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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Why Are We Fat?


December 08, 2008

Weight Management
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Basics
Why Are We Fat?
Why Are We Fat?
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To lose weight you need to increase activity and decrease calories. If only losing weight were this simple.
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InteliHealth
2008-12-08
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InteliHealth Medical Content
2010-12-08

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The short answer is too much food and not enough activity.

To lose weight you need to increase activity and decrease calories. Theoretical equations sound so easy, don't they? But if losing weight really were this simple, why does the collective girth of the United States continue to grow?

What's behind this growth? Two societal shifts — one in employment and one in eating habits — appear to hold the answer. Today, more people than ever work at sedentary jobs. Rows of office cubicles filled with immobile bodies have replaced rows of soil with people digging and planting and fertilizing as they till the fields. Even activity-intense manufacturing jobs, which once amounted to veritable eight-hour workouts, have largely left our shores.

These employment shifts are great for business, but the downside to performing mental work rather than physical work is that our national body has turned flabby. Staying in shape used to be a no-brainer, the happy byproduct of a working life. Now it requires a commitment to an after-hours exercise program, one that steals time away from family and leisure. Shift No. 2 is the country's ever-increasing reliance on fatty convenience foods, which have all but swept traditional well-balanced meals off the family dinner table. The healthful shape of the Food Pyramid has been replaced by the unhealthful shapes of buckets (from take-out chicken), boxes (from Happy Meals) and bags (from drive-thru windows). Even dinners prepared at home can contain high amounts of fat when folks rely on prepared packaged foods, such as vegetables in cheese sauces and meal-in-a-boil-bag entrees.

When losing means winning

"In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest."

Author Henry Miller said that, and although he wasn't talking specifically about exercise and wise food choices, his words fit the subject well. By now, most people know that fad diets and get-thin quick schemes don't last. In the same way that you didn't become good at your job overnight or a skilled parent by reading a book in a single weekend, you can't become the healthy, fit person you want to be in an instant. Only long-term change can do that. When exercising becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth, and when thinking about what's on your plate becomes as automatic as looking both ways before crossing the street, that's when lasting change will occur.

 

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