RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA- PART II

So, as I was saying in Part I, portion sizes of food are huge in the US, and soda consumption is universal. What more?
* Gyms are full of people doing the same things I have seen in India: the obviously unfit men and women doing chronic, slow cardio and the men, sprouting big biceps, going at curls of various kinds. I was the only person deadlifting, though a couple of boys were doing barbell squats. The rest of the alpha males in the huge YMCA gym were going at the machines and the biceps curls. They probably had never heard of Pavel or known the difference between strength and conditioning. Trainers were busy with personal clients, helping them with the reps in various machines, and that was it.
Seeing all this, I admire my favorite fitness coaches for being so rational in their outlook towards training.
* Outside on the kerbs and in parks, one saw men and women jogging, the sweat tenuously held by head bands and wrist bands. Each well-cushioned foot would strike the ground by the heel, with little back drive to hit the glutes and hamstrings. Sigh.
* At certain hotels like the Sheraton , there were no barbells in the gym. Only machines! I couldn’t believe it, but rationalised that their clients were probably not fitness oriented or demanding.
* One striking feature about the country is the incredible abundance of food outlets, leading one to conclude (wrongly, as I will say soon) that with so much junk food available, people are bound to eat those and reap the dividends (obesity, diabetes, etc.). Clearly, that is happening, though the mainstream recommendation of eating a grain-based, low-fat diet has had a major contribution in this regard.
So why is it wrong to say that Americans are fat only because they are surrounded by junk food purveyors all around?
If you look around a grocery store in that country, you will see an incredible array of green vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, dairy, seeds and nuts, and with several varieties of each, like organic, free-range, etc. If someone wants to eat real food and stay healthy, there is no way he can say he did not have a choice (Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giants, etc.).
As a commentator said, the US is all about choice. The majority of Americans are making wrong choices because of several factors:
1. Misguided mainstream nutrition advice ( to eat grains/cereals, avoid fats, especially saturated fats).
2. The addictive nature of sugars and carbs— leading to cravings that leads the victim to the nearest outlet selling junk food.
IMG_0269
(butter caramel pie- image courtesy: http://www.tasteandtellblog.com/2007/12/gooey-caramel-butter-bars.html)

I visited Starbucks thrice in a day to have their rich pecan toffee pie which, as Part I of this ramble showed, carries nearly 300 calories.
cornbread(image courtesy: http://lilveggiepatch.wordpress.com/tag/restaurants/page/3/)

Being the melting pot of global cultures, the variety and richness of foods in America is incredible. Even American food (like the incredible corn bread with maple butter at Redstone Grill) was constantly tempting, even to this discriminating tongue.
Picture 5(image courtesy: Redstone Grill site)

cornbread2
(just to show I couldn’t have enough of this delicious cornbread!
Image courtesy: http://www.cookingforseven.com/2009/05/maple-cornbread-and-a-giveaway/
)
3. Fast and stressful life: though this does not apply as a general rule, I found the typical family struggling with mortgages, credit card bills, car repair bills, child care, job stress, etc. with holidays reserved for mowing the lawn, vacuuming, and sundry chores. In such a cortisol-driven milieu, fat gain seems natural.
4. Automation: all the Americans need now is a voice-activated remote to control all the other remotes, including the garage door. (The Koreans beat them in the bathroom, though, with toilet seats that warm your ass, flush it clean, and provide sundry other minor pleasures.)
Physical activity is almost nil!

*Books: I spent decent time at two of America’s largest book stores, Barnes & Noble and Borders. I was surprised to find not one of the (fitness) books I was looking for. I wanted to buy one of Tom Venuto‘s books, Alwyn Cosgrove‘s Afterburn, Pavel‘s Enter The Kettlebell and The Naked Warrior. I finally managed to order one of the books from the B&N on 5th Avenue in New York.
Protein Power, another book I was familiar with, authored by the Drs. Eades, was available in that store, and the blurb said the book had sold 3.5 million copies. I was not surprised, as the authors write very well, and sound very sane.
Most of the books in the fitness section were crap. I did find Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, but I wasn’t interested. After reading Pavel’s The Power To The People, I am only keen on getting better at the key lifts and improving on my strength and conditioning. For the same reason, I skipped other offerings, including The New Rules of Lifting, by Lou Schuler and Cosgrove.
On the other hand, the shelves were choking with diet books: diet for cystic fibrosis, diet for phenylketonurics, diets for celiac disease, and so on. ‘Dummies‘ books (low carb/diabetes, etc.) were also easily seen on shelves.
After three days of hunting, I understood that it is far better to order something online than hunt for it in the stores, if you have limited time. However, I love browsing in stores and taking my time till I am hungry, so I have no regrets!

*Overall (an excuse of a word to cut down an overlong post!), I found (again!) that this is a country all about individual freedom, including the freedom of self-destruction.
When I think of that, my respect for those who are American and fit is very high indeed!
* Finally (to exorcise my cornbread ghosts), each slice of cornbread is around 200 calories, at least. Add the maple butter, and several slices as starters to a meal, and you can now explain my (temporary and planned) fat gain. Have one on me, please!

23 responses to “RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA- PART II

  1. Pingback: THE RAMBLE ENDS « A Twist of Word and Mind

  2. Gotta stay out of those Starbucks, and away from those “addictive” sugary processed carbs. The US is a huge country filled with all kinds of people, and we drive too much, eat too much crap, but I think you’re being a bit closed minded on what people do to be fit. Why are dead lifts so wonderful, jogging so bad? It sounds like just your bias to me. And I can’t understand why anyone would think grains are evil. I understand some are sensitive to them, but certainly not most? I’d eat brown rice over steak any day, enjoy it more, feel better afterwards.

  3. Julie:
    I am not closed-minded about fitness. It is a known fact that for fat loss and strength building, chronic slow cardio like jogging is not an efficient activity. Most people who do so don’t reach their goals. Similarly, deads and squats offer far bigger a bang for the weight training buck. Nobody becomes lean and fit doing curls. Those who are lean and do curls, don’t get strong. They merely look fleshed out, with prominent vanity muscles. Strength experts scoff at these people!
    As far as grains are concerned, this is a big topic with lots of controversies. I don’t think grains are evil, but think that a grain-centric diet is undesirable for a variety of reasons.
    Thanks for commenting!

  4. “If you look around a grocery store in that country, you will see an incredible array of green vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, dairy, seeds and nuts, and with several varieties of each, like organic, free-range, etc. If someone wants to eat real food and stay healthy, there is no way he can say he did not have a choice.”

    Doc, did you look at, and compare the prices of green vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, dairy etc. to those of junk food? If you did, you would have found your answer as to why so many people gravitate towards junk food. When a 2 liter bottle of coke costs a fraction of a pound of oranges, there’s really not much choice left. American food policies (which are set by the government in conjunction with FDA/USDA headed by corporate honchos – a clear case of fox guarding the hen house) subsidize junk – and unhealthy – food. So, it’s not so much about individual freedom as you say, when the rules are made by powerful food companies whose interest lies in selling more of junk food rather than healthy food. It’d be more accurate to call it Hobson’s choice.

    In some cases, WIC and other food coupons don’t even allow people to buy healthy food, and mandate them to spend those coupons on junk food. So, it’s less a question of choice and more of curtailing people’s freedom to buy food of their choice.

  5. Very good point, Amit! You surprise me!!๐Ÿ˜‰
    I am well aware of the huge behind-the-scenes manipulations and politics that must have led to the US/global food policies of the last few decades. Yeah, like our grandparents needed to be told what to feed their kids! This disaster (US food industry and its role in the American health status) is an example of vested interests scheming their ways through a parenting, bullying Government and creating new recommendations and ‘foods’. Subsidy (can you pronounce c-o-r-n) is one important way. Quite right!

  6. I can relate to what u r talking about, as a friend is over from the us (has lived there last 2yrs ) and he keeps drinking cola and comparing stuff and life in both places.

    I must agree with Amit, and have noticed this same trend even in Europe but to a lesser extent.

    The way processed food is catching up in India, i don’t know how long it will take for Indians to repeat their mistakes – not that there is less junk food in our diets now…

    Lastly the shoes look really cool !

  7. Seconded about WIC, as I was actually on it. My coupons bought peanut butter or dried beans, canned tuna, milk, cheese, fruit juice, and breakfast cereal. I don’t remember whether I was allowed to get oatmeal instead of the cold boxed stuff. If you were a nursing mother you were allowed to get carrots once a month after the baby was born. None of it was enough to last the month except possibly the milk, most of it was way too carby, and I went off it after a while because at the time I was going vegan and there was virtually nothing I could eat. Afterward I looked back and marveled at how determined my own government is to destroy my pancreas. The same USDA that was giving money to poor moms to buy juice for themselves and their kids also released a memo declaring that juice is liquid sugar and should be given to kids in small amounts and watered down, if at all. I saw the memo. It was posted outside the WIC office.

    A significant number of us descend from peoples who never got the chance to adjust to grain-based diets at all, not even the measly 10,000 years that some groups got because they were related to folks from the Fertile Crescent or whatever. We are being destroyed by our government’s propping up of grain agriculture. Anyone who thinks grains aren’t evil hasn’t thought that through either. Now, I still like them. The way a smoker likes his cigarettes or a junkie his heroin.

  8. Oh, eggs. I got eggs on WIC too. One or two dozens a month, I don’t remember. Factory-farmed, of course.

  9. Doc: I disagree on the ‘misguided advice’ bit. There is plenty of advice available and the advice per se is pretty balanced. Unlike many western hemisphere nations, the US government has produced many hands-on guides for people to follow. However as Amit mentions, the prices of fresh produce are much higher than processed foods. The US is the only country in the developed world where dietary advice comes from the Department of Agriculture and not from the Health Department. That means there is the inevitability of the “capture” of the advice by agricultural lobby and their interests. That makes for advice and price being uneasy bed fellows. The other thing is that despite almost 5 decades of the 4 basic rules of health being known to the public, fewer than 5% of Americans follow all 4 rules. In a land that prizes individual choice over state diktat, there is nothing the government can do. I also think your reasons re stress and automation are choices that people make. Many of us who live in reasonably automated country with similar options to complicate or simplify our lives make different choices. I recently helped a friend in her move from the UK. I was astonished to see how much more complex and transaction-ridden they have chosen to make their life compared to mine. I would say it also boils down to the choices people make. You could argue there are social pressure reasons for such choices, or you could argue that we are genetically encoded to hoard (calories, “stuff”, you name it). But if individual choices remain bad, the spiral of obesity and ill health will only continue.

  10. I like living here for one major thing. All packaged food has the calorie info printed right there, from the huge Costco cake to the frozen lean cuisine dinners.

    I know Singapore(where I grew up) doesnt require labelling. India I dont think its available as well.

    Armed with the calorific value of each food item, doesnt one have all the help one needs in weight loss.:)

    I came over from Rad’s blog.๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Sraikh:
    True, but how many people does it really help? Does knowing the caloric value of a burger or dog stop people from splurging on them? Sadly, in this imperfect world, no.
    Welcome to this blog!

  12. The six pack-adonis obsession, bathing suit photos and now rants about obesity in America. You going Wintour on us ?๐Ÿ™‚ ..

    “I’d just been on a trip to Minnesota, where I can only kindly describe most of the people I saw as little houses. And I just felt like thereโ€™s such an epidemic of obesity in the United States. And for some reason everyone focuses on anorexia.”

    — Anna Wintour

    Jokes apart, it is sad to see America kill itself with a fork. Whatever happened to everything in moderation. The ills are everywhere. A double cheesburger, large fries and a “diet” coke — the diet coke is supposed to make up for the cheeseburger and super sized fries ! Subway is the worst — footlong subs with cheese, meats and condiments(mayo , ranch et al) and a reward for the prudent choice of good-eating at subway by piling a bag of chips, a drink and a cookie to make it a 1800 calorie meal ! It’s horrible ; unless of course you want to slurp that much calories in a cool DiaryQueen blizzard..

  13. Couldn’t agree more with your comment about the abundance of food outlets and pathetic workout areas in today’s hotels.

    The hotels I’ve recently stayed dedicate paragraphs “talking-up” their state of the art equipment but in reality you’ll find a couple of treadmills and a unversal machine in a 10×10 room.

    How sad…

    Mike

  14. Athreya, I hear you, man! Couldn’t agree more!!
    Thanks for your comments, Michael, and welcome to this blog!

  15. Doc, I am totally confused about the advantages/disadvantages of consuming desi-ghee!

    My in-laws consume litres of it in a month… and that drives me crazy… they ask me to search online and indeed the benefits of ghee are enormous! What is it then? Is ghee better than those Saffolas we consume? Or is it worse? Put some light on the enigma plz๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Nova:
    There is nothing inherently wrong with ghee. It is a natural source of saturated fat (which is not a bad thing at all). However, if you eat a lot of it, along with carbs, sugars and also lead a sedentary life, you would risk getting fat, with its attendant risks of diabetes, etc.
    I avoid all industrial vegetable oils. I would have only natural fats, inc. lard, coconut oil, mustard oil, palm oil, butter and olive oil.

  17. @Doc & Nova,
    If you are lactose intolerant and butter is out of question, at times Ghee is a better alternative. Ghee is fine with lactose intolerance. And like you mention in moderation it is beneficial per some bigwigs like Dr.Oz

    Another interesting thing I heard was how our bodies inherently know how to process natural fats be it butter or any of the natural oils, but with regard to butter substitutes the cons far outweigh the pros…

    @Doc, what’s up with your disdain for blogging ?๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Madhu:
    Welcome! I am presently writing a lot, none here, though! Pro-related writing.

  19. Strengthening and cardio exercises are the best way to reduce excess fat. For most Americans, their strengthening exercise is to push away from the table and the cardio exercise is to saunter to their favorite chair to watch TV for 4 or 5 hours. And, they all crave free health care. Go figure.

  20. oh to find content as this time Forlong your blog is my solution

  21. You are soooo right, it is all about choices. We choose what we buy, and what we eat! Don’t you just love the guy who orders a Big Mac, Large Fry and a diet coke? Give me a break. As if that makes it balance out. Americans need to move more, eat less, and remember it is calories in verses calories out!

  22. Doc-

    Thank you for confirming my thoughts on mainstream gym and nutrition culture.

    There are so many people who are truly looking for a solution to their weight and health issues but are being misled by the powers that be. PROPER exercise and diet can do SO much to help alleviate common ailments like obesity, diabetes, celiac disease, etc.

    Great blog!

    -Ian

  23. Pingback: Back in campaign mode, presidential hopefuls focus (AP) « merubygonek

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