The Effect of Lifestyle on Obesity in America

When the average Joe looks at an obese person, the widespread and often misinformed opinion is that that person is a glutton. An over-eating lazy pig who maintains a high-fat, high-calorie diet full of grease and salt probably dribbling down their chin as they strive to shovel more food in as quickly as possible and getting up from the coach only to make return trips to the refrigerator.

But that certainly is not the case for a large portion of the country’s obese population. As an overweight woman currently embarking on a (thus-far) successful weight loss plan, I can assure you all that my weight problem has nothing to do with over-eating, laziness, or gluttoness behavior. I honestly believe that I have become a victim of lifestyle.

As a single girl living in New York City, working for multiple non-profits, I was hardly ever home. I woke up at the crack of dawn and traveled from job to job, sometimes a few hours in the office in the morning, then off to a public school to teach a class in the afternoon, then off to my theatre company at night for a rehearsal. I was on-the-go non-stop. Oftentimes, I didn’t eat all day… not one calorie would I take in… until around midnight, when I finally got home, starving and way too tired to cook. So I would order a pizza, eat it while working at my computer, wash it down with a nice sugary can of soda, and then fall asleep with all of that grease and fat sitting not so prettily in my stomach.

The next day, I would wake up, not liking the way I felt, especially when I stepped on the scale and saw a 4-pound gain from the day before. So I would vow to do better. Which meant eating earlier in the day so I wouldn’t have to gorge myself late at night. But my schedule was just as packed as the day before, so eating during the day meant grabbing a hero on my way to the subway or swinging by a McDonald’s drive-thru on my way to the school. And so, the years went by, and the pounds packed on… but I was active enough in my job that I was able to maintain the horrific weight I had achieved, within 5 or 10 pounds, on a weekly basis.

But still, my lifestyle was ruining my health. The jobs that made me so happy kept me too busy to eat right, and too occupied to care.

It wasn’t until I really slowed down last month that I was able to take control of my eating habits. What did I do? I took a one-month break from my hectic life to work on my novel. I wasn’t out-and-about, running hectically from place to place. I was at my boyfriend’s house in California, taking some much-needed time off, spending my days writing and playing with my parrot.

And it was during this time when I was finally able to really focus on my health and discipline myself. I started cooking at home. (I finally had the time!) I was finally able, for the first time in my life, to prepare nutritious and delicious meals at home, for both of us, without the added pressure of having to run out the door for the next board meeting. I started feeling better, and watching the pounds drop at each morning’s weigh-in was a delight, indeed! I lost 28 pounds in one month. And I didn’t feel deprived one bit!

And that was when I realized that my problem was never about an intense desire for excessive amounts of food. Most diet shows or self-help books tell you to keep repeating the mantra, “Food has no power over me.” For me, this was ridiculous. Food didn’t have power over me; it never had! And I never felt that way! I simply didn’t have the time to eat right! I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. And I’m sure I am not the only one. There are probably millions of people throughout the country who aren’t over-eating heifers or lazy couch potatoes, but whose schedule just lends itself to quick, easy, on-the-go meals chock full of trans fats and preservatives.

After a month of really taking the time to take care of myself, I realize that food may not have ever had any power over me – but my lifestyle sure did! I’m back in New York now… and things are going great. Except remember those 28 pounds I lost? I gained 9 of them back! And in only three days! So I immediately put my nose to the grindstone in an attempt to get back into my diet regiment. But it’s not as easy as it was when I was relaxing and eating right out in beautiful San Francisco.

It’s just so tempting when I’m rushing out the door in the morning, to skip the preparation of my lunch in a Tupperware container and just resolve to buying a slice of pizza at 1 o’clock on my way from point A to point B. But it’s really about self-discipline and planning. Here are my tips for success:

  • Prepare the next day’s lunch at night; don’t let yourself get tired and go to bed before preparing tomorrow’s lunch!
  • Don’t cave in to the pressure of the convenience of fast food – you’ll only regret it as soon as you throw out the wrapper and the fry box.
  • And most importantly, EAT! My biggest problem for the past five years, believe it or not, hasn’t been OVER-eating; it’s been NOT eating! Every dietician will tell you that the key to weight loss is to speed up your metabolism, which means eating lots of small meals frequently. But when you’re a busy bee like me, it’s so easy to skip a meal. You just have to discipline yourself and force yourself to do it!
  • Work hard at making it easy in those hectic moments. Keep a couple of nutrition bars in your purse, bring an apple to work, force yourself to sit down and eat that chicken salad, even if it requires a fork and takes longer to eat than that burger you can eat while driving.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize, which is the way you feel inside and the delight you feel each morning when you step on the scale and realize you’ve lost another pound.

Don’t let your lifestyle control your life. You can do better. I know I am.