On Tuesday evening, I decided to watch the documentary ‘Supersize Me’ by Morgan Spurlock as I drank my cup of fennel tea and munched on some chocolate, which is most certainly not in my diet plan. This is a documentary I had seen before back in 2007 or some time around then, a couple of years after it was released. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fast food lover. To summarise it in a sentence or two for those of you who have not seen it, Morgan decides to eat only McDonald’s for thirty days and the effects that this fast food binge has on his body are shocking. The documentary brings to light not only the dangers of consuming fast food on a regular basis, but also the obesity epidemic in the United States amongst adults, adolescents, and most terrifyingly of all, children. There are a couple of scenes which really stand out to me after re-watching this almost a decade later. The first scene is of a group of children depicted in a middle school setting, who are choosing french fries, potato chips, cakes, and extremely sugary beverages for their lunches. The second scene is of several individuals, both adults and children, who cannot explain what a calorie is and what it measures. Furthermore, the schools in the documentary are stocked with vending machines which make sodas, potato chips, candy bars, and other unhealthy snacks, readily available for children who are in an environment where their food and beverage consumption is not as strictly monitored as perhaps it should be. What do these three scenes highlight as a real issue in today’s education system? There is a genuine lack of good quality nutrition education in our schools, and children are not being empowered to make good decisions when it comes to their own dietary needs and food consumption. However, there is another stand-out scene in which a mother is being depicted with her extremely-overweight daughter as they sob over the fact that they can’t afford to buy two Subway sandwiches a day and be slim like Jared the Subway Guy. What does this tell us? The ownership is on the parents, as well as the education system, to make sure they are informed about nutrition so that they can feed their children healthy, nutritious foods and raise a family free from health problems.
When I was nineteen years old and toppling the scale at almost 210 lbs (95kg), my mother looked at me with a sadness in her eyes and said, “I don’t want you to have a weight problem when you are still so young.” This memory will stick with me for the rest of my life, because at the time, I didn’t think I had a “weight issue” but looking back, I was putting my health at serious risk. Public Health England predicts that by 2050, 1 in 4 children in the UK will be classified as obese. In the United States, currently, more than one third of adults are considered obese. When are we going to wake up and start thinking about what we are eating, rather than consuming, and not questioning, what is put on our plate? We are trimming years off our life span and putting ourselves at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and ultimately, death. There is one thing that really stands out for me as a primary cause of this obesity epidemic; we have become a culture of convenience and we rate convenience, speed, and efficiency, more highly than our own health. Fast food has become predominantly drive-thru, supermarket aisles are stacked with more tinned and boxed meals than fresh ingredients, vending machines more accessible than ever in shopping malls, parking lots, and even inside actual supermarket stores, so that we can get a ‘quick fix’ whenever we need it. We are more pressed for time than ever before and we need to cram more and more into our busy day, getting less down-time and less sleep, so that we can ultimately be more productive. Americans eat out an average of 4-5 times a week. In 2013, research showed that the UK population is consuming more take-a-way meals than ever before, with Chinese (and lets face it, most of this “food” is not Chinese at all) being the nation’s favourite, probably because it is packed with more sugar than any other meal choice. When we don’t cook our meals, how can we know what is in them? Do you know what oils were used in the process of cooking your egg-fried rice? Do you know what ingredients are in the frozen chicken wings you ate at KFC? Do you know how many types of meat were used in the manufacturing process of the hot dog you ate at the movie theatre last week?
After chatting with one of my Scandinavian friends recently, she remarked on how ridiculous it is that some people actually believe that potato chips are one of your five a day. I retorted with a joke about how the FDA have classified pizza as a vegetable. Then I realised that, I used to be one of those people; the ones who are completely misinformed. Why was I misinformed? I believed most of what I was told by parents, friends and TV, and I never questioned it. I was the girl that sat and gobbled up a plate of Fettucine Alfredo with lobster thinking that because it was lobster, which was a seafood, it must be healthy. I was the girl that dipped her bread in olive oil and parmesan cheese and thought, “this must be a much healthier option than french fries.” I was that person who thought that having a side salad, which was basically iceberg lettuce smothered in a ranch dressing, before my main course meant that I was being “healthy.” Let’s think about what “healthy” really means for a second. If you are to classify something as being “healthy,” you are essentially maintaining that it will somehow benefit your health. If you are to classify something as being “unhealthy,” you are essentially saying it will have a harmful effect on your health. If you apply this concept to everything you eat, you will completely re-evaluate your nutrition and food consumption. But for this to work, you have to start learning about food and nutrition, and you MUST be honest with yourself. Stop eating, and living, in denial. Start asking questions and start doing your research*. (*Also, follow me on Instagram and Facebook as I am constantly posting articles, tips, advice, and sharing the things that I am learning!)
The internet, and mobile internet, has put the power in our hands as consumers to start educating ourselves about what we eat. Apps such as MyFitnessPal allow us to measure the amount of fat, sugar, protein, nutrients, and calories in most of the foods we consume. There are a wealth of doctors, nutritionists, and scientists who write blogs about food, diet, fitness and weight loss. Fitness gurus have shared some of their best tips for staying fit, getting stronger, and shedding fat. There is literally no excuse to be overweight or obese. You can choose to sit back, be angry, and believe what you are told, or you can choose to question everything, read the ingredients, research what you are eating and start taking better care of your body. I am not advocating ‘obsession’ and calorie-counting; I am recommending that you start educating yourself about nutrition like I started doing when I realised that nobody else was going to teach me. Take control of your health and you will thank yourself for it. It is never too late to change and no matter where your starting point is, 150, 250 or 350 lbs, you WILL achieve your goals if you genuinely want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Don’t compare yourself to other people and build your own online, and offline, support network. Never stop learning, never stop caring and never stop trying!