Avoiding Obesity: A History Lesson

Avoiding Obesity: A History Lesson

“In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.” – Edmund Burke

ANCIENT HISTORY

As a whole, humans have experienced chronic food shortage and malnutrition since the dawn of time.1 Delve back to the Paleolithic period and there’s no skeletal evidence of overweight humans. Hunter-gatherers were most likely thin, like the current last remaining hunter-gatherers – the few indigenous peoples across the globe still living as their tribal ancestors have. Take the Kalahari Bushmen in Africa, for example, these persistence hunters may chase prey 2-5 hours until the target animal is exhausted enough for the hunter to spear it by hand! Needless to say, they were likely not overweight.

Enter the Neolithic era approximately 10,000 years ago in the aftermath of the last the ice age; its advent of agriculture and animal domestication systems are but two examples of human adaptations over thousands of years to which we can attribute our survival. The convenience of centralizing food procurement in such a way was a logical answer to the growth of human population whilst wild game dwindled and foraging grew impractical.2 The concentrated production of crops and edible animals saved us from the very real threat of starvation that existed. Historically, farming and agriculture were physically demanding ventures with energy costs comparable to, and in some cases exceeding, that of foraging.2 Thus, normal weight or underweight was the norm and obesity was rare.

Rachel Laudan, a noted food historian and author at the University of Texas at Austin, gave us her insight that “there’s evidence that there always was a propensity toward obesity among the wealthy in any society.” Some wealthy, high-status individuals in ancient Greece, Byzantine, Greco-Roman regions and elsewhere were obese for their time.2 Laudan explained that “overweight was viewed as a status symbol.” For most of history, humans faced a scarcity of food which led to the belief that being fat was good and in fact, desirable.1

Humans have long adapted to the natural environments in which they lived. Thus, agriculture was not the same everywhere and diets varied widely depending on geography.3 But in general, farming did allow the consumption of larger amounts of grain, milk, and domesticated meat.3 This shift in dietary patterns over thousands of years across the globe resulted in at least one evolutionary change — our ability to digest milk past weaning,3 attributable to milk consumption by our adult agricultural ancestors.

MODERN HISTORY

Welcome to the Industrial Age which began just over 200 years ago. With machinery, harnessed power, and train transportation of goods in the late 19th-century, the streamlined industrialization of food started to make basic subsistence relatively effortless for more and more people.2 As food systems delivered so much food to so many people at such a low cost3, populations largely went from subsistence to abundance in terms of food availability.

Food security around the time of World War I was such a primary concern that it drew then-US President Woodrow Wilson to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to expand production of the staple food crops beyond what was needed for American use. “There is no danger of overproduction.” – David F Houston, US Secretary of Agriculture c.1917

Not only did the volume of food change, but refined whole grains and sugar became available. Previously, the only type of long-term food storage was drying or dehydration. Increased stores of food by advanced preservation methods such as pickling, fermenting, curing and canning and by cold storage in ice houses, cellars and modern refrigeration brought us more access to food off-season.

These advances in improved public health and the amount, quality, and variety of food initially resulted in increased longevity and body size.1 Unfortunately, abandoning a traditional agricultural lifestyle may have triggered our fat-storing genes to kick in. Up until now, people that stored fat the most were probably the evolutionarily best suited to survive. Our genotype adapted for times of feast or famine are now probably causing problems due to the excessive amounts of carbohydrates typically eaten3. Essentially, our ability to store body fat became maladaptive when technological advances altered the balance between the availability of food and energy expenditure.1

It seems a shift in food intake and physical output has caused our modern malady of obesity and its pathologic consequences of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Only a couple hundred years ago, obesity meant having enough money to buy and consume all that you want and was a sign of wealth and prosperity (see first highlight). Morbid obesity was relatively unheard of. The effect since World War II has been an overabundance of easily accessible food, coupled with reduced physical activity, that accounts for the recent increased prevalence of obesity.1 Industrialization first brought an abundance of high-density foods, then the 20th-century food industry’s manufacturing allowed for more processed convenience foods. Double whammy!

To avoid obesity, one must maintain balance between food consumption and energy expenditure. The effort to procure food (or in other daily living activities) must match the energy derived from it.

References:

  1. A History of Obesity, or How What Was Good Became Ugly and Then Bad. Garabed Eknoyan. Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease, Vol 13, No 4 (October), 2006: pp 421-427
  2. The fattest ape: An evolutionary tale of human obesity. Jesse Bering. Scientific American November 2, 2010
  3. Evolutionary Eating — What We Can Learn From Our Primitive Past. Juliann Schaeffer.
    Today’s Dietitian 2009, 11, No. 4, P. 36

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Sugar Content of Jamaica Tea

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Jamaica tea, also known as Roselle tea, is brewed from the dried petals of the hibiscus flower. We break down the nutritional content and answer whether or not sugar is naturally occurring in this ruby red drink.

Recommended Daily Allowances for Middle Aged Female

Recommended Daily Allowances for Middle Aged Female

Question:

What are the recommended daily allowances for the areas below? For reference, I’m an LA Fitness member, a female aged 50, 135 lbs., and 5’6”.

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Calcium
  • Sodium
  • Fiber
  • Sugar

– Loretta H.

Answer:

If I were to create a profile with your age, height, weight, and gender in a decent diet analysis program, it would compare your food record to the following US RDAs [or alternative value] for women age 31-50 years, given in amounts per day:

  • Carbohydrate – 130 grams
  • Protein – 49 grams (8 g/kg body weight)
  • Fat – not determined [20-35% calories from fat is acceptable macronutrient distribution range]
  • Calcium – 1,000 mg
  • Sodium – 1,300 mg [Adequate intake for women 50-70 years]
  • Fiber – 25 grams [Adequate Intake]
  • Sugar – not determined [2015 US Dietary Guidelines limit added sugars to less than 10% calories]

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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Member Spotlight | How Pilates by LAF® Changed This Woman’s Life

Member Spotlight | How Pilates by LAF® Changed This Woman’s Life

The idea of exercise being a chore or challenge to get done is sadly a common consensus among many, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Meet Shayla W. of Riverside, CA who wanted to be healthy but was struggling with finding the drive to maintain the healthy lifestyle she wanted to live.

You see, six years ago Shayla wanted to be healthy by her 40th birthday.

She missed that mark by well over 100 lbs.

Between 2012 and 2016, Shayla lost 80 pounds and then regained 102 lbs. She struggled with feelings of being a failure. Her doctor referred her for bariatric surgery.

At first, she was not convinced that the surgery was necessary. Instead, she buckled down and changed her eating habits and started exercising regularly.

It didn’t work.

Shayla had gastric sleeve surgery in May of 2017. While most people believe that bariatric surgery is an easy way to lose weight, that’s not necessarily the case. The surgery does help with reducing the amount of food your body wants to eat, but it’s imperative that you are consuming the correct foods.

While every person’s own nutrition needs vary, Shayla is currently consuming 5 – 6 small meals daily. She eats about every 3 hours. The mornings are typically started with a green smoothie, and she makes sure to have at least one salad a day.

Exercising also plays into a big part of the equation, especially after bariatric surgery when you can lose fat and muscle. Wanting to build her muscle, increase core strength, and correct her posture, Shayla was searching for a Pilates studio. She learned about Pilates by LAF® studios from her co-workers who had attended an introductory workout and enjoyed it.

She decided to give the introductory workout a chance herself, and she loved it! She was also impressed with the small class set up and decided to join.

“It is the highlight of my day. I leave work and go straight to the classes. It has become my stress reliever. I am so glad that LA Fitness added Pilates by LAF workouts.”

Shayla W.

Pilates by LAF® Member

Shayla’s current goal mirrors the same one of her past, and that’s staying healthy. “I firmly believe that being healthy is not one size or someone’s visual perception of what is healthy or attractive,” says Shayla.

Shayla’s Advice?

“Take pictures as you drop and tone. It will document your journey to good health.”

Shayla W.

Pilates by LAF® Client

Exercise doesn’t have to be so difficult. If you find yourself lacking the motivation to get moving, try switching up your routine until you find something you truly enjoy doing. If Pilates isn’t for you, consider participating in group fitness classes, playing in club leagues, or perhaps booking a session with a Pro Results® personal trainer to help figure out just what it is you like to do.

Get moving to get healthy! We believe in you, you just have to believe in yourself – and we can help!

Pilates by LAF is available to individuals 18 years of age or older (or at least 14 years of age and accompanied by a parent or legal guardian). Paid-in-Full Pilates by LAF memberships are only available to LA Fitness members. Non-LA Fitness members must provide valid I.D. and sign a waiver of liability to use Pilates by LAF studios.  Separate membership agreement and fees required to access Pilates by LAF services. Please visit a Pilates by LAF studio for more information, including membership options and pricing.


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Eat More, Gain More Muscle?

Eat More, Gain More Muscle?

Question:

I try to gain muscle by eating a lot. Unfortunately, I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. After joining LA Fitness, my weight has gone down and I’m still skinny. How can I grow some muscle so that I won’t scare people away due to looking like a skeleton? I appreciate you very much for your help!

– Kristine K.

Answer:

Given your multiple conditions, you should consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for personalized advice according to your lab values and medications. If you choose to incorporate the following nutritional recommendations, do so only if you are under routine physician’s care for your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. These suggestions focus on nutrient density for muscle growth.

Include 1-2 tablespoon of raw nuts daily. Full of heart-healthy fats and calories with a little fiber, these won’t raise blood sugar or blood pressure. One ounce of almonds provides 164 calories.

Use tortillas instead of bread. Increased density without the pockets of air from leavened bread means more energy per bite. By turning to burritos or wraps in place of toast and sandwiches, you could add 100 calories to each meal (10-12” flour tortilla = ~220-350 Cals vs. 2 slices regular bread = 150 Cals).

Focus on potassium and energy-rich produce. Bananas, sweet potatoes, peas, and avocados are notably high in potassium which is important for proper fluid balance and thus blood pressure. Winter squash and beans are also significant plant sources with notable calories.

Increase eating sessions instead of volume. More frequent servings allow your body to better process your food without overload. By giving yourself a bonus low-sodium snack before bedtime, you can add calories without spiking your blood pressure and blood sugar.

Maximize your workouts. You’re not going to grow muscle tissue by eating alone! Muscles need a greater stress than they currently experience in order to increase in size and strength. Meet with a Pro Results® personal trainer for the best instruction on specific exercises to grow muscle.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

6 + 7 =


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Stop Doubting Yourself

Stop Doubting Yourself

Let’s start with the facts.

Statistically speaking, you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than winning the lottery. (Almost 4 times more likely, actually).

Still, chances are you’ve tried your luck at it a time or two –

So, why not take a gamble on yourself? Whether it’s fear of failure, lack of motivation, or countless other reasons that have held you back from hitting the jackpot on your life, let’s make the conscious decision to cross that bridge together today.

Unlike the lottery, when it comes to fitness and nutrition the odds are in your favor.

I’m sure some would argue this point, but here’s why it’s true:

  1. While genetics could be against you, you are ultimately in control of your fitness and nutrition habits.
  2. While unhealthy foods are more easily available, you are ultimately in control of your fitness and nutrition habits.
  3. While time may not be on your side, you are ultimately in control of your fitness and nutrition habits.
  4. When doubt screams louder than confidence, you are ultimately in control of your fitness and nutrition habits.
  5. If the lack of health knowledge has held you back, STILL you are ultimately in control of your fitness and nutrition habits.

There could be a million reasons not to start something, but if you can find one reason to begin that’s all you need.

That small step in the right direction is your way of taking control of your life and getting one step closer to winning life’s jackpot.

If someone else could win the lottery, why can’t you? If someone else could turn their health and fitness around, why can’t you?

You can do it and if you feel like you can’t, LA Fitness will help you get there. Try us out and see what you think. And if you’re already a member who is struggling to stay on track, talk to a Pro Results® certified personal trainer for what the best option would be for you.

Taking chances can be scary, but taking a chance on yourself could be the greatest gamble you ever make.

Need a little extra motivation? Check out some of the additional articles below.

  1. The Common Misconception of Getting Fit Before Joining a Gym
  2. March to LA Fitness
  3. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
  4. The Happiness Factor: How Happiness Affects Health

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