I just got back from Disneyland. Fun trip. Also a bit of a shock, in one regard.
America is fat. Seriously fat. The number of people I saw who were disabled by weight problems was disheartening and saddening.
In the Bay Area, it’s easy to forget this fact. On average, we’re thinner here. It’s not because we’re morally superior or have more willpower. It’s because we have access to fresh food, and we live in a microculture that encourages healthy eating, organic food, and exercise.
Most Americans aren’t so lucky.
What I realized, looking around at my fellow Americans, is that to eat a decent diet in most parts of the country is an act of rebellion. To eat well (real, high quality food), the average American is rebelling against:
- what most restaurants have available on their menus
- packaged items advertised as “food” on television
- 9 out of 10 aisles in the average grocery store
- cultural conditioning
- the fattening and hormone-disrupting foods our government subsidizes (sugar, corn, wheat, soy, etc.)
- in many cases, what your family serves for dinner
There are thousands of voices telling you to eat the wrong foods: pseudo-foods that won’t support your health; packaged foods that will make you fat (or fatter); Franken-foods that will leave you with no energy and feeling depressed.
It was a wake-up call for me … I had forgotten how bad it was out there in mainstream America. I want to reach out to U.S. readers who are struggling with weight (some of you have contacted me personally), and who may not have access to the culture of good food that is so readily available in the Bay Area and other health-conscious parts of the country.
Words of encouragement to those who would like to lose 30 or more pounds of fat (at least half the adults I saw in Disneyland could easily lose this much):
- In most of the United States, the deck is stacked against you in terms of eating well. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. U.S. food culture is changing, slowly. You can be part of that change.
- To make a change in your diet, health, and life, you will need to commit 100% to the process. To do this, take some time to consider the consequences of not changing your diet (Type 2-diabetes, reduced virility, reduced mobility, early death) and also the rewards if you do change (improved energy, physical attractiveness, self-confidence, better health, better sex life, longer life).
- Once you commit to a change, you will get friction from your family and friends who may feel that you are judging them. Make it clear that you are just trying to get healthier, and that they do whatever they want with their own bodies, and that you are going to eat real food regardless. (Secret: if you stick with it, they’ll eventually follow)
- Your first step, which will yield massive results, should be to eliminate or greatly reduce refined carbohydrates. This includes high-fructose corn syrup (soda), white flour (bread, pastry, donuts, etc.), and sugar (ice-cream, candy bars, etc.). If you only make one change, it should be this one. You might have a rough couple of days while your body adjusts to not having a massive flow of sugar available at all times, but you’ll adjust.
- To get your (fat-burning) liver in good shape, go easy on the alcohol. A 40-day reset was helpful for me. Beer is good, but beer is not your friend.
- Second in importance (after removing/reducing refined carbs) is getting rid of processed oils that oxidize easily, promoting inflammation, chronic disease, and weight gain. These include vegetable oils like corn oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, other seed oils, and trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils). I’m guessing that for most Americans, the biggest sources of these oils are french fries, popcorn, and chips.
- What should you eat instead? Fresh fruits and vegetables, good fats (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, unsalted nuts and seeds, avocado), and humanely raised animal products (the “humanely raised” is not only to be a good person, but free-roaming, grass-eating animals tend to be healthier, happier, and more healthful when you eat them, especially in terms of omega-3 fatty acid content). If you don’t have access to grass-fed meat and free-range poultry and eggs, consider supplementing your diet with fish oil (for omega-3 fatty acids), or eating more fish (but only eat wild-caught, low-mercury fish, like sardines and wild salmon).
- Don’t replace refined carbs and classic desserts with massive amounts of “natural” fructose. Eating an apple or a square of dark chocolate is fine. Skip the 12oz. glass of OJ or big handful of raisins or granola bar. Lots of fructose is hard on your liver and will slow or prevent fat loss.
- What about grains and beans? This is not the post where I tell you to go paleo. Unless you have serious digestive or autoimmunity issues, eat small amounts of properly-cooked beans, and lower-gluten grains like oats and rice. Organic whole-grain (or even partially whole-grain) sourdough bread may be fine too. Consuming grains and beans (neolithic/agricultural foods, which our bodies have had less evolutionary time to adjust to) are fine, for most people, in moderation (but if these foods give you digestive issues, get your complex carbs from starchy vegetables instead).
- Get your gut bacteria working for you. Your gut biome will change as your diet changes, but you can fast-track a healthy gut biome (which will help you burn fat and improve your mood) by eating probiotic foods like raw sauerkraut and plain kefir.
- Reduce your exposure to bisphenol-A and other hormone-disrupting chemicals. Common exposure sources are plastic water bottles, packaged foods, canned foods with plastic linings (soups, tomatoes), and thermal receipts (BPA can be absorbed through the skin).
- If you have a deep emotional attachment to a food, eat that food once in awhile. Even eating it once a week probably won’t hurt you, as long as the rest of your diet is good. It makes sense to eliminate foods that you don’t actually enjoy that much first.
- Don’t think in terms of dieting. Think in terms of permanent positive changes to the way you eat. Think in terms of nourishing your body, mind, and spirit.
- Find out what works for you, in terms of your taste preferences, cultural upbringing, budget, food sensitivities, ethical standards, etc. Do it your way.
There are no magic weight loss supplements. Diuretics, stimulants, and laxatives will all harm your health — don’t take them. Some supplements may support weight loss by reducing inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, and improving liver function. If you don’t have a negative reaction (try them one at a time so you know), the following might be helpful:
- fish oil (2-4g/day, depending on body weight)
- vitamin D (2000-4000IU day, depending on body weight)
- chromium picolinate (up to 200mcg/day, support insulin sensitivity)
- milk thistle (support liver function)
I’m not a doctor, and you should consult yours before taking any supplements.
What About Exercise?
Yes, exercise! Exercise is great for you. But in terms of losing fat, diet is at least 80% of the equation. Most people would lose fat just by walking around Disneyland if the diet part of the equation was looking better.
I think the key to a successful exercise program is finding a physical activity that you enjoy, and that is easy to do. Then do it every day.
One More Voice
I realize that there are at least 1000 blog posts offering this exact same advice. But seeing how massive of an obesity problem we still have in this country, I can’t be silent. Even if this post only helps one person lose five pounds, it will still have been worth it to me to write it.
Mainstream food culture in the U.S. still sucks. For those of you who don’t have local access to good food culture, I feel for you! Until your local culture changes, find what you need on the internet (places to buy good food, recipes, health information, like-minded folks), and keep your own standards high.
It’s rough out there. Don’t give up. Raise your standards. Corporations and government will follow where the people lead. So rebel against the bad food that makes us sick and fat. Together, we can change the USA from the land of the fat to the land of the strong.