It doesn’t seem that long ago. After all, just 76 days ago it was August 2nd. It was warm, even hot; it was summer. But time flies. And it flies at the same speed all year round. So, looking ahead, in just 76 days from today---October 17th---it’s going to be 2019. The holidays will be over and any extra weight we may have added---as if we needed any---will be showing up in front of the mirror.
But for most of us we don’t need a calendar to tell us we need to drop a few pounds. Why? Because we already know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 65 percent of us are already overweight. Holiday weight gain is just gravy on this national health crisis.
Our diets and sedentary lifestyles are simply exacerbated by the weight gain we blame on the holidays or genetics. Together, they’re killing us a bite at a time; a bite of cake or pie; a bite of bacon; a bite of stuff we know we just ought to say no to.
“We consistently take in too much carbs (carbohydrates),” said Children’s Hospital Nurse Practitioner Rachel Anthony. What’s worse is that Anthony’s not simply talking about adults. CDC data bear her out. One in five children in the country is also above a desired body mass index, a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. Among Latinos ages 2-19, the figure rises to nearly 26 percent.
Anthony often works with younger patients. When she speaks about the problem, it’s not simply a, case of a child or young adult carrying a little ‘pot belly.’ Some of the patients are seriously overweight and are candidates for a surgical procedure that involves removal of as much as two thirds of the stomach. “We have done about 25 surgeries in the last year,” said Anthony. “It is based on extreme health (of the patient),” she said. “We do not take it lightly.”
As a nation we have grown into the obesity problem gradually. During the 1960’s, about 15 percent of the population was obese, that is, 20 percent above their ideal weight. By the mid-2000’s the figure had more than doubled to approximately 35 percent of the population. A variety of factors is to blame.
We eat out now more than ever and restaurant portions are often larger than we would eat at home. We also eat more fast foods and drink more soda. Food and beverages are marketed with a higher and more tempting degree of sophistication. Finally, too often we shop poorly. Anthony’s advice on shopping is simple. “Shop the perimeter” of the grocery story. “The middle of the store is where the processed food lives.”
Modern grocery stores are not designed with shopper’s weight in mind. Just the opposite. Once away from the perimeter, where fresh fruits and vegetables or frozen foods are stocked, shoppers come eye to eye with the stuff Anthony said should be avoided--- canned goods, foods with empty calories and heavy preservatives and the sugar-packed items that, too often, are aimed at kids’ taste buds.
As much as 85 percent of the middle aisles of a grocery store are processed foods and absent any meaningful nutritional value. The middle aisles, at least figuratively, are the ‘Death Valley’ of nutrition.
In a grocery store, knowledge is power. The more shoppers read and understand food labels, the more power over weight gain and obesity they have. High sodium, high sugared foods are labeled but not always in an easy to understand manner. Shoppers need to know the good, bad and ugly of labels.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium or salt each day. That amount equals approximately one tablespoon. But that does not mean one should consume that much. It simply means to consume no more than 2,300 milligrams. The USDA also sets limits on sugar, too often a hidden ingredient in foods. Ingredients that end in the letters ‘ose,’ including fructose, dextrose, sucrose and more are nothing more than sugar.
USDA guidelines recommend no more than 37.5 grams of sugar a day for a man, 25 grams for a woman, nine and six teaspoons respectively. It adds up fast. Take breakfast cereal. One cup of frosted or sugar-coated flake of cereal equals 200 milligrams of sodium and 15.2 grams of sugar. That’s nearly ten percent of recommended salt intake for an entire day and more than three teaspoons of sugar---before leaving home!
Sugar also gives the brain a quick burst of the chemical dopamine. It acts like a reward not unlike drugs or alcohol. Soon enough the body wants more of what makes it feel good. Sodium, on the other hand, causes the body to retain water and can lead to higher blood pressure.
Carrying extra or excess weight can create health problems, said Anthony. “Fatty liver, high cholesterol, back pain, sleep apnea” are just part of the problem. It also contributes to high blood pressure, kidney and liver disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.
A few of Anthony’s charges have come in weighing more than 400 pounds. Not only is that extremely unhealthy but can also impact mental health via self-image. Redirecting these patients into a healthy way of eating, she said, is more than gratifying. “We really get to know these kids---before and after.” Watching the transformation, “when they’re down 20, 30, 40 pounds…I just can’t tell you how rewarding it is.”
“I try to touch on life style,” she said. “Exercise is way cheaper than therapy. Eating healthy is not eating boring.”