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What is the cause of our rising obesity rates – is it junk food and sugary drinks, or overeating generally and lack of exercise? Or is there a deeper reason – our relationship to eating and exercise?

What do we human beings want from life? Yes, we may strive for ‘success’ in a material sense – perhaps wealth or recognition for a job well done – but what is the use of success without our health? Given the chance, would not we all admit that what we want is to be loved, to be healthy and to feel at ease with our body shape and size ... and part of this means we do not want to be obese or overweight. What part do sugar and exercise play in this?

There are so many conflicting messages on how to prevent obesity, how to lose weight and the causes of obesity and being overweight. How are we to know the truth?

A recent example is the premise by The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN),[1] funded by Coca-Cola among others, that the reason people are obese is because they eat too much and do not exercise, diverting attention away from sugar and from the fact that many people are addicted to coke and other soft drinks.

But let’s get real: other preliminary research[2] suggests so far that sugary beverages are to blame for about 183,000 deaths each year worldwide, including 133,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 heart disease deaths, and 6,000 cancer deaths. In reality, it is likely that these figures are much higher because they are simply not reported.

Many are misled into believing that switching from sugar to aspartame (the artificial sweetener sold under the brand names of Equal and NutraSweet) or other artificial sweeteners (such as saccharin) is the solution to weight loss. Aspartame industry-sponsored research consistently concludes aspartame is safe. Again, let’s get real: independent studies overwhelmingly find side effects and problems.[3] These studies have shown that artificial sweeteners appear to trigger a complex set of biological systems, pathways, and mechanisms that in the end lead to excess weight gain, not weight loss, despite the fact they contain no calories.[4] There are many likely reasons for this:

  • Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners do not suppress appetite – in fact anything that tastes sweet increases it (your body waits for the calories to come so you remain hungry) – and they stop you knowing when you have had enough (you don’t get that feeling of satiety).
  • Also, repeated exposure to sweets encourages craving for more sweet food and because people think there is no harm in eating aspartame-laced foods they tend to eat even more of them.
  • Finally, the chemicals in aspartame increase fat storage[5] and may also affect your metabolism.

All this proves that there is much more to weight loss than reducing calories.

So drinks marketed as ‘diet’ or ‘zero’ are arguably actually worse than sugar for weight loss and even more toxic! Indeed, as far back as April 2012, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition[6] published a study linking diet soda consumption to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Yet these drinks are still marketed today by Coca-Cola and others as the ‘healthy’ alternative to sugary drinks.

Many leading nutrition experts and scientists are alarmed about the downplaying by other (industry-sponsored) scientists and so-called health experts of the risks of junk food and sugary/artificially sweet drinks in favour of exercise in the fight against obesity. They say the Coca-Cola and other sponsored research is flawed.

If we discount research by industry-funded organisations and scientists[7] the message is clear: obesity scholars, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other bodies have all realized we must change our diet, and that we must cut down on junk food – especially sugary sweetened beverages – as they are harmful to our health.

“The clear and consistent link between a high-sugar diet and conditions like obesity and Type-2 diabetes is the wake-up call we need to rethink our diet.”[8]

Although we have no physiological need for refined sugar – before the 16th century we each managed with as little as a teaspoon of sugar per year – by the 20th century sugar was everywhere.[9] Yet the evidence that excess consumption of sugar is damaging our health is now as clear as the case against tobacco. Processed food products loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, with very little nutritional value, have often displaced the whole (unprocessed) foods our bodies need for health.

To tackle obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers – preventable diet-related ‘lifestyle’ diseases that have now reached epidemic proportions around the globe – we simply need to consume less sugary processed food products and drinks.

“Un-sweetening the world's diet may be the key to reversing the obesity epidemic”.[10]

However, it is apparent that the vested economic interests of the food, drink and farming industries are blocking change, although we could argue that the industry is simply supplying our demand for junk food and sweet drinks, which appears to have risen alarmingly in my lifetime (late 20th century and this century).

We need to ask: is food and drink the only factor in the rise of obesity and being overweight, or is exercise (physical activity) also important? Yes, it is important – absolutely – but it is clear that it is a lesser factor than food and drink.

It is important to exercise in a healthy way to support getting to, and maintaining, a healthy weight (which will vary between individuals), plus an active lifestyle supports general health. But exercise is not the panacea to prevent obesity that Coca-Cola sponsored research says it is. Part of this is because, while you do burn more calories when you exercise, you cannot burn off thousands of excess calories each day. It is easier to cut calories than to burn them with exercise. For example, one banana is about 70 calories – but it takes the average person about 20 minutes walking to burn 70 calories! Also, the average person overestimates the amount of activity they're doing and underestimates their food intake.

Further, exercising increases your desire and your need to eat more. For example, I remember after each long bike ride with a group of people, we all stopped off at a bakery at the end of the ride and ate several buns each – I wondered why I never lost weight cycling! Plus, a friend who was training for a marathon couldn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight.

The truth is that when you over-exercise, your body becomes exhausted, so you need to consume either sugar (carbohydrates) or caffeine (hence why you see many cyclists drinking coffee in a café at the end of a ride). Or, you need to sleep for the rest of the day!

Would it not be healthier to exercise in a way that made you fit for life, so that you have enough vitality for the type of work you do and the life you deserve?

Fitness and health coach, Beverly Carter, recommends:

“For long-term physical health and vitality, the exercise program must be sustainable and fit simply into your lifestyle… something that can become part of your everyday – even just a few minutes a day to reconnect back into your body.”

Further, is it possible there is an even deeper reason for obesity and being overweight that the nutritionists, scientists and other health experts have not considered??

What if we were to consider the connection we have with ourselves and our levels of self-worth, self-love and therefore self-care? Maybe it is the way we are living – ALL our behaviours and choices – not just food, exercise and drink choices?

Is the answer to the obesity epidemic neither diet nor exercise, but rather the quality of our relationship to our bodies and our connection with ourselves?

Our behaviours and the choices we make on a daily basis impact on our bodies and our being. The fairly recent science of epigenetics (the study of how genetic traits can change and be changed within a single generation and even be passed down to the next) has discovered that our behaviours dictate our genetic destiny, i.e. our cells are guided – expressed – by what has been done and what is being done to them at any given moment.[11] So the food and drink we choose to consume and the exercise we choose to do can change our genetic expression. If we were deeply connected with our self and honoured our body, we would innately know what our bodies truly need in the way of diet and exercise and could then choose to behave, eat, move and exercise in a way that truly supports our body (and our children’s bodies) to be fit, healthy and vital.

This has been my experience. When I began to connect to my body and listen to its feedback (the messages it gave me), I would feel the effects of sugar and caffeine. For example, when I eat chocolate (dairy-free but which still contains caffeine) I feel an initial burst of energy, then my energy level drops below where it was before eating the chocolate.

After pondering on why I chose to eat chocolate, I realised that I was often tired, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. So then I looked at how I was living my day to reach that level of exhaustion. This led me to discover that I often rush around and try to fit more and more into my day. It was only once I discovered the reason I needed the chocolate, and then changed the way I was living each day by not rushing, that I was able to stop eating it.

I gave up eating chocolate for about two years when I came to this understanding. However, recently I have gone back to eating dairy-free chocolate sometimes, so I went deeper with my ponderings.

Why do I feel impelled to rush around, to drive myself to the point of exhaustion?

I know now it is because doing lots of things and being constantly ‘busy’ makes me feel good about myself. This stems from being a perfectionist and a high achiever for much of my life, so that if I am not ‘producing the goods’ continuously I think there is something wrong with me.

This is what I am working on now – letting go the need to be perfect and instead feeling my innate qualities that have always been there (from birth); knowing, appreciating and confirming that there is nothing I need to do as I am already all that I need to be, and accepting that I do not have to be perfect (I am human after all!). Thus, I am building a relationship with my body and my being, such that I do not need the chocolate to feel amazing.

The truth is:

  • Exercise is only part of the weight loss story
  • Dieting is only part of the weight loss story
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners in any form (food or drink) are very harmful to our health
  • Obesity is not just an energy imbalance (calories in/calories out) problem
  • Connection with your body is key to permanent weight loss.

Connection with your body and your being, and feeling good about yourself, accepting yourself (warts and all), are the keys to cutting out sugar, eating healthily, exercising wisely and preventing obesity.


References:

  • [1]

    The GEBN is a non-profit group supported financially by Coca-Cola, among others. It promotes research into the causes of obesity, focusing its message on the need for people to increase their physical activity as the key to achieving a healthy weight.

  • [2]

    Mercola. 3 April 2013. Sugary Drinks Linked to Over 180,000 Deaths Worldwide. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/03/sugary-drink-consumption.aspx

  • [3]

    Huffpost. 24 September 2012. Does This Aspartame Make My Butt Look Fat? Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-dorfman/aspartame_b_1674707.html

  • [4]

    Global Healing Center. 30 September 2013. Aspartame Makes You Gain Weight. Retrieved from https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/aspartame-makes-you-gain-weight/

  • [5]

    Ibid.

  • [6]

    Duffey KJ. Steffen LM. Van Horn L. Jacobs Jr DR. Popkin BM. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2012. Dietary patterns matter: diet beverages and cardiometabolic risks in the longitudinal Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/95/4/909.abstract?sid=80e05faf-f683-46fb-b230-cafb34fc0b87

  • [7]

    We could ask, how can research be ‘independent’ when it is sponsored by a party who has an interest in a certain result? Where is the honesty in such research?

  • [8]

    MacDonald, I, Prof. Chair of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). 17 July 2015. Scientific experts: Sugar intake ‘should be halved’. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33551501

  • [9]

    Lawrence, F. 10 January 2014. The Guardian. We must end this sweet madness of excess sugar consumption. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/09/end-excess-sugar-consumption

  • [10]

    Mercola. 4 December 2012. Artificial Sweeteners Cause Greater Weight Gain Than Sugar, Yet Another Study Reveals. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/12/04/saccharin-aspartame-dangers.aspx

  • [11]

    Moalem, S. 1 May 2014. Inheritance, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd (London), 2014. Review retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mind-reviews-inheritance/

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