Monday, May 06, 2013

Why Are Americans Fat And Getting Fatter? Ronald Reagan


NJ Gov. Chris Christie wants to be removed from this picture-- but without changing his eating habits

I fast every Sunday. It's a habit I picked up in the '70s when I worked at de Kosmos in Amsterdam, a meditation center. I was there for around 4 years and when I came back to the States, that Sunday fast was something I brought with me. In Amsterdam, I also used to do a 10 day fast-- just water-- once a year. I don't do that anymore, though I kind of wish I could. This weekend I decided I had eaten one too many restaurant meals lately and I had a nice salad Friday evening and began my Sunday fast a day early. I've been drinking water only. I'm feeling very energetic-- even after a two mile hilly hike-- and some laps. I have a dinner scheduled with Sheila Kuehl tomorrow or I'd let it go another day.

People keep asking me if I lose weight when I fast. I think it's different for everyone, but when I was younger I used to lose 2.5 pounds/24 hours. More recently it's closer to 3 pounds. It's not the best way to lose weight, although I heard there's a fasting fad that started in London and has arrived stateside. Oh... and a best-selling book! The authors claim 2 days of fasting a week will "limit inflammation, improve blood sugar levels and fats in circulation, as well as reduce blood pressure" and that their plan is "a cheaper, effective and less invasive method for treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease compared to gastric surgery and the use of drugs."
The latest diet craze that has taken Britain by storm in recent months has received a boost from a newly released study which found that intermittent fasting can help those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Published earlier this year, Dr. Michael Mosley’s bestseller The Fast Diet became a near instant success in the UK, developing a mass following for promising readers quick weight loss based on a ‘5:2’ principle: Five days of normal eating, followed by two days of drastic calorie restriction.
Yesterday, the U.K.'s Telegraph was celebrating the fad. Everybody's doing it, darling" and "for some it's old news-- their flat stomachs and radiant faces simply a way of life at this point... I like the idea of a bi-weekly detox, and the science behind resting the system is pretty convincing. There is increasing evidence from researchers that intermittent fasting helps repair cells which could help us avoid cancer and Alzheimer's; and I also like the connection with how humans lived for most of our history-- hunting and foraging in hunger, then feasting with the results, not constant nibbling on packaged foods without interval."

Funny, when I started this post, I hadn't even thought about this 5:2 fasting fad that a friend had mentioned to me a few weeks ago. What I really wanted to get into was a look at Douglas Kihn's post at Truth Out about the political roots of American obesity. And no, despite Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Tom Reed (R-NY) my aim wasn't to show that Republicans are greedy slobs whose ideology of selfishness can easily lead to obesity. It's an increasingly serious problem and "over a third of Americans are officially overweight and another 35.7 percent are obese, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conventional experts blame the 'wrong food,' bad genes, lack of exercise, chemicals in food, and this or that hormone for the problem." Kihn asserts that to beat the obesity epidemic, "we have to ask why and when... we will need to go back in history and unearth its beginnings, to find out exactly when it all started. Then we can ask it why. When we do, we will discover that the obesity epidemic in America is essentially a mental health problem, whose underlying causes are economic and political" that started in 1980 when Reagan became president. "Something important," he writes, "changed between the Carter administration and the Reagan administration, something that drove American adults and children to dramatically increase their calorie intake and consequent body fat. Whatever that change was, it's still with us because American waistlines since that time have continuously grown bigger." Kihn traces it, at least in part, to Reagan's war against unions and working people, the principles behind "bean counting" that came into vogue, endless wars on one thing or another-- from drugs to Central America-- and the resultant social insecurity.
As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.

Apparently, so does physical health. According to a new study from Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder in Social Science Quarterly, despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the United States still trails many of the world's countries when it comes to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five years less than more affluent people. The United States, which spends far more money on medical care than other advanced industrialized countries, has the sickest residents in every category of unwellness.

The result of all of this hysteria and whip-cracking on the backs of the American workforce is that we feel harried and harassed, with little reward to show for it. Mental health has been worsening for a long time in the United States, and this mental decline has been the culprit behind so many-- probably the majority-- of physical health problems as well. One of them, as we shall see later, is obesity.

Chinese medicine can help to make sense of most mental and physical problems in the United States and organize them into three main categories: those of chronic tension, excessive interior heat and excess weight. Together, they form a super-syndrome some would call the American Syndrome, since it seems to be a universal phenomenon.

Chronic tension is caused by worrying, and all its avatar-- anxiety, fear, guilt, remorse, dread. Excessive interior heat results from the friction caused by it hurrying and worrying, while excess weight-- which can manifest as obesity-- is the result of habitual overeating.

These three inappropriate and harmful activities-- worrying, hurrying, and overeating-- are daily choices that Americans make, and these choices are driving them crazy. Mental health in the country is going to hell in a hand basket.

...[T]he use of food and stored body fat as mood enhancers, especially among politically and economically disadvantaged groups, is widespread in obesity-plagued America.

Americans worry a lot. Many admit to worrying all the time.

Analyzing the past and planning for the future are useful activities, but worrying about them is neither helpful nor healthy. Worry causes people to tighten specific muscles in the body and keep them tight, leading to a long list of physical and mental disorders, referred to as "liver qi stagnation" in Chinese medicine.

Chronic fear, worry, anxiety, stress, insecurity, guilt, obsessive thinking and all forms of neurosis are behavioral choices. American culture, even more than Western Europe's, promotes the desire to control everything, including the uncontrollable, especially the past, the future and the actions and opinions of other people.

As American workers have lost more and more control over their worsening material existence, their fear and insecurity have risen. This fear reveals itself physically as a conscious, and in most cases unconscious, tightening or a constricting of muscles-- a continuous decrease in circulation-- as part of a fight or flight response to a perceived emergency. Literally any organ or tissue can become strangled and diseased in this manner.

A sample list of fear-based disorders in America would include colitis, Crohn's disease, urinary incontinence, sexual impotence, painful intercourse, irritated bowel syndrome, asthma, gastro-intestinal ulcers, heart attacks, growths, fibromyalgia, headaches and any disorder that responds well to the trust imparted by placebo treatments and faith healing.

While fear-based disorders do occur in other parts of the world, most international health practitioners will affirm the fact that fear-based disorders manifest at the highest levels in war zones and in the cities and towns of the United States.

The typical American scurries around like a mouse on double espresso. The daily habits of so many Americans now include fast driving and tailgating, fast walking, rapid speech, rapid continuous working without breaks, multitasking, constant productivity during waking hours that includes paid and unpaid work, working impossibly long hours, and most important, going without sleep... Keeping busy, achieving goals, earning money, competing for promotion, disparaging leisure, denigrating underachievers, and describing sleep as a waste of time have gradually become the Prime Directive since the workplace speedup of the early Reagan years.

...For at least 100,000 years, obesity gave homo sapiens an evolutionary advantage. During our long Stone Age, some of our ancestors needed to store and conserve large amounts of nutrition to survive six months of winter, when temperatures were below freezing and food was scarce or nonexistent. During these hibernation periods, strong emotions and high levels of mental and physical activity would have been counterproductive for survival. Any feelings of hunger would also have been self-defeating.

Greatly enlarged fat cells would have served other purposes as well. Fat insulates against freezing temperatures and also protects organs and blood vessels from injuries and bleeding.

This kind of survival strategy will allow primitive people to live and reproduce in very cold climates, but will not help Americans who wish to live into their 70s and beyond. Excess body fat has been proven to shorten chromosomal telomeres (not a good thing!), thus accelerating the expression of age-related disease genes, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia. This is partly why excess body fat is statistically associated with a long list of common medical conditions.

As more and more Americans have seen their standard of living sink and their stress factors increase, they have taken to the all-purpose, all-American sedative-- food-- in a big way. All of the many disorders connected with the over-consumption of food are part of a Chinese medical syndrome called spleen damp.

Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in 2009, "Things are going to get worse. Obesity is a toxic result of a failing economic environment." Drewnowski's own research has highlighted the link between income levels and obesity.

In Seattle, he and his team found that there are five-fold differences in obesity rates depending on zip code-- low-income zip codes have a much higher proportion of overweight and obese people than high-income zips.

Studies in California suggested that a 10 percent rise in poverty translates to about a six percent increase in obesity among adults. And nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of new cases of diabetes 2-- a disease closely associated with excess body fat-- were in the US South, a region with huge pockets of poverty and glaring income disparities. Unlike all other periods in human history, today excess body fat is no longer associated with the affluent, but rather with those of lower economic status.

A team of American scientists who performed brain scans on seven overweight people found that the regions of the brain that controlled satiety of food were the same regions that light up for drug addicts after a fix. This means that the addictive payoff for eating a meal, especially for overweight people, is similar to taking a euphoria-producing drug. The larger the meal, the bigger the mental reward.

In 2009, researchers from the University of Arkansas and the National Taiwan University studied the eating and mental habits of 2,366 children between 2 and 12 years old. They found that the fatter the kids were, the less subject they were to bouts of sadness, anger and depression.

Obesity creates docile "citizens of the Empire." A study by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, which appears online in the September 3, 2012, issue of Pediatrics, reveals that obesity is associated with cognitive and brain impairments in adolescents and calls for pediatricians to take this into account when considering the early treatment of childhood obesity.

...Over the last three decades, harried Americans have essentially transferred their favorite addiction from tobacco to excess food. While tobacco addiction has been thoroughly vilified by the major media, food is still lauded and celebrated in every corner of the country. And food calories remain relatively cheap-- one can still buy a McDonald's hamburger for a dollar in most places.

The obesity epidemic helps American capitalism in two ways. On one side of the coin, it creates a population that is more compliant, tired, sick, self-hating and resigned to its misery. The last thing those sitting at the top want to see is a lean, clean and mean population.

On the other side of the coin, obese and overweight Americans bring in enormous profits for many vital industries-- agribusiness, food processing and transportation, food stores, restaurants, the medical industry, the diet industry and the pharmaceutical industry. If the 70 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese were to seriously back off of food until a healthy state of leanness were achieved, it's easy to imagine the economic catastrophe that would follow.

The complete cure for American obesity-- getting it off and keeping it off-- is elusive for most obese Americans.  Some individuals can rid themselves of this condition if they recognize that obesity is primarily a mental health issue-- an eating disorder.  People can fix this problem by greatly reducing or eliminating hurry and worry from their lives-- while simultaneously re-establishing mental calmness and self-trust.

   In the meantime, the American obesity epidemic will continue to spread until a political solution is found for this political problem.
Fat'n'happy? Not so sure, but look this table over and notice the correlation between increased obesity and increased voting for Republican authoritarian politicians.



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