Thursday, January 15, 2004

I just got back Monday from my holiday travels, and my cupboards and refrigerator were pretty well bare. So I had a long list of things to get at the grocery store. However, the book I was reading before I went food shopping had quite an influence on my purchases -- it was Greg Critser's Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World.

My weight has been creeping upward slowly -- about 20 pounds in the past 6 years -- and though it annoyed me to no end when I could no longer button the waistbands on my rarely-worn dress clothes, I wasn't really thinking much about what I eat. Fat Land made me think of more than how I look -- about the health consequences if my weight keeps slowly growing. I knew the amount of exercise I got dropped radically once I no longer walked two and from the campus of the University where I used to teach. But I only ever thought about the number of restaurant meals I eat in financial terms; this book made me think about the contents of those meals. It also, as I said, made me read the labels in the grocery store far more carefully, looking for high-fructose corn syrup -- a sweetener and preservative which has far worse effects on the body than sucrose, the sugar you can buy in bags or packets. Soda has always been a bad habit of mine -- my dentist has even remarked on the effect it had on my teeth (a result of the acids in it, not the sweeteners). But these HFCS-sweetened drinks may be even more likely to expand my fat cells than the equivalent calories of sucrose-sweetened home-baked goods, if I'm interpreting Critser's statements correctly. One more reason to keep buying 100% fruit juice drinks, and not the bottles with the pictures of fruits on the front and "27% juice" on the back of the label.

Portion sizes, food ingredients, and lack of exercise -- these are the major issues Critser cites as causes for the increased numbers of obese Americans. He also points out how the availability of both food and exercise is influenced by economic class; how the neglect of weight control information in schools for fear of inducing anorexia and bulemia in young people is setting them up for far more common diseases such as diabetes; and even the idea that Europeans consider smaller amounts of food to be a standard portion size. The book is truly thought-provoking -- and in me it is provoked consideration of where I could manage to fit that stationary bicycle into my apartment.