How hard can it be?

It’s interesting, and sad. We’re in a massive obesity epidemic; overall, about 1 in 4 adults in the US are considered obese, and that number is growing. About one in ten are diabetic, and the numbers there are staggering, with an expectation that half of Americans will be diabetic by 2020, and  there are estimates that in the next couple of decades, that could rise to one in three.

And yet, do you have any idea how often someone suggests to me all I need to do is put less on my plate? eat less? exercise more? Simple concepts, which, in fact, fail miserably and have for years for wide swaths of humanity.

Here’s a hint: if it was that simple, I’d have probably figured it out by now and done it. (yes, I’m back on the “it’s complicated” meme again. sorry. but it IS).

This is just the latest facet of the damned Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” mentality, where simple platitudes make you feel like you’re accomplishing something, when in fact, you aren’t. Just say no doesn’t work for drugs, it doesn’t work for teenage sex, it doesn’t work for alcohol or smoking or eating. Real life isn’t that simple. If it was, you wouldn’t need to keep running around yelling “just say no” to people, they’d figure it out on their own. But I guess it makes people feel better. Too bad they don’t actually see if it works before building it into government policy…

Okay, enough ranting. well, maybe. I wanted to share some stuff I’ve run into that may help you understand just how complicated this is. Right now, we’re spending billions of dollars on research into obesity between government programs and medical/pharma industry (because they know if they can figure this out, there’s a goldmine on the other end that’ll make Viagra look like a generic pill). The fact is, obesity is winning, because there are no simple cures. And researchers are seeing this in their research.

I’ve been doing some research into what they’re learning and what’s going on out there, and I’m finding a lot of this fascinating. Hope you do, too.

For instance, there’s good data that at least some obesity might be happening because of a virus. So you might have caught a bug, and it’s decided it wants its host fat and happy, and it doesn’t care what you think.

One of my pet peeves is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Don’t get me started. (too late). The food industry keeps telling us it’s okay, there’s nothing to worry about. They so believe in the product they’re trying to change the name (so they can maybe hide from the increasingly bad news about it) for a few more years. But some studies have shown a correlation between the growth in diabetes and insulin dependence tracks on a line that matches the growth in the use of HFCS, and more and more research is calling it into question. For instance, an interesting rat study at Princeton showed that rats gained more weight on Corn Syrup than they did on sugar, even when they were fed the same number of calories (now, you have to be careful translating animal studies to human, they rarely are perfect analogs, and you have to be careful about dosage issues and whether the uses are rational for comparing in humans — if it would take 30 pounds of sugar a day in humans, there are bigger problems…). By the way, these rats showed classic signs of metabolic syndrome (a precursor to diabetes) and increased tryglycerides. Another study out of Florida showed the same issues using fructose instead of sucrose (fruit sugars). And the bottom line? Well, according to the folks at Harvard, here it is: The combined findings demonstrated a 26% higher risk of developing diabetes type 2 and a 20% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome among people who consumed 1 to 2 sugary drinks per day, compared to individuals whose monthly maximum was just one such drink. Even daily consumption of just one 12-ounce sugary drink raised diabetes type 2 risk by approximately 15%.

Still want that Coke or Pepsi? If so, make it a diet.

Other things impact obesity and weight loss. Feeling depressed? Are you getting enough sleep? Urban living, where you run into pollution, seems to be a factor. And there’s growing evident that, in some cases, your genes do it to you. So can snoring, although what I believe they’re really seeing here is sleep apnea, for which severe snoring is a key symptom.

Fortunately, progress is being made. One thing that seems to make a difference is to move from refined carbs back to complex ones. So look at your carb sources, and work to shift back to whole grains. There’s also research showing that more protein helps. Remember my note yesterday about shifting more to turkey and a higher percentage of protein? Guess why?

Science is starting to understand that diets don’t work; that it’s about lifestyle change (hmm, didn’t I say that recently?) A hot trend is forcing restaurants to display nutritional information (hey! just say no!) — too bad it doesn’t seem to work. wish they’d studied it before implementing those laws, but heck, they probably feel better because they did something.

There’s good news out there, too. A little bit of alcohol helps fight metabolic diseases. If you get rid of sweetened breakfast cereals and go with unsweetened ones, your kids will likely go for the fruit to sweeten it, not sugar (so no more count chocula!) And, of course, getting up and moving around is a good idea. Diet alone isn’t enough, you need to add in the fitness aspect. grumpy knees or no.

What do I take out of all of this?

Well, here’s my “I am not a lawyer” thing: I’m a layman. I’m studying this so I can better understand how to fix my own situation. I’m sharing this so you don’t need to put the time in to find this stuff on your own. But — I’m a layman. So talk to your doctor about this stuff, and have them help you figure out what it means for your situation, because your situation is different than mine. And — believe it or not — I might be wrong here.

But… having said that…

As many changes as I’ve made in my life in the last few years, I still have a ways to go. and what this research gives me some hints on things that are useful options.

I gave up most corn syrup years ago; it’s empty, wasted calories. If you haven’t — stop. Now. I love unsweetened iced tea, fortunately, and in fact over the last few years I’ve done a good job of retraining myself away from a nasty sweet tooth in general. But HFCS sweetened fluids are the first thing my doctor told me to nuke, and he was right. There’s an amazing amount of calories there, and it adds nothing to your diet BUT calories. I’m not someone who is in the “no tolerance” camp for corn syrup, because in american society it’s practically impossible and I’m not going Vegan any time soon (heck, with my allergies, I don’t think I CAN, honestly, even if I wanted to), but whenever I have a choice, I choose away from fructose in general, and high yield corn syrup as much as possible.

After that, where I can, I’m trying to eat whole grains over refined grains. I’m trying to eat more lean protein and less fat and a managed set of carbs. Where I eat carbs, I’m trying to eat complex ones over simple ones (that’s a whole different discussion for later). I avoid trans-fats and processed fats in favor of natural ones (butter rules). And yes, Laurie and I still enjoy a bottle of wine here and there, and I am still known to drink an occasional single malt. But my alcohol usage is probably averaging about 1/3 glass a day or less over a period of a week. AND I’m trying to build up the exercise program.

So in my grand scheme of “fix one thing at a time, and fix it permanently” school of building up a new set of healthier lifestyle habits, the first one I recomment to you is to learn to like unsweetened beverages. Or at the very least, diet — if you tolerate aspartame okay. (I don’t, but I don’t mind using splenda).

One goal I set for myself, and I’ve found it to be a useful one, is to work to make every calorie be worth it — we tend to eat a lot of crap that frankly doesn’t taste that good, merely because it’s there. And a lot of that crap is bad for you. And yes, the occasional In-N-Out burger is “worth it” and so it the occasional Kit-Kat Bar, at least in my universe. but the key word there is occasional, and if you stop and think through what you eat, you’ll probably find a lot of stuff going into the mouth not because it’s tasty or good, but because it’s there. And that’s a good place to start your thinking (well, after you nuke the sugared sodas). And for that, the food diary is king, because it forces you to be conscious of what you’re eating, and once you get conscious of what you’re eating, you’ll probably start thinking to yourself “why the hell am I eating THIS?”

And that starts you down the path to eating better….

okay, I’ve probably ranted about this enough for you all for now, so time to shift to something else. but we’re not done here, are we?

Nah. didn’t think so…

update: This article on diabetes just came out. 26 Million people in the U.S. are diabetic, and another 79 Million are pre-diabetic. 8% of America is Diabetic, and a third of the U.S. adult population is pre-diabetic now. wow. (for comparison, the population of the state of California is roughly 37 million, so we’re talking about 3X that impacted here).Â