Saturday, March 5, 2011

America's Biggest Failing

The other day I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with a random stranger at the deli counter in our local supermarket.  I'm generally antisocial, but this guy was a cheerful fellow.  Here in Houston we have more than our share of obese people and while obesity affects all classes, races, genders and ages.  However, the highest risk group here tends to be African-American middle-aged or older men who don't have any postsecondary education and who live in poorer neighborhoods.  The exact sort of demographic this gentlemen fell into, in other words.

But whatever one may say about his formal education, he was an intelligent and well spoken guy.  A couple of years ago his doctor told him (at 280 pounds) that he needed to lose some weight or face an early grave.  When we had our brief chat, he was at a healthy-looking 215.  He'd done little things to his diet - cut out fast food, otherwise not eat junk food, etc. - and was maintaining his weight by living the same principles.  What's more, his formerly obese son was now a track athlete with at least a shot at a college scholarship and his daughter was well on her way to dropping her weight as well.  A great feel-good story.

It got me a bit mad, though.  Why should a guy have to wait for a doctor's prompting at 45 to learn about how to run his own body?  Why, at 32, was I still completely unaware of how to properly determine what I eat?  Why are there scores of people in the country that don't understand how what they take in affects how they look and feel?

Nothing has made this more apparent than the questions of a coworker.  This guy is intelligent, has education equal to mine, and is concerned about his health.  Yet he doesn't know how diet works.  He stops by my office frequently to discuss, ask questions, and get a sense of what he should be eating to reach his goals.

People often think I can eat whatever I want - or even say that I am lucky to be so skinny (the latter didn't know me three years ago).  This is not true at all.  I'm very careful about what I eat and how much of it.  But it took me a lot of study before I figured it out.  Weight maintenance (which I like better than the term "weight loss") isn't all about knowledge, of course - willpower is needed as well - but it seems that very few people even have the knowledge, getting lost in a sea of advertising and buzzwords.  And that's just sad.

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