With images bombarding us to EAT, EAT, EAT and the diet industry telling us to LOSE, LOSE, LOSE, who knows what it means to be healthy anymore? It’s time we expose the myths that are confusing students and start understanding what makes us fat and, even more importantly, what doesn’t.
“People don’t really understand nutrition, and they’re really following most of the messages they get, which are about dieting,” said Ronda Bokram, nutritionist at Olin Health Center. “They don’t understand how [dieting] affects your metabolism and how it psychologically can affect your tendency to overeat and to use food for many ways.”
[[bmi2]]Consider the Body Mass Index calculator. The BMI is a weight-to-height formula that is nearly impossible to follow because it excludes the presence of muscle, water and bone weight within the body. Not only that, but according to Bokram the BMI calculator is only intended for population studies, not individual use. This can trick many people into believing that they are overweight when they really aren’t.
Also, when someone plans to go on a diet, he often binges and just prior to the diet’s start date. Once he gives up on the diet, he again binges very often in order to satisfy cravings from deprivation. These two – and sometimes more -binge events cover the ground “lost” by the actual diet, often leaving someone right back where they started.
According to Hospitality Net, the diet industry is worth $33 billion, so they can afford to hide the truth from their customers. When a diet industry claims that they can help someone lose 10 pounds of fat in 10 days, it’s really only one pound of fat. The other nine pounds are a combination of muscle and water weight. The loss of muscle and water within the body contribute to weight gain because they are both resources that are needed to help burn fat calories. Similar studies show that dieting can also damage the body’s metabolism, and a few weeks of dieting could take months or even years to recover from. When you combine this with the aforementioned binge occurrences, it’s no wonder many dieters have more trouble keeping a steady weight than those who don’t diet at all.
[burgereat1]With the lack of time many students have between their classes, their jobs and their social life, a quick stop at Mickey D’s or Jimmy John’s is an easy alternative to anything that may take longer to prepare or may do the body good. “It’s because the United States can be a country of conveniences and excess,” said Andrea Robertson, audiology and speech sciences junior. “With fast food places having value menus where you can get a cheeseburger and fries for much cheaper and better tasting than grilled chicken or a salad. People want what tastes best, and they want it now.” Proving this point, various studies show that, in 2000 alone, Americans spent over $110 billion on burgers, fried chicken and other similar fast foods.
To ensure that fast food lives on and continues the dieting cycle, the messages implanted by the media are boundless and, around East Lansing, cater specifically to most students’ after-hours eating needs. Advertisements that jump out at students from the pages of The State News, our Spartan Planners, television and any array of billboards along Interstate-96 and Interstate-496 as students travel back and forth between their hometown and campus, all attempt to convince consumers (MSU students) to stop at whichever fast food joint when in need of nourishment. According to Nutritional Sciences Professor Dr. Sharon Hoerr, the fast food industry puts as much as $90 million into such advertisements.
For students able to resist the fast food icons, there is still much that needs to be done in order to go on a healthy diet. Simply not eating fast food does not guarantee someone a healthy lifestyle. A lot can be done on an individual basis as far as when someone eats.
“Students don’t eat breakfast, maybe eat lunch… then dinner and a snack late at night. This is not a good way to address weight,” said Hoerr. “Some women fast all week so that they can drink beer on the weekend. It’s disgusting. Some are supersensitive to fat calories but don’t count soft drinks. They see fat, but not sugar. It’s important to not eat so much late at night. Not paying attention to food patterns or sugars hurts most.”
Keeping an eye on one’s own eating habits and one’s daily diet is crucial to good health. Obesity is a complex problem contributed to by a number of things from dieting to genetic problems. For example, genetic reactions to certain hormone and psychotropic drugs can cause serotonin levels to affect one’s weight by as much as 15 to 30 pounds. Serotonin is a genetic neurotransmitter and receptor, which is most often associated with mood states, but also contributes to hunger and metabolic processes.
This shows that there is a lot more to staying in shape than just to avoid eating fatty or fast foods. Probably the most famed example of genetics gone awry was in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, Super Size Me, which documents his 30-day trial on a three meal a day diet of only McDonald’s fast food, which many Americans eat on an almost daily basis throughout much of their lives. Not even able to make it through a single month before being hospitalized, Spurlock watched as his weight skyrocketed from 185 to 210 pounds and his cholesterol level shot from 165 to 230. Exaggeration? Definitely.
“It was a very entertaining, funny, enjoyable, extreme and simplified picture,” Hoerr said. “Choices are as relevant as genetic makeup.”
According to Hoerr, Spurlock “implied that he may have had a genetic predisposition to respond that way to the diet.” She also said that shortly after Super Size Me was released, a woman ate McDonald’s for six months and lost 30 pounds by eating only 1,400 calories a day.[bmi1.6]
Widely accepted evidence cited in Scientific American shows that “genetic differences account for 50 to 80 percent of the variation in fatness within a population.” Similar to serotonin troubles, the hormone leptin plays a role. According to the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, “Leptin is a hormone that decreases energy intake and increases energy expenditure – the hallmarks of weight control. In normal weight individuals, low levels of leptin favor a positive energy balance, leading to weight gain.” This means that if someone does not have enough leptin, which is usually a genetic problem, their metabolism may falter and cause them to gain weight.
Despite Spurlock’s genetic makeup and very possibly extreme low leptin levels, he also went out of his way to make his results as evident as possible by purposely being actively unhealthy – something that works well for a movie but not for a scientific experiment. “It makes me very angry that he simplified it to such an idea that we can’t have personal responsibility for the choices that we make,” said Bokram.
Human biology junior Andrea Stadnicar pointed out that Spurlock made conscious decisions to overeat during his month long binge, and he got the results he was looking for. “If you notice, there were times in the documentary where Morgan would order two double cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke all at once,” Stadnicar said. “His rules for the documentary stated only that he had to eat everything on the menu at some point. It never said he had to order two burgers at once. Also, after he ate and drank everything on the menu once, he could have at least ordered water to replace the cola.”
According to a Scientific American report, Ali H. Mokdad, the chief of the Center for Disease Control’s behavioral surveillance branch, said that about 75 percent of people are trying to lose or maintain weight at any given time. Thus, most Americans may not fit the picture of the gluttonous, burgers-and-shake-guzzling lifestyle Spurlock mocks.
To top it off, students obsess on overeating while ignoring that they’re not being physically active. Various studies show only 22 percent of adults in America are involved in regular physical activity. If more people were getting physical, the general lifestyle of society would not follow such an unhealthy pattern. The fact that less than one out of every four adults exercises and stays in shape is somewhat staggering when, according to recent studies by Men’s Health Magazine, even the smallest effort can go a long way over time. “Mayo Clinic researchers found that fidgety people burn up to 300 extra calories per day. And when you’re on the floor, you’re more likely to do a few crunches or pushups,” the Men’s Heath report said. While compulsively shaking your leg during biology may not be a workout, and this obviously is not enough to stay in shape, such studies show that the minimal–and in this case, unintentional–measures can be bizarrely effective. Every calorie counts. A jog around campus or joining a gym or intramural sports league would work much better for cutting calories, however.
College students may have one thing one their side. According to Stadnicar, the amount of walking MSU students do can help keep their weight down. “I believe that the one thing that really keeps the weight down in college, especially here at MSU, is how much walking has to be done. I hate it when people complain about having to walk to class because walking isn’t like hard labor, and it’s keeping you healthy.”
The key to a healthy lifestyle may require a number of active roles by an individual. Eating in moderation, exercising more and planning meal schedules, which include breakfast instead of a late-night snack should be followed in order to live the healthiest lifestyle possible. Sure, according to the World Health Organization, 50 million Americans are now clinically obese and about 300,000 die per year due to obesity related problems. This is old news to many, but MSU students do not have to be associated with such statistics. All it takes is a little more time and effort on an individual basis to pick up the pace on your health.

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