Now We're Talking 2: Time and Obesity

>> Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Given that the Mother and I have just about beat the healthcare issue to death, lets continue with other aspects of the original post. We mentioned, in the comments, that obesity is exploding in prevalence, that it's like an epidemic across our country, and specifically our country.


I'm not the first to speculate (and I'm not a doctor, so this is pure speculation), but I'm going to anyway. One of the potential culprits is the ubiquitous corn syrup, particularly in sodas swilled by the liter. Add zillions of fast food restaurants around every corner, an addiction to the automobile so that even skinny people often drive to the gym (and everywhere else), and it's not hard to find some of the culprits.

But I think one of the main culprits is time or, more specifically, the lack of it. Let me explain. When I was in the Netherlands for a conference, several years ago, I was struck by the different pacing. Grocery stores closed at 5:30. Lunches were leisurely and dinner might last hours. I've been back to Europe twice since and I've seen the same thing both times...with the exception of people on the road in Rome (Holy Hell, driving in Rome is scary!), people aren't in a rush. They linger over coffee and take hours for dinner. For our gala dinner (as part of the conference), I got there at 7 pm and had the car coming for me at 11. I missed desert and the awards by leaving "early" after just four hours.

A generation or so ago, people didn't drive everywhere. Cars weren't ubiquitous. We didn't spend hours on the phone. Many families didn't have one or they had a party line they had to share. We did sports or walked or read books or listened to the radio, but our days were often not full despite longer days at work. But the notion that merit equated with hours spent working, with productivity was definitely put into place. Also, fewer homes were two income families, so there was someone who could take the time to cook elaborate meals consistently, plan menus, handle the much smaller number of activities her (yes, almost always a her) children would be involved with.

Today, we tend to take it as a given that we'll be spending 8-14 hours a day hours at work and, sometimes, a couple of hours getting to and fro as well. We take it as a given that children have 1100 activities we must find time to cart them to and from. We play on computers and become addicted to TV shows and watch movies at home and listen to music and play video games and... If we want exercise, we must schedule it in, make time out for it, often drive to the facility and come back. Mom's no longer available as full-time provider of nutrition, cleaning and chauffeuring because she's likely working, too. Now food is prepackaged and reheated, or picked up on the way home because we don't have TIME to shop for specific ingredients prepare food that's going to take more than 30 minutes to prepare.

As the time pressure of things we like to do, things we need to do, work, travel, and children support activities eat up time, we find that our time becomes a premium. I'd love to hit the Y and use the pool, we say, if I only had time. I meant to make stir fry tonight, but I got caught up in a meeting, so I just grabbed something on the way home. The kids wanted a snack, easier to hand them a bag of chips than cut up some carrots.

And, of course, once you start down that path, getting back is hard.

I'm not saying that people aren't still responsible for getting fat. They are. But, understanding why it's becoming so prevalent seems like a key factor in battling this.

I suspect that making a commitment to devoting a certain amount of time to preparing food and exercising is the key to preventing obesity just like it's unavoidable for reversing it. There's no magic wand and no time turner to help us. Perhaps, if we took our life a little more leisurely and cut back on those activities that aren't as essential as our health, we would find that finding time to do what is good for us wouldn't seem quite so onerous.

Just a thought.


  • WillOaks Studio

    Excellent list of contributing problems to America's obesity, diabetes, and other health issues! And hydrogenated and trans fats and an overuse of sweeteners and salts are much too prevalent in most prepared foods America dines on. OTOH, the government subsidizes, for example, growing the corn used to make cheap corn syrup which, in turn, makes junk food cheaper than healthy food. Many areas are not friendly to pedestrians. This list goes on and on about how easy it can be to be "unhealthy" and how difficult it can be to eat and live correctly....

  • Shakespeare

    I'm glad to finally live in a place with sidewalks! Being active really takes a lifestyle change. Only in the past few years did we realize we were "treating" the kids to dessert as a reward--and we should be "treating" them to a trip to the park instead (cheaper, and better for them, and more fun, too!).

    I am struggling to keep up the activity level I've have over the past few years, when I wasn't working that much. I actually tried to get a friend out walking this morning, but she backed out, and it looks like my other friend did too.

    I'm still going, even if I'm by myself. If nothing else, your blog got the fire under me enough to do that. My new class schedule makes a few morning Y classes impossible, but it doesn't keep me from walking!


  • Stephanie B

    I buying that video you were using when you visited and I'm going to make a pact with myself that I'm not allowed to blog until I've done it at least five times per week.

  • The Mother

    As a doctor, I have one health tip inspired by this post:

    Don't drive in Rome. In fact, I'm not sure walking there is much safer, since it's so easy to get lost with all the crisscrossing streets (and never ask for directions in Rome. The Romans don't know where they're going, either).

    Your list of what's wrong with American diets/lifestyle is fairly exhaustive, so I really don't have anything to add.

    Carving out time in a day to actually exercise is my biggest bugaboo--I'd probably have gotten that last 20 pounds off by now if I didn't have all those damn kids.

    Here's the tip of the day: Find an exercise program, grab a partner who is going to FORCE you to keep with it, on pain of loss of face, and DO.

    Hubby and I are in week 11 of the 12 week P90X program--NOT easy, even for us seasoned weight lifters. I get no promotional payment for telling you that making a 90 day commitment to this program is a real step in the right direction. It's an hour of serious, hard work 6 days a week, and I've only lost 5 pounds, but I have stacked on a ton of muscle.

    It doesn't have to be this one. It just has to be ONE. And studies show (references available on request) that people who exercise tend to make better dietary choices, too. I think that's mostly because after we've worked our asses off for an hour every morning, we don't want to mess it up with a cheeseburger and a shake.

    One more caveat--the diet soda trap (yes, I'm guilty, too). Those things may not have calories of their own, but they do something nasty to the insulin/glucagon axis that isn't (to my knowledge) completely understood. It's sort of a metabolic fake out. Drink water.

  • Stephanie B

    You make some excellent points. I know that, when I was taking martial arts, where I paid whether I showed up or not, I made myself go every week (OK, so I actually enjoyed it) because I'm too cheap to throw the money away. Also, because my daughter's class came just before my own, I couldn't punk out without punking her out (and it was harder for her to punk out if she wanted to).

    A gym subscription, in my opinion, is not enough. Committing to something where there are consequences (other than general disappointment) is much more likely to be followed than planning to start something. Short of deathlike illness, I've never blown off a scheduled exercise class.

    A companion is a great idea, IF you can find one that is as dedicated as you are (or, even better, more so). My next door neighbor (late onset diabetes) was supposed to walk with me nightly when I was recovering from the latest baby. She never did and it became an excuse for me to not go. Not good.

    Your point on diet sodas is well-taken. I react poorly to aspertame so I tend to limit that anyway, but not as much as I should. And I'm not sure Splenda will correct the problem.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    I gave up soda (including diet soda) years ago at my doctor's prompting. Now, I don't miss it at all. As a Communication teacher and researcher--specifically nonverbal communication--I have taught units on chronemics (how we communicate with time). You are absolutely right in your observation that Americans are obsessed with time. Most researchers rank America as the most time-obsessed country (compared with less time-obsessed cultures such as Italian, Greek, or Hopi Indian). Even our language has more compartmentalizing of time through our grammatical structure than do other languages (English has a past tense, present tense, future tense, and a variety of conditional tenses). Given our obsession with time, is it any wonder that we find it difficult to enjoy each moment of time as it comes?

  • The Mother

    After some reflection, I wish to make another suggestion to anyone who is serious about dropping the excess weight.

    I cannot stress enough the importance of adding REAL weight training to your regimen. Not doing the circuit once a week--serious, heavy, progressive resistance training.

    It tends to get ignored in weight loss advice, because we all have the image of the muscle-bound Mr. Olympians in our heads, and who wants to look like that? But the physiologic truth is that NO ONE can look like that without steroid supplementation.

    Especially women, who tend to be the ones obsessing about weight. We just don't have the testosterone to build muscles that big. But we can build them.

    Weight training isn't just good exercise--all that pulling on bones makes them stronger, too. That helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis (which is even greater in heavier women). It also burns a ton of calories just doing the work.

    The best part--muscle tissue is metabolically active. Fat isn't. Every pound of muscle you put on burns an extra 40 calories a day. If you pack on ten pounds of muscle (NOT unreasonable in the first go round), that's an extra 400 calories you burn in a day, just sitting around.

    You can, theoretically, not drop a pound; if you shift the weight from fat to muscle, you have still done something amazing. The weight will fall off, eventually, if you pack on enough pounds of lean, mean muscle mass.

    One thing--you must supplement with protein. Recommendations for lifters are 1 gram per pound of lean mass (so 60 gms or so a day for most women). That's hard to do on a regimented diet, so buy supplement powders at the health food store and take them religiously.

  • Aron Sora


    I know, I just move into New York city and I think I lost 2 pounds.

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