No matter who you are, food is one of the greatest pleasures of life. We all love eating. After all, it’s essential for our survival. However, some of us can eat too much, leading to health problems like obesity.
Obesity is often stigmatized as a personal failure. Obese people are greedy and lack willpower, right?
Not exactly. There are a number of uncontrollable factors that can put someone at an increased risk for obesity.
Many people assume that staying fit is simple: just eat better, and move more. If you fail, that’s on you.
But staying fit is a lot more complex than that. Think about it: if you have a good job, good relationships, and good access to safe, green spaces and fresh produce, eating better and moving more is relatively easy. Now, what if you lived in poverty, we’re constantly stressed, caught in toxic relationships, and lived far from safe, green spaces and healthy markets? And what if the way your mother fed you — a diet of deep-fried and sugary foods — was all you knew? Suddenly, staying healthy becomes a lot tougher.
One scientist calls this “being fit is easy” assumption we have an example of fundamental attribution error. This is when people assume that our behavior is completely governed by our brains, and therefore, ourselves. But this is simply not the whole picture.
Evolution makes us prioritize keeping weight.
Through most of human history, food wasn’t a guarantee. Therefore, humans who were good at preserving fat in times of famine had an advantage. Unfortunately, in Western countries today, where food is plentiful, this has become more of a disadvantage than an advantage.
Due to evolution, your body sees losing fat as a threat. As a result, UW Medicine encourages us to think of obesity as a homeostasis disorder or as an inability to maintain a healthy, balanced weight. For example, if a person weighed 200 lbs and then lost 50 lbs with effort, they would have a harder time keeping steady at 150 lbs than a person who originally weighed 150 lbs with little effort.
Genes affect weight.
Some people’s risk of obesity is heavily influenced by their genes. For instance, obesity is more prevalent in some ethnic groups than others. In America, the scale from most incidences of obesity to least is African Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians, and then Asian Americans.
Moreover, some people’s risk of obesity can be affected by their family genetics. So if you’ve been overweight for much of your life, your parents or several relatives are overweight, and you have difficulty getting fit, it’s likely heavily influenced by your DNA.
Not everyone has complete food access.
Certain marginalized people have a harder time maintaining healthy lifestyles:
- Living in a dangerous neighborhood makes it harder to go outside to exercise.
- Not having a car can make grocery shopping at a larger supermarket with more choices more difficult.
- Public transit is expensive, so avoiding your local fast food joints for higher-quality restaurants farther way is challenging.
Medical conditions and medications can become an issue.
Lastly, certain medical conditions and medications can contribute to obesity:
- Hypothyroidism symptoms can include weight gain.
- Fat accumulation is also a distinguishing symptom of Cushing’s syndrome.
- Antidepressants can cause weight gain as a side effect.
What You Can Do
Learning all the uncontrollable factors that can contribute to obesity can be depressing, especially if money is a concern of yours.
Hopefully, the following tips can help:
- Talk to your doctor.
By knowing and understanding your personal medical history, your doctor is your best expert in helping you get healthy. If a doctor’s visit is too expensive, find a community health center near you that offers similar services free or on a sliding scale.
Whichever you choose, be sure to go with a health-care professional with whom you are comfortable with and not one who holds prejudice against weight issues. You have the right to find a different doctor if your first one doesn’t work out.
- Take prescribed medications.
If your doctor prescribes you medication to help with fighting obesity, such as Xenical® (orlistat), make sure to take it. If money is tight, you don’t have to miss out on this treatment. Many countries abroad have stricter price regulations on medication, and you can find these substantially cheaper medications online. For instance, international and Canadian pharmacy referral service websites like Canada Pharmacy Delivery can connect American patients with licensed pharmacies abroad.
- Exercise at home.
If you live in a high-crime area, going out for a jog can be dangerous, so don’t risk it. Instead, take advantage of the many free resources online, and exercise at home. Websites like Fitness Blender and Jump Rope Dudes offer great guides on getting fit with minimal equipment and space.
- Buy generic products.
Generic products — including food and medication — can be substantially cheaper than their brand-name counterparts, yet not much different in terms of quality. So try to buy generic whenever you can, especially with products where brands don’t really matter, like flour and pasta.
- Look for frozen and canned vegetables.
Need more veggies, but can’t afford them? Don’t be afraid to buy frozen or canned if they’re cheaper in your area! And while you’re at it, stock up, as these can last longer too. Frozen and canned veggies are also much easier to cook.
- Do your part to fight the stigma.
Finally, everyone big and small has the responsibility to make weight issues a judgment-free topic:
- Avoid negative phrasing like “losing weight,” and use positive phrasing like “getting healthy.”
- Focus on the health benefits of getting fitter, not just the aesthetic effects.
- Congratulate others on their fitness efforts instead of pointing out their shortcomings.
- Change your perspective on dieting. Don’t think of it as cutting out foods; rather, think of it as adding tastier and healthier food to your palate.
Good luck on your health journey!