It is always amusing to look at photos from the 1980s or earlier to see just how clothing, hairstyles or even the design of cars has changed over the years. But what is less fun is seeing just how much slimmer people were back then! While at one time, being overweight or obese was quite rare, rates have increased considerably over the last 25 years, such that today two-thirds of Western populations are overweight.
The dangers of obesity
Excess weight associated with excessive consumption of calories best illustrates the dangers of today’s mass-produced diet. We still dwell too often on the external aspects of fat gain and fail to take into account the number of works or articles discussing the physical or psychological aspects related to excess weight. However, scientific data gathered over the last few years about the consequences of excess fat on how the body functions show it is high time we became concerned about the internal effects and their repercussions on health.
Being overweight is a major factor in the onset of all chronic diseases affecting the population: Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, many types of cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Like quitting smoking, the maintenance of a normal body weight (a BMI of about 23) should be a key objective in chronic disease prevention.
What excess fat does to your body
Adipose mass is not something inert or static, just serving to accumulate surplus energy from food; it is, on the contrary, a very dynamic organ, a gland secreting significant amounts of hormones and inflammatory molecules that influence how all body organs function. Just as we would be concerned (with good reason) about the appearance of a growth on any part of our body, the excessive growth of adipose mass must be seen as a visible manifestation of profound changes in the equilibrium of our vital functions. It is a sign of major metabolic upheaval with many ramifications for the development of different diseases.
Why biology is against us
The evolutionary pressure of survival, which makes us very effective at storing the energy contained in food in the form of fat, also pre disposes us to obesity, due to the culture of excess in which we live. Our society’s overconsumption of high-calorie foods produces a surplus of energy that is almost impossible to counterbalance with physical exercise, especially as people are becoming increasingly sedentary. For example, to burn off the calories from a simple snack of a bag of potato chips, candy bar, and soft drink we would need to walk for more than two and a half hours or cycle for an hour and a half! That is indeed a high price to pay for a 10-minute snack.
The way to fight the influence of our ‘obesogenic’ environment is not to deprive ourselves by following one of the many weight-loss diets in fashion. Generally, these very low-calorie diets cause an intense feeling of hunger that may be alleviated in the short term, but in the long term only generates despondency and frustration. Such diets are generally ineffective in losing weight due to our remarkable genetic ability to extract the tiniest amount of energy from food. More important, they end up destroying our special relationship with food by making us feel guilty and undermining the pleasure of eating.
The only eating plan that will help you keep the weight off
The only realistic approach to maintaining an ideal weight is to avoid the influence of these excessively caloric industrial foods and adopt a diet to which our metabolism has adapted over the course of evolution; that is, we should aim for a diet consisting mainly of plant products such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. The cornerstone of all world cuisines, this combination of plant foods enables the internal mechanisms involved in appetite control to function optimally and thus avoid the energy overload inevitably associated with processed foods.
Excerpted from Eating Well, Living Well Copyright © 2009 by Richard Béliveau, Ph.D., and Denis Gingras, Ph.D. Translated by Valentina Baslyk. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart. All rights reserved.