Recently, the News Bulletin reported that nearly two-thirds of Okaloosa County adults are overweight or obese, according to county health department records.
The paper received some unexpected response to the report. “Not everyone is Kim Kardashian,” some said; “not everyone is a Barbie doll.”
Our differences — having our own bodies, personalities and passions — make us unique.
However, in this case, emotion shouldn’t drown facts.
Fight the PC
Often, we see pop culture celebrate dysfunctional attitudes or lifestyles. (Honey Boo Boo, anyone?) Unfortunately, jokes cloud the underlying issues, and the distraction prevents the discussion that should happen in this country.
Other times, distraction comes from a deceptively life affirming — but ultimately self-defeating — message: one that celebrates the problem in the name of self-esteem.
Loving one’s self is crucial before one truly can love others. But does confusing the issue, taking pride in an unhealthy lifestyle merely bandage a more serious problem?
That question opens a politically incorrect can of worms. Nevertheless, people should fight the PC blinders and have an honest conversation.
Physical fitness isn’t necessarily about body image, nor is it about beauty, although ancient ideals and various cultures or individuals, to this day, glorify exuberance for the wealth it suggested or physical attraction.
Rather, it’s about health.
Nearly two-thirds of Okaloosa adults are overweight or obese, 35.2 percent and 28.8 percent, respectively, according to a 2011 report, the latest available data.
And that’s not all. The health department derived data from hospital records. No data is available for those without health care, so you can bet there’s a margin of error.
Obesity — having a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or more — is linked to diabetes, coronary heart disease, breathing problems, sleeping disorders and some cancers.
These consequences should be reason enough to ignore enabling political correctness, end the excuses and start the conversation.
Factors in weight
Several factors increase our chances of overeating, according to Harvard Health Publications’ “Why People Become Overweight.”
Some people have a genetic predisposition to be overweight; most people have so-called thrifty genes, a fat storage adaptation from our ancestors’ lean times; and then there are controllable influences like the temptation of ever-present food, snacking mindlessly before a TV and emotional eating.
Some people will need a doctor’s help, drugs or surgery in their quest for physical fitness. However, many people can take action today and get results.
The first step is acknowledging the problem.
We all fall into the trap.
Last Thursday, after a late work night, I wanted to go home, microwave something, plop on the couch and decompress with a good movie.
But as Harvard’s report notes, sedentary eating is a bad idea.
I started with a plate of grilled chicken, two dinner rolls and a glass of soda — and escalated, as the movie progressed, to some glasses of milk, countless potato crisps, licorice and assorted dark chocolates.
The Blu-ray, “City Island,” was a sweet comedy about a Bronx family with secrets and trust issues. A subplot involves a skinny teenager’s fetish for feeding obese women. Though a love interest unaware of this obsession initially thinks he’s ridiculing her when suggesting a grocery shopping date, she eventually realizes the truth and they come together.
The overall message of acceptance is sweet, but glorifying objectively unhealthy lifestyles — the teenager uses his mother’s credit card to access a webcam site featuring obese women cooking — is not.
The irony of realizing this while gorging on junk food was not lost.
The next day, I began a new diet and fitness program. The days of washboard abs and a 33-inch waist were long gone, but that wasn’t what inspired me: too many days of lazily plopping on the couch and eating forgettable junk food did.
There had to be a better way, I thought. And I had been taught better.
Having a brother who studied a couple of years in Europe, traveling the world over and understanding eating and living well, perhaps, more than many Americans helped.
New Year’s dinnertime, for instance, began with hors d'oeuvres — brie cheese on made-from-scratch bread and figs — with red wine. It progressed to the dining room table, with a balsamic vinegar-laden salad, ginger-spiced salmon, cooked asparagus and pinot grigio.
Everything but the salmon and asparagus was an acquired taste, especially for an American conditioned to tasty but unhealthy food. For my brother, it’s a way of life.
You’ll never find a soda in his refrigerator; there’s just organic milk.
You’ll never find a bag of potato chips or pointless junk food in the pantry; just pistachios, walnuts or dates.
If it’s daytime, no light is on unless there are guests.
If it’s nighttime, no light is on because that’s nature’s signal that it’s time to sleep; artificial lighting just messes with our circadian rhythms, a fancy reference to our 24-hour biological clock.
So the utility bill is incredibly low, and a good night’s sleep and healthy diet provide plenty of energy for regular runs and exercise.
This lifestyle requires the will to ignore a culture that celebrates excess in every form, but raises quality over quantity.
If you save money on utility bills, ignore credit cards’ temptations and spend responsibly, you can save more and make quality purchases, without debt’s stress.
It’s living well, but not how most people think.
And since you are what you eat, why not consider a new diet?
Companies pay millions of dollars on research to addict people to their products’ taste.
Understanding that the food we eat tastes good but isn’t good for us is the first step to smashing the junk food illusion.
Then, it’s mind over matter — again, those figs and cheese-and-bread appetizers had me shamefully long for pigs in a blanket, but I got used to them.
It’s tough because farm-fresh, organic or foods we prepare ourselves aren’t necessarily the tastiest.
But because they are portioned and we know their exact ingredients, they can be the healthiest.
Take a journey
Let your meals be about the journey rather than the destination; it’s a lesson I keep reminding myself.
Saturday night, I cooked whole-wheat pasta mixed with carrots, garlic, olive oil and parsley; seasoned French green beans and bacon with black pepper and butter for a side; and poured a half-glass of sauvignon blanc.
I abided by a dieter’s guide and measured 1 cup for each the pasta and side before preparing them on a dish.
Rather than placing the meal on a tray and plopping on the couch, I pulled up a bar stool, said grace, embraced the silence and realized this was no ordinary meal: it was an event.
Taking time to savor each bite, swirling and smelling the wine, forgetting about time and filling up, focus was on the sensual experience.
And food, regardless of what it is, never tastes better.
When advertisements for fast food or potato chips tempt, why not consider whether to spend your hard-earned dollars unwrapping an overpriced cheeseburger or addicting snack or to truly decompress, cook, portion and savor your food — with plenty of leftovers.
Some foods, lifestyle choices and ideas inspire me, but find what works for you.
The Okaloosa County Extension office can help: See Extension Connection for an upcoming online class and 2013 health and wealth challenge.
Contact News Bulletin Editor Thomas Boni at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbeditor.