I’ve been thinking a lot about how the issue of obesity is treated as such an unbelievably complicated problem by health authorities, practitioners etc. It was even classified as a disease last month. It is a problem. A very big problem. But not one which I think is so impossible to fix.

I recently stumbled upon this excellent article which I’d like to share with you. In the article, Dr David L. Katz proposes a very interesting analogy. He compares the obesity epidemic we are experiencing with drowning, and makes some interesting observations on our different approaches to each of these dangers. I will summarize is as best I can in my own words here, but go ahead and check out his article here.

He starts off by acknowledging that obesity in some cases is a little more complicated than in others. Yes, there are people who eat healthily and exercise regularly who are obese. There are also people who eat atrociously and don’t get off their couches who are slim. And there is more to obesity than just food intake. There are issues to do with the microflora in our guts, hormonal imbalances, GMOs etc to take into consideration. But ultimately, even with these other factors, the issue really is not that complicated to address. Hard, maybe, but not complicated. It comes down largely to food. The quantity, but most importantly, the quality of what we put into our bodies on a daily basis.

He bases his analogy around the fact that we are figuratively drowning in a sea of calories, junk food and lack of physical activity. Like drowning, obesity is killing us, but unlike drowning, it is not killing us immediately, and therein lies the problem. When a child dives into an unprotected pool and drowns, it happens straight away. It is shocking and obvious and, understandably why so much care is taken to keep pools safe. There MUST be rules at local pools and all sorts of strict measures taken – to ensure that such travesties do not occur. Makes sense right? Why would we accept that anyone should die through such a needless and easily prevented accident?

And yet when it comes to obesity – something that is killing millions of people every year – we view it as so complicated and impossible to treat.

Very few people actually drown nowadays. Not because we have become better swimmers, or because we have learnt how to breathe under water, but because there are boundaries in place to protect us. Fences are put up to keep little children away from the water’s edge, huge signs are erected to inform us of the danger of a large body of water, and life-guards are kept firmly in place.

But imagine if drowning were treated in the same way as the problem of obesity. All the fences removed (after all we should be able to make our own choices about whether to avoid falling in), swimming pools were placed on every corner, wide open to the public (everyone should have access, even those who can’t swim, right?), huge colorful signs were put up, encouraging young children to jump straight into the deep end and, hey why not, dive to the bottom to get that shiny toy we’ve put there to entice them.
Ludicrous right? We’d have people drowning left, right and center.

But isn’t that what is happening with obesity? People dying left, right and center? Only, they aren’t dying straight away, which means we can conveniently turn a blind eye and lose sight of the fact that the foods they are eating ARE, in fact, slowly and inexorably leading them towards that premature death. We happily make junk food available on every street corner, way more so than real foods. These foods are usually cheaper than real food, so the financial barrier (or “fence”) is taken away, and adverts are plastered all over television inviting children to “dive in” to that breakfast cereal with the shiny toy at the bottom.

And yet we say that obesity is a problem that individuals need to take accountability for themselves. Hey, we can exercise self-restraint, can’t we? We don’t HAVE to eat that cereal for breakfast or those donuts for dessert! It would be a travesty for authorities to try and “control” what we eat, right? We’ve survived this far! Wait… have we?! Not really. Clearly something is not working, but it really is not that complicated.

If everyone began eating a real food diet today, I guarantee you that we would cut obesity down by 90% in just a few years. But how do we change our eating habits when most of what we’re exposed to, in terms of food, is processed junk? And yes, that includes what advertisers call, “healthy” foods. Most things with a label telling you its “healthy” are anything but. We’re being fed, literally, platefuls of slow-acting poison, and yet we happily keep eating the stuff because it is readily available, it’s cheap and we’re told to keep eating it. Oh, and it tastes SO DARN GOOD! And it’s not as though we become obese or keel over and die immediately. (Imagine if 2 minutes after we ate that bagel we’d see 2 extra inches added to our waist-line?)

Human beings, when it comes to food, are not as smart or self-controlled as we like to think we are. This is not because we aren’t born smart or self-controlled, but rather because these foods mess with our brains, and very often actually act like drugs in our systems. Our ability to make healthy choices are slowly weakened as our bodies succumb to the addictions brought on by products and chemicals not designed for human consumption. We are whacked out by sugar, ‘high’ on processed wheat and mentally impaired by thousands of artificial chemicals coursing through our systems, and we wonder why it’s tough to then make reasonable choices. We no longer even know (or LIKE) what real food tastes (or feels) like because it doesn’t give us the same ‘high’ as all those refined, shiny ‘foods’.

The number of people I know who look at my usual plate of vegetables and delicious organic grassfed meat and actually feel sorry for me, saying “oh you poor thing eating that healthy stuff all the time – you must feel so deprived” is incredible. The same people who gape at my ability to politely turn down that wheat/sugar/rancid-oil filled donut on offer at work. It’s now easy for me because the stuff isn’t in my system, messing with my ability to make that choice. But, trust me, after a spoonful of store-bought, sugar-filled ice-cream, even this guy couldn’t hold me back from diving head-first back into the tub, so I am not always the queen of self-control you see before you.
And it is the same for most people – it really isn’t easy. It’s like trying to get a crack-addict to quietly walk past a table loaded with the finest crack on the market, and not partake. And yes, this analogy is extreme. But not all that much of an exaggeration. I believe food to be every bit as addictive (and ultimately) harmful as many class A drugs.

Maybe it is time someone put up some fences around these foods, took them off the street corners, and actively warned us about the dangers therein?