Editorial We All Have Too Much On Our Plates

Americans are fat. It’s a documented fact that obesity is a growing problem in our society, and yet Americans are also the culture that diets the most. What is getting lost in the translation between what we are told to do to lose weight and stay healthy, and what we are actually doing?


As Dr. Chris Keroack of the Weldon Rehabilitation Center’s Weight Management Program put it, “Americans are the only people in the world who try to lose weight by eating.” And evidence to back up Keroack’s belief is everywhere, neatly packaged in every aisle of every grocery store, emblazoned with promises of ‘Only 6 Net Carbs,’ ‘Zero Trans Fat,’ or ‘Just 60 Calories Per Serving.’ We pack our shopping carts to overflowing with these products, we diligently count our carbs and calories, and we make sure ‘low-fat’ precedes the name of everything we eat, from chicken to chocolate.

But we can’t seem to get it right.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 61{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of Americans are overweight. CDC researchers say that while Americans have cut their fat intake, and have begun eating lower-calorie foods, they are still consuming too many calories, and not participating in physical activity.

So it seems that the notion of ‘eat less, move more’ has been lost on many of us, overshadowed by trademarked diet plans that promise fast results and smaller waist sizes.
Those kinds of promises are not a new phenomenon in American culture. Miracle diets, foods, drugs, and supplements have been touted since the inception of the advertising business, but one thing that has changed in recent years is some of these fad diets – Atkins, South Beach, The Zone – and supplements containing stimulants like ephedra or caffeine, actually work – sort of.

When a lifelong dieter suddenly sees a friend shed 20 pounds and swear a popular diet trend is the reason, for instance, it is likely that she might try that method, too, and see some results. The problem is, many of these diets are eradicating important nutrients from the menu, and some of those stimulants have proven dangerous. But we keep trying them, because we think, this one might be it. This one is the silver bullet that is going to make me thin and healthy, and keep me that way.

The cause for that mentality is two-fold: Americans have gotten so far away from healthy nutrition and overall fitness, a lot of us don’t really know what healthy is anymore. In addition, with the line between science and savvy salesmanship blurred (how many of us are quietly trying to calculate the ‘net effective carb’ ratio in that can of soup in an effort to fit into our size 8 jeans?) we don’t know what to believe anymore, either.

In short, Americans are overloaded, oversold, overwhelmed, and overweight.

And the recipe for staying healthy is so simple, according to area nutrition experts, it often gets overlooked. Dietitians and physicians agree that a sensible diet – a phrase we hear often, but may not truly understand – includes a balance of all the nutrients a body needs to function optimally and pays attention to ‘portion distortion’ – another largely American phenomenon that has taught us in recent years that a serving of pasta should fill a standard-sized plate, a muffin should be the size of your head, and a soda is unacceptable at anything less than 20 ounces. In reality, the average American is eating three-times as much as is recommended at a given meal.

And after that meal, most of us aren’t going for a brisk walk to reach the recommended 10,000 steps per day to maintain good heart health. Instead, the bulk of Americans hover around 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day. Perhaps we are sitting at home wondering why we can’t seem to lose weight.

Dietitians, nutritionists, and doctors alike are telling their patients to increase their physical activity and decrease their caloric intake, and are making sound, time-tested recommendations as to how to do it. Area experts say it’s easy, it makes sense, and healthy people have relied on a steady diet of grains, meats, vegetables and dairy, along with daily exercise, for centuries.

The problem lately, though, is that few people, especially those who yet to receive a scare brought on by concerns about cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, or another ailment, are listening to their advice.

And as the search for the next big thing in dieting continues, Americans are still wondering why the last fad didn’t quite work for them.

Perhaps the experts should market a glossy, hyped-up diet plan of their own, and call it We Told You So.