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.
(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.
(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.
(image courtesy: Redstone Grill site)
(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!