Ab machines and treadmills have found their way into more homes in the U.S. than ever before. Healthy food grocery stores are popping up all over, and even fast food restaurants are offering healthier fare. You can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper that doesn’t have an article about weight loss, or how to eat healthy. And yet, we in America are we getting fatter by the day. Why? The answer to this is of course multifaceted, but a crucial part of it is this: people don’t want you to mess around with what they can and cannot eat.
About 10 years ago I was helping a few friends who had started a used fitness equipment store. They also sold new products, and they were selling one of the current, inexpensive ab-rocker type devices. Probably one out of three people who came in would ask about it when they saw it sitting on the floor, because everyone who owned a television had seen the commercials. Most people couldn’t resist getting down on the floor and trying it out.
Whether a shopper tried it or not, almost everyone asked the same question: “Does that thing really work?”
My response was always the same: “Yes, it works, as long as you actually use it. We sell lots of used exercise equipment here that people didn’t use.” This always prompted a smile, because everyone seems to be familiar with that scenario. Then I would add, “In fact, it actually takes the strain off your neck and back, and allows you to perform a better quality ab exercise”, which I would then demonstrate. The shopper then smiled even more, and they got a little excited as they watched me perform the simple movement because now they had hope of attaining the elusive flat stomach.
Then I dropped the bombshell: “Of course, you also need to make sure you’re eating right. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a stronger set of abs, but your stomach won’t be much flatter”. The smile vanished from the shopper’s face, and their shoulders dropped in disappointment.
Their body language was saying: “I’ll buy the cheap ab machine if it will help me get rid of this gut I have. But if I also have to be careful about what I eat, the deal’s off. No thanks.”
When you start suggesting that people need to get control of what they eat, they can get a little defensive. Why? The complete answer to that is book-length, or the subject for a week-long series on Oprah. For now, let’s talk about two of the main culprits: eating for pleasure, and food cost and availability.
Eating is a pleasure-filled experience. It’s fun! Tickling the taste buds yields intense satisfaction, both physical and psychological. Here in the states, since almost any kind of food that we desire is now available 24/7, it’s also easy and quick to get. And generally speaking, the quicker it is to get it, the more fattening it is as well. Just like with smoking or drug use, people will trade an instant shot of pleasure for long-term consequences.
In the U.S., our efficient mass production of food items has yielded relatively low cost, which has joined with the quick and ready access to allow us to make food and eating into inexpensive leisure-time activities. Instead of treating food and eating as the means to an end, it has become a pleasure-packed end in itself. Worse for our waistlines, eating is satisfying even when done alone, which allows it to become a refuge for the lonely, the extremely introverted, or the outcast. Eating gives everyone pleasure, regardless of their condition.
Thanks to our modern farming, packaging, and distribution systems, we have an unbelievable supply of delicious treats awaiting us in even a small town grocery store. (Farmers got so good at it, we had to start paying them to not grow certain food plants.) Then there are the restaurants and their place in the fat matrix. The proliferation of big chains all across the U.S. has placed an incredible array of tasty and tempting dishes within reach of everyone who has decent job. (Even if they don’t, they have a credit card.)
In the land of 24/7, it’s time we put ourselves on a different course in the way we think about the food we eat, why and when we eat it, and in what quantity. The solution may be just that simple, but it isn’t easy to carry out. It seems that nobody wants to think about having to eat right, but everyone likes the idea of making just three easy payments of $ 19.95 and getting six pack abs in only 15 minutes per day or less. If we don’t start “eating to live instead of living to eat”, no amount of time spent on a treadmill or an ab machine is going to help.
Paul W. Whitten is a life-long nutrition, health, & fitness enthusiast.