The Health and Fitness of a Nation – What Happened?

Do you ever wonder why a whole culture of people, and that would be we Americans, got so fat, so out of shape, so tired, and so plagued by pain, lack of mobility, and diseases?Do you ever wonder why, in spite of the sad shape of our bodies, we are so unwilling to learn about and to adopt health principles and life-giving eating and lifestyle habits?What has happened to us as a culture, and how did it happen?Follow along, if you would, the chronology of the downward spiral of our eating and exercise habits.It began hundreds of years ago, but let’s start in 1956 with the birth of the “Four Food Groups.”We have been sold on the big mama myth of all–the “Four Food Groups.” We were told, and we believed, that we must eat meat, dairy products, and refined breads, cereals, and grains to be healthy.We were also told and believed other lies and misconceptions:· We believed, and most of us still do, that we must eat meat to get enough protein.· We believed, and most of us still do, that meat protein is superior to plant protein.· We believed, and most of us still do, that we must eat protein for strength and energy.· We believed, and most of us still do, that eating chicken and fish will lower cholesterol.· We believed, and most of us still do, that milk “does a body good,” and we must drink it for strong bones and teeth.· We believed, and most of us still do, that osteoporosis is caused by not getting enough calcium.We get all the essential nutrients–protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, calcium, vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber–that we need for health and life from plant foods without the extra fat, cholesterol, salt, toxins, animal protein, and calories found in animal sources of food.However, our cultural habits and traditions of today were built upon the infamous “Four Food Groups” and the six myths stated above.At the same time we bought–hook, line, and sinker–into the original “Four Food Groups,” our culture was also lured into the convenience of convenience foods.Convenience foods came in the form of canned foods–canned vegetables, fruits, soups, spaghetti sauces, condiments, and juices.Convenience foods also came in the form of frozen foods, boxed breakfast cereals, instant oats, cream of wheat, and refined, white breads.These convenience foods made our mothers’ lives easier, and they fit into the model of the “Four Food Groups” so our moms gave us these foods without forethought or question.But, although convenient, convenience foods were often loaded with salt, sugar, chemicals, and/or fat and lacked nutrients. And they were often high in calories.How well I remember Campbell’s tomato soup and toasted Velveeta cheese sandwiches and lemonade made from sugary, frozen concentrate. And what about those dried up cereals in the morning and frozen or canned peas, corn, or string beans at night?I am sure you can remember what convenience foods your mom gave you.Who even thought about the fact that when foods are altered through processing, canning, freezing, and/or packaging, they are stripped of many of their nutrients?Who even thought about the fact that if we are filling up on these convenience foods, along with meat and dairy products, then we certainly aren’t eating enough of the disease-preventing, health-promoting foods, namely fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and legumes?In addition to the infamous “Four Food Groups” and convenience foods, fast foods exploded into our lives starting in the 1960s.Fast foods were fast, easy, cheap, and tasted good; just the right combination for mothers in the 70s and 80s who were going through their own transformation of becoming liberated and joining the work force. Convenience foods and fast foods made their very busy lives easier.And then the children of these working moms grew up with fast and convenient foods and got accustomed to the taste, the accessibility, and the acceptability of these foods.Let’s face it. If kids are given the choice between a meal consisting of a hamburger, French fries, and pop or a meal consisting of a salad, brown rice and steamed vegetables, which meal are they going to choose? In fact, which meal would you choose or, at least, want to choose?Before the event of women working out of their homes, kids were not given a choice what to eat. Kids were told what they had to eat. But that parental consciousness shifted when women spent so much of their time out of the home.Kids, hooked on fast foods, would whine to their moms about going out for quick hamburgers or pizza, and working moms, too tired or too distracted or too stressed, would often concede. It was just plain easier for busy moms to give in to their kids’ wishes rather than to prepare nutritious meals and to say, “No.”Kids were taught that they could eat what they wanted in whatever quantities they wanted. And they were not taught the difference between good food choices and bad food choices.The result: spoiled taste buds, a spoiled attitude of “I want what I want when I want it” that carried over into adulthood, and, ultimately, taste buds were not the only things spoiled; whole bodies were spoiled.To make matters go from bad to worse, the phenomenon of television invaded our living rooms. Kids and adults alike became more sedentary. Unfortunately, the more TV we watched the fatter and the less fit we got.Furthermore, the advertising on T.V. had a tremendous influence on our eating habits and on our attitude about foods. Of course, computers and game boys chain us to our chairs even longer than just TV’s.In addition, remember how physical education was stressed in the 1960s? Remember John F. Kennedy’s president’s award for physical fitness? Well, P.E. lost its favor with the baby boomers and became less and less emphasized in the schools. In fact, by 1988, Illinois was the only state left that required daily P.E.The bottom line: as Americans ate worse and worse and moved their bodies less and less, we as a nation got fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker.Then Americans became obsessed with losing all the excess weight they had gained through poor eating habits and the lack of activity and exercise.However, we did not want to lose weight by eating correctly and exercising more–no, that took too much effort and too much time. We spoiled Americans wanted fast weight loss. So what did many of us latch onto? Any diet that came along that loudly touted quick fixes and easy solutions.Did the diets work? Just look around and the truth will reveal itself.How many millions of dollars are spent every year on the newest miracle diet, and how many of us continue to carry around way too much weight? It doesn’t take a genius to see that those easy weight loss programs, called diets, simply don’t work.Just take a look at the popular, and one I completely shutter at, Atkins’ diet. You know the one–the one that is overloaded with high fat, high cholesterol, and high animal protein. Dr. Atkins himself marketed and bragged about that diet for decades and made millions of dollars from millions of unsuspecting dieters.Yet did you ever take a close look at Dr. Atkins before his premature death? He could not disguise the blatant fact that he always looked many pounds overweight. Even after decades of following his own advice, he still could not keep the pounds off. He is just one more bit of proof that fad, weight loss diets just don’t work.And look at the predicament that we, as a nation, are in now.Americans are sicker, fatte, and more out of shape than ever. And it’s getting worse, not better. If you don’t believe it’s getting worse, just take a walk into one of our high schools and look at our overweight, under-fit children.We are birthed out of the loins of our culture. For fifty years and longer we have built food and exercise habits on the collectively accepted standard for our culture. And today we are products of that culture.The standard for our culture was, and for the most part still is, filling our stomachs with meat, dairy products, boxed cereals, canned soups, canned fruits and vegetables, sugar products, Crisco, and Betty Crocker. With the addition of McDonald’s and fast food across the land, our health slid from bad to worse. The lack of exercise only accelerated that downward spiral.It is tough to break old conditioning and habits in order to turn your own body and your own life around. The choices that you must make now to be at your best level of comfort, energy, and activity are not the choices we were taught and conditioned to make as children.It may be tough to consciously eat better, but it is much tougher to endure getting a breast cut off, the prostate cut out, or a leg cut off due to diabetes. It is much tougher to get your chest buzz-sawed open for heart surgery, to get burned by radiation, or to get sickened by chemotherapy than it is to fill your stomachs with fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.Which will it be? Get stricken with a stroke that paralyzes you on one side of your body or eating fruits and vegetables and walking on your own for the rest of your life?Seems like a simple, very clear choice to me. Doesn’t it to you?Just because the health of our nation is plummeting downward, doesn’t mean that your health is doomed to take that same dreaded course.Your health and fitness are your own responsibility, and it’s time to take that first step on your own path to the best you.