The Leading Cause of Obesity is . . . “Moderation?!”

16 simple blog 4This is #4 of 16 blogs that will be the basis of a book project – “16 Simple Truths to Lose Weight, Gain Strength and Be Happy.” The goal is to send the manuscript to a publisher by mid-October. Each of 16 chapters will cover one specific “truth.” Each blog, published every Monday, will be a synopsis of each chapter. You are now cordially invited to join the process. Please leave a comment and offer your thoughts, ideas and insight. Thank you.]

Obesity may be one of the most significant problems facing our country, our culture and our families. With our population of roughly 192 million people . . .  oops, that’s just the ones that are overweight. The US population is actually about 320 million folks, meaning over 60% need to reduce their waistline, by a lot. Understand that obesity has squarely been identified as the root cause of heart disease, many cancers, and diabetes and on and on. But the real problem as insidious as it is, may actually be summed up in a single word . . . “moderation.”

I know. I know. I hear the screams now. “What?!” Followed closely by the all too common and grossly overused, if not misused refrain, “everything in moderation.” Bacon? “Absolutely.” Pepperoni? “Perfectly fine.” And fried chicken? “Can’t live without it.” Before you know it soft drinks get a hall pass. And we haven’t even mentioned carbs, specifically all the prepackaged crap we have in our pantries: Mac & Cheese, chips, cookies, various and a sundry salt laden crackers, don’t forget the sugar filled cereals and toaster pastries, and then there’s the white bread, white rice, white pasta, white potatoes, but no white beans. Or black beans for that matter. Starting to get a little warm in the kitchen pantry?

Now, stay with me on this. It’s like one of those challenging math problems, only without the challenge. Think about it, most of what you consumed today came out of a box, bag or bottle. And odds are it came from somewhere besides the perimeter of your favorite grocer. C’mon confess, you are a “center lingerer.” Now, add to this, the number of times you go out to eat. And everything counts. Even the candy bar and the 48 oz. drink when you stopped for gas. Then there’s that fast food fix you just had to have. Besides, no one expects you to drive past all 160,000 fast food locations that feed America. Oh, don’t forget the stops at the “sit-down-casual” restaurants and the occasional fine dining. So, I pause to pose these quick questions to ponder. How often do you go home and slice a real vegetable? When’s the last time you touched an eggplant? Or roasted Brussel sprouts? Or ate a whole apple or orange?

Now let’s get serious. Look at your hands. Go ahead look. Now curl your fingers a bit with each hand forming its own cup. One full cupped hand size portion of any vegetable or fruit is a serving. Now, how many servings from your human measuring cup of whole, living fruits and vegetables should you have each day; not one, not three or five, but 7 – 10 (women 5 – 7). That’s right brother, you need 10 cupped handfuls of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. Yes. Every day forever and ever. Amen. Now back to that little math problem.

16 simple blog 4eOur first variable for our meal math is the fact that a big percentage of each meal eaten at home is prepackaged – void of nutrition and calorically dense. Variable number two is the number of occasions you eat out – outrageous portion sizes. With the addition of these two variables your subtotal is always trouble. Most of those meals ring up a greater number of calories than your daily energy needs, but even more importantly most deliver far too few macronutrients. I’ve studied the human body for some time and I’m always amazed at the intricacies and complexities of the roles hormones and enzymes and the cellular chemistry of the body play in perfectly orchestrating our respiratory, circulatory, digestive, skeletal, muscular, nervous, and immune systems. And there are more. Plus each of all these systems are woven into the others serving yet another role. It truly is a miracle. All you have to do is fuel it.

You can do it. You take care of your car right? And aside from some stray Cheerios, a random gummy creature and a few McDonald’s toys rolling around, it’s all good. Always the proper gas, regular oil changes, rotating tires on a schedule, keeping fluids topped off, and one little knock or ping and she’s in for service. Just in case you haven’t thought about it, you have to put a lot more miles on your odometer than you could ever put on your car. And next to you, your car is well, simple. Roughly speaking, down to it tiniest screw, it has about 30,000 parts. In stark contrast, you are made of about 100 TRILLION individual cells, and have been created with the ability to convert a few macronutrients into your own energy. And you run continuously 24/7. All you need is . . . oops . . . fruits and vegetables, and of course whole grains, lean meat and a few seeds and nuts. Note two things: One, most people, at least 60%, are not fueling their miraculous bodies, even at the level of a rolling pile of polluting metal (and plastic). Two, the foods I just mentioned that should make up a high percentage of your intake are natural, life-filled, and whole. That’s as opposed to what we found earlier in our pantries. For example, there is no Triscuit tree. No one is raising grass fed Peperoni. And ask yourself what is Velveta Cheese (not even in the cheese section) or Captain Crunch or ranch dressing. And I’m afraid that neon orange color of Macaroni & Cheese doesn’t even exist in nature.

There is now some supporting research to the idea that ever changing body chemistry somehow cues the body to continue to eat until it can at least get a minimal amount of macronutrients, no matter how many calories it takes. I would bet it on it! Now, back to that math problem. If you are primarily eating prepackaged food supplemented by eating out – then you are not getting the macronutrients your finely tuned body needs for optimal performance. So, when we eat a few slices of bacon with some pancakes and syrup that is fine. But, what determines if it’s in moderation or not, depends on what you eat next, and after that, and so on. If the next meal is grabbing a burger and fries you’re calorically done for the day, and the worst part is that you did not fuel your body with the macronutrients it needs. So, the point is if I have created a habit of making bad choices, I can’t individualize each one, and cover it with “everything in moderation.” If the majority of your dining decisions leave you macronutrient deficient, in total for that day, you are well beyond moderation.

16 simple blog 4dNow let’s check that moderation math. To make it super simple, let’s say I have a Snickers bar for breakfast, hypothetically of course. And then for lunch a 3 Musketeers. Stay with me now. At dinner, the decision is a king-size Milky Way. And don’t forget the day’s snack of mini sized Twix. Twice. Sounds ridiculous, right? Not even a member of the Mars family would say that was moderation. Maybe you could say you don’t eat a specific candy regularly, but that’s not synonymous with moderation. The point is you are not eating a diet rich in macronutrients or with a caloric target even on the radar.

Now, to make our example more realistic let’s say you substituted one of those candy bars with Triscuits and Velveta Cheese. Good, right? Not really, you gain virtually nothing. It sounds better, but it’s still a far cry from real food and real nutrition. How about figs, grapes or a handful of nuts with real cheddar cheese? Now, back to the ridiculous example, if you substituted pancakes and syrup, or that morning muffin and coffee, instead of our silly Snickers example, it’s basically the same difference. Again, the point is, that looking at your complete diet, you do not see moderation. There is a pattern of consuming too much prepackaged food at home – void of proper nutrition and likely calorically dense – along with eating out to frequently, to take refuge behind the word moderation. So, here’s the math on moderation:

Large % of food eaten at home is prepackaged (nutrient deficient + calorically dense) + (eating out x more than you realize) ≠ moderation.

So, what is moderation? First you must come reasonably close to these two important daily goals:

  1. Come within your total daily caloric range for your age, height/weight, activity level and goals (ex: 150lb, active, adult male with a goal to maintain weight: 2100-2400 calories per day)
  2. Within that total caloric range be close to meeting the macronutrient breakdown that is best for you (continuing example from above): 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 20% fat) More to come on how to set macronutrient %’s in this series of blogs. Or visit for complete, individualized fitness and nutrition plans based on a thorough assessment.

16 simple blog 4cWith a gallant attempt at the above goals, we can begin to talk about moderation. Within these parameters, one could enjoy that stack pancakes and a slice or two of bacon on a Saturday morning and finally, correctly use the word moderation. Frankly I would forego the bacon for a handful of granola or nuts with a slice of fresh fruit. I would also be vigilant the rest of the day to eat clean. Remember it’s not the calories that are most important, it’s getting the macronutrients you need to fuel those 1 trillion cells of yours. Now, let’s park the word moderation, and focus on fueling our amazing bodies with the nutrients it needs to keep us going. Let that odometer roll. You can do this. We all can.

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