In my last post, The Next 50 Lbs: 50 States of Overweight and How to Solve It, I shared some pretty grim statistics on the rising obesity rates in America. Today, I want to do a little walk down Memory Lane and have a look at the sad history of our S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) and what it means in our daily lives.
When I began researching obesity rates through the decades, I started to see the many trends our country has attached itself to. Obviously, we’re all trying to find the magic answer for sustained weight loss and good health, and we turn to the latest headlines from diet gurus, doctors and government agencies to provide us with the sound advice we need.
However, if the advice is so sound, why are we one of the fattest, sickest nations in the world?
World Health Organization - global obesity chart
Let’s do a little sleuthing and look at some facts, figures and important dates in our history of diets and see if we can piece together what the hell has happened to us.
1890 – French chemist, Paul Sebatier, develops the hydrogenation process.
1902 – Scientist Willhelm Normann patents his process of hydrogenating liquid oils to form trans fatty acids.
1911 – Proctor and Gamble introduces Crisco vegetable shortening – the first product of many to contain trans-fat.
1920’s – Prohibition drives many Americans to entertain at home. New products launched in the 1920s include Wonder Bread, Betty Crocker baking mixes, the White Castle fast food chain, Velveeta cheese, Oscar Meyer wieners and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
1930’s – WWII begins in 1937 and the US becomes involved in 1941. As the war rages on, margarine use rises sharply over butter.
1940’s – Farmers and food manufacturers are asked to help produce food to feed the soldiers fighting the war, which creates a food shortage for those at home. Food rationing, protein stretching and “making due with less” become the norms. Home cooks make meatless meals, stretching their family’s food with more rice or potatoes. Sugar is the last ration lifted in 1947 and Americans quickly embrace the new, sugary products in the marketplace, such as Nestlé’s Quick chocolate milk additive, Sara Lee Cheesecake and Reddi-Whip whipped cream.
1950’s – From 1950 to 1960, 9.7% of American adults are clinically obese. In 1957, the American Heart Association first recommends reducing dietary fats found in foods such as beef and butter. Popular recipes include the Tuna Noodle Casserole.
A typical family in 1950
1960’s – The 60’s is a decade of innovation in style, as well as food. Cocktail parties are all the rage, showcasing finger foods and French cooking ala Julia Child. The Baby Boomer kids are loving the space-age drink Tang (called “the drink of the astronauts by its producer, General Mills), as well as Pop- Tarts, Coca Cola in cans, Pringles and Cool Whip. The first Wendy’s chain restaurant opens in 1969.
1970’s – Obesity rates jump to 11.3% by 1970 and an additional 3.1% by the end of the decade. The second wave of the feminist movement hits America and, with more women working outside the home, the need for quick and convenient family foods becomes more necessary. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Swanson’s TV Dinners and Stove Top Stuffing are popularized during this time.
1980’s – 1990’s – From 1988 – 1994, 23% of Americans are obese and 56% are overweight. Jane Fonda launches her popular video, Jane Fonda’s Workout, in 1982, which sells like hotcakes, sending Americans running into stores to buy VCRs and giving us all hope of skinny, sexy bodies. In 1984, consumer advocacy programs begin to campaign against saturated fats and most fast-food restaurants begin using partially hydrogenated oils for cooking. In the 1990’s, the low-fat diet becomes a national health craze and is supported by doctors, government agencies and food manufacturers. Supermarket shelves are lined with low-fat versions of just about everything. Nabisco Snack Wells are introduced in 1992. While the little cakes and cookies are touted as low-fat and healthy, their ingredients list vegetable shortening and high-fructose corn syrup. The low-fat diet of America doesn’t seem to have any effect on our ever-increasing waistlines. Following the release of several health studies in 1993, health advocacy groups call for fast-food restaurants to halt the use of partially hydrogenated oils in their deep fryers. In 1999, the US government proposes that trans-fat amounts should be listed in ingredients by food manufacturers.
2000’s – In 2004, television shows like The Biggest Loser start to resonate with reality tv watchers, as America begins to see itself mirrored in the contestants. In 2006, trans-fat labeling becomes mandatory in the US. Americans begin to scrutinize their food choices of processed foods and fast-food restaurants. The whole foods movement gains ground, endorsing eating the simplest, closest-to-nature foods possible and introducing super foods, such as chia seeds and acai berries. New diets hit the market monthly, such as vegetarian and vegan diets, raw food diet, The Mediterranean Diet, South Beach, and the Paleo (or Caveman) Diet, just to name a few.
It is clear that America is searching for the answer to health and sustained weight loss, but isn’t sure where to turn anymore. In 2012, our S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) aka the Western Pattern Diet consists of sugary desserts and drinks, highly processed carbohydrates and meats, and high-fat dairy products. I would submit to you that it is this diet that has brought us to 68% of the adult population being overweight, 38% being obese and one out of every third child being obese.
A typical family in 2012
Every decade, our obesity rate as a nation has risen, right? Every decade, we have added more and more convenience and snack foods (aka processed foods) to our diets, right? In the 1980’s, we were told to abandon saturated fats and follow a low-fat diet, right? Because of this, fast-food restaurants and food manufacturers begin using partially hydrogenated oils, right? Then, in the late 1990’s, the US government started to worry about the effects of partially hydrogenated oils, right? Finally, in 2006, the US government made reporting of trans-fat mandatory in food labeling, right?
So, from this, I might conclude that maybe beef and butter weren’t so bad after all. I might further conclude that science that does a complete about face in the space of 10 years might not be the end all and be all in terms of what is best for me and my body. Maybe, just maybe, I need to start thinking for myself since my body is, after all, MY body.
Wow…that was A LOT of research folks, and a lot of information for you! So…what do you think? I’ll give you a minute.
Your minute is up so let me ask a bigger question: How is your diet making you FEEL!
Look, I’m no doctor. I’m no nutritionist. But do you want my lay-person’s opinion?
If you don’t feel f***ing fantastic every day when you wake up, you need to change something.
Hard to know where to start? How about you simply write down everything you eat and how it makes you feel for a week or two, without worrying about losing weight. Once you understand how food is affecting you, you can start to make some informed decisions about your diet and weight loss plans.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that I am doing Take Shape for Life. I started with a 2-week trial because I have two major criteria for a weight loss plan:
1. 1. Do I feel fantastic every day, all day?
2. 2. Am I losing weight?
So, I’m really happy to say YES and YES! I feel FANTASTIC every day, all day, and I’ve lost close to 10 lbs in 12 days. My face is getting so much thinner that I told Pete I look like a Whippet.
If I didn’t feel great, you can bet that I would stop immediately. Why would anyone want to go through life feeling bad, even for one minute? Hmmmm?
Please, ask yourself if you feel great every day. Only you can answer that question. Are you huffing and puffing just walking around? Do you wake up feeling sluggish? Do you have a lot of headaches? Is your stomach always upset? Please, please, PLEASE...if you can’t honestly say you feel f***ing fantastic every day, then you need to make a change. Think about keeping a food/feeling journal and eliminating the foods that seem to make you feel bad. While you’re at it, consider going in for a physical and getting your blood work done. Then you can rule out any causes beyond your diet that might be making you feel yucky.
Ok America, let’s see if we can’t turn ourselves around from S.A.D. to happy and healthy!