If you live in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada or New Zealand, then you live in the same place as me; Fat City. Fat City of course, being more of a collective mindset, and a culture of eating too much and moving too little, than any geographical location, or ‘literal’ place. And while it’s not a literal place, it is very real. If you know what I mean.
The weight of the average Australian increases by about 0.4kg (1lb) per year, every year, and it’s a pretty similar figure in most Western countries. It’s predicted that Australia (where I live) will be a totally obese population by 2050. There’s a thought. What an achievement. This is the forecast, despite the fact that we are now more educated, more informed and more aware, than we’ve ever been before. The truth is, in 2008 we are constantly bombarded with more and more information and education about diet, lifestyle, exercise, obesity, general health and all its variables, yet still, we grow.
As an Exercise Scientist, observer of humanity, and ex-fat bloke, there are plenty of things which fascinate me about living in Fat City (the culture, the habits, the behaviors, the thinking, the excuses, the lies, the marketing, the trends, the media), but here’s my short list:
1. We’ve never be more informed, educated, resourced or equipped to combat obesity, yet we’ve never been fatter. We live in the information age, yet we do nothing with it. I’m amused by those who suggest that obesity is primarily an education problem, when in reality, it is (for the majority) a self-control problem. Self control: yes, that crazy, outdated notion I’ve spoken of many times before. We are inundated with education but we choose not to learn. Real ‘learning’ would have resulted in a large-scale positive change in behavior, and of course, decline in obesity levels. It hasn’t. In fact, if there was a positive correlation between the increase in education and the decline of global obesity, then we would see virtually no obesity at all. But… if we wanted to be cheeky and use ‘selective science’ (as many ‘experts’ do), we could actually conclude that the increase in education may have resulted in the increase in obesity. After all, there is a direct relationship: more education, more obesity. Yes I’m being sarcastic, but you understand my point. When it comes to diet and exercise, we know what to do, but we don’t do what we know.
2. I am constantly amazed at our ability (as a society) to complicate the simple. How many more books, programs and breakthrough weight-loss discoveries do we need? Really? Here’s a wacky concept, increase energy expenditure (exercise, general activity) and decrease energy intake (stop eating so much crap). A little scientific I know, but hey, it just might work. Of course it’s simple, but it requires genuine and consistent effort. Simple, of course, not to be confused with ‘easy’. And therein lies the problem. Which leads me to point three.
3. Our obsession with the quick fix. We don’t wanna work for those results. We want someone or something to do it for us. We are precious and lazy. We are addicted to the shortcut. Give me the pill, powder, potion, product or surgeon that will make me beautiful. I am allergic to sweat and hard work it’s so ’1985′. We are a culture obsessed with ‘easy’ and sometimes creating amazing requires a little effort. Or a lot. And we hate that. Sorry about that. I’ll try and change it.
4. We love playing the ‘blame game’. We would rather justify, rationalize, explain and blame someone or something for our obesity, than take complete responsibility for our fat selves. Of course it’s not our fault. We are poor victims of situations, circumstances and genetics. So not fair. If what we do to our body (lifestyle, food, exercise) is the biggest influence on our level of fitness and fatness (which it is), then obesity is typically the result of poor decision making, rather than poor genetics. Even people with poor genetics can get in great shape, if they work with their genetics and manipulate the variables the right way.
5. I laugh when people get grumpy at me for telling the truth; what they don’t want to hear.“Okay John, it will only take two weeks to lose that hundred pounds and that huge gut you built over the last thirty years, and yes, it will be easy, fun and painless. You will definitely look incredible by next Tuesday. Wednesday, tops. In fact, just leave your body here; I’ll do it for you.”
6. I marvel that people pay thousands of dollars per year to walk/run on a treadmill with a built in TV, radio and fan, when they could get the same physiological benefit (or better) heading out their front door and returning thirty minutes later. No driving to the gym, no petrol costs, no waiting for machines, no travel time.
7. Our inability to finish things. We start jogging. We stop. We go on a diet. We go off it. We join a gym. We go five times. We make resolutions. We don’t follow through. We lose fat. We regain it. We start. We stop. We get fit. We get unfit. We operate on emotion. We always find a ‘reason’ to give up. We experience momentary motivation, but we never truly commit. Real commitment (“I will do this no matter what”) creates life-long change, not temporary weight loss or occasional fitness. We’re great at starting, crap at finishing.
8. The Victim. “But you don’t understand my life, body, time restraints, problems, situation, history, challenges, injuries, medical conditions.” Your problem isn’t your body; it’s your thinking. Get your mind in shape and your body will follow.
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