole chapter on the human health consequences of car-centric culture and another on the physical and social destruction car-centric infrastructure has caused in communities, including lack of access to green spaces. It's a good book, I promise!
Tell me about it. I always get healthier when back in the UK because of all the walking, even though Brits are much fatter than in my childhood because of cars and junk food. It's still much better, which is a sad commentary.
I absolutely agree that the problem is with the society or the government, probably both. I say that because there's nothing to reign in the profit-making of the giant corporations who will advertise in any way they can to sell unhealthy food, to convince people that this will make them feel better about their shitty lives, largely shitty because they're unhealthy form all the crap being fed them (and I don't just mean food). And AFAIK there's no PSA's re diet and exercise (?) I'm reminded of PSA's in Oz years ago about broken glass on beaches. In the TV ad a lad was about to lose his most precious bits. Something equally powerful about diet and exercise would probably help but it would have to be widespread and ongoing I think. I've been small all my life but it didn't mean I wasn't worried about weight, and since getting older even more so. The messaging that tall and thin is better is relentless, and hurtful. OTOH obesity is a huge, and costly, health crisis.
Did you find more people walking in Vancouver than in Seattle? I find both cities quite walkable, but both have a strong car culture. I think Canada and America are pretty comparable in this aspect. I found this stat on CTV: Canadians take an average of 4,819 steps a day -- just a few more than Americans, who take an average of 4,774 steps. Which, as you point out, is much less than most of the world.
I agree that the car culture in the US is one of the issues. I have lost two pant sizes since I became a nomad, about a size a year. This is due to less processed food, eating smaller portions (which is a struggle in and of itself) and walking. I really work on getting out and walking. Since I hate exercize, I use going to the store, a museum, exploring a city as my way to get off my ass and walk. I no longer weigh myself, but I know this is working due to my clothes getting baggy, being able to walk further and longer, and my A1C dropping. Every time I have been in the US, I have to work up to walking my “normal” amount again when I’m on the road again.
Well said, Michael, the process of remaining healthy is a lifestyle choice, which you capture thoroughly in your piece. Might I add that a predominately plant based diet is also helpful in warding off diseases and excess weight. Your observations coincide with my thoughts completely, thanks for sharing your journey and advice.
I totally agree with you. As a Weight Watchers lifetime member for 15 years, portions here are totally out of control. I understand the importance of body positivity, but it also gives cover and empowers people who should not be eating more to do that, and as a result, are becoming ticking time bombs of poor health. As someone who is here in the States a majority of time and eats out a lot, I just grit my teeth and look for the healthiest options I can and hit the health club!
Whenever I visit family in the USA I gain weight even though I try to eat the same as I do at home . I think there are hidden sugars in innocent looking items like butter and cheese
My lean and fit son has put on a lot of weight since he moved there from here in South Africa
I find it coincidentally interesting that I opened and read this article while eating a healthy meal at an outdoor restaurant in Pogradec, Albania. Most of the food here is inexpensive and of good quality. Fresh, filling, and delicious. This meal was followed a long slow walk on the city promenade.
As I read about the food experience in America, I remembered, somewhat fondly, of all that preservative loaded
My husband and I were in Germany for three weeks in June. We walked everywhere, averaging about 20,000 steps a day (which is kinda excessive, but still - there was so much to see and do!). It was alarming to return and see so much obesity - riding scooters to grocery store! - made even more obvious because we’d been surrounded by healthy folks (even overweight Germans are active as hell, though their concept of “overweight” is waaaay different than ours).
My friend has a conspiracy theory that I actually don’t find all that crazy. Because our medical system is capitalist by nature and shareholders can make money only if the population is unhealthy, it would make sense for them to be in cahoots with the junk food industrial complex. More chips and donuts and soda means more health problems means more doctors visits; and these habits are hard to break or escape. So the model lives on and we all get worse.
I think the “fat-positive” movement is great (though I think some of their “science” is sus), because it promotes feeling good about yourself. On the other hand, I think many folks would feel better about themselves if they weren’t trapped in the never ending cycle perpetuated by our societal failures to care for each other and topple our capitalist overlords
Well written as always. I’ve lived overweight my whole life and it pisses me off. There’s no reason for it for me but I can’t seem to make it a focus. Your piece reminded me that it’s the consistency of walking, eating well, forgiving yourself and striving to do better that matters. Thanks for that.
This is so on point. Yes, we need to take individual accountability. Also, when the societal infrastructure is completely broken, that becomes nearly impossible.
Here in Chicago, the difference between lifestyles in the city versus in the suburbs is extreme. Not surprisingly, so are the fitness levels and health outcomes.
Finally, there must be something in the air. Today's Field Research touches on a related problem.
I grew up in the Czech Republic where the only way you could get Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal was on the black market. I kid you not. This was during the communist times. Jeans and Honey Smacks, black market goods. Forbidden cereal never tasted so good...
Fast forward a decade or two and my grandmother, visiting us here in America from the homeland, steps into a regular old grocery store, sees the mountains of fruit and fresh produce, and weeps tears of shocked joy.
Somewhere between these two extremes is culinary joy and contentment.
I was overweight one time. About 45 pounds too heavy. I lost it all. It is hard to stay ahead of it. American cities are not meant for physical exercise, like you say. American diets and food are not meant for trim waistlines, as you mention. The worst part is that it becomes YOUR fault. I hate that. We all only have so much willpower, are under so much stress, and the environment you surround yourself in makes a difference! Heck, most of us are barely conscious most of our waking hours, instead our default neural network making decision for us even though we have the semblance of awareness and agency. We just aren't capable of being entirely mentally present in the day, and this isn't an individual's failing, this is just how humans are made.