A snapshot of America now and in the near future, and what you and I can do about it
The drive to Yachats from Florence, Oregon, is twenty-six miles long, winding, and gorgeous. As you head north the road is bordered by deep, mossy, national forest lands, and trails are scattered everywhere. On your left, the Pacific. As you leave the sand dunes that make Florence so charming the road rises to crest the cliffs, offering stunning views on "blue days" like we had yesterday. Cold, windy, damned chilly, but breathtaking.
The tides had pulled all the way out and were starting their inexorable march back to shore when I stopped at yet another pullout. There are so many, and my weekly Hump Days often involve exploring those side roads and stops so that I could find my faves for the future.
I found yet another, nearly passed it entirely but stopped just in time to pull over and curve around the hedged roadway to park. I have an Oregon State Park hanging tag for disabled vets, one of the smartest investments I made upon arriving here, which allows me to park anywhere I wish without the fee. It's a small thing but a kind thing.
Off on the beach I saw three people and two dogs. One of the dogs began barking energetically, and like the fool I am, I headed for the dog. I always head for the dog, for that morning I'd already made two brand new friends, one a hiking buddy, for future coastal trips, because I befriended her huge Rottie mix. Dogs create friends, most of the time.
What I am going to describe to you is a factual observation, and NOT body shaming. So please do not misunderstand what I am writing here. Of the three people, the younger two, a married couple, were morbidly obese. The beach was lined with smooth stones, which can give even athletic folks trouble. These two, in their forties, were barely able to negotiate the beach given their girth.
They had walked only a few yards from the parking area, and were heading back.
Their dogs were also morbidly obese, and friendly, so I took the time to pet them. The big big barker was only sounding because she wanted pets, and I was happy to oblige. The man was delighted because, as he said, "most folks run in the other direction when she alerts."
But it was their mother who caught my eye. Thin, frail and struggling, she was walking with a cane and having a horrible time negotiating the rocks. Her kids, one assumes they were family, were ignoring her. They were having such a hard time themselves that they couldn't help the woman I assumed was Mom.
I did. As she made her way towards the embankment which was both steep and rocky I grasped one arm, with her permission. I made jokes about how old I was, too, got her distracted and laughing, up the hill and safely onto the flat grass.
One of the obese dogs had laid down right in our path, too exhausted to continue to walk uphill. He finally did move when offered a treat.
The couple was very grateful and gracious. I tipped my hat, turned and headed down the beach for photos. Which included:
All three of them collapsed onto the picnic table which was to the left of where they had just climbed, panting and exhausted.
The kids are in their forties. Mom, my guess, my age or thereabouts, was in her late sixties.
All three of them crippled. Including the dogs.
I started to explore the beach. They'd made their way to their van, where they were eating.
I walked for about an hour or so, and when I came back, they were still in the van, eating.
I don't know how long they were on the beach, but my guess is not long, given the difficulty I observed in their ability to walk, and the dog's limited capacity. To say nothing of Mom.
Here's the piece. This was painful to watch. We are all just people, and truth is we are also trying very hard to make our way in life. However what I saw yesterday were kids who were so crippled themselves that they were utterly unable to assist their aging mother, who clearly needed assistance in just a simple hike up a very small but rocky incline.
How did we get to the point where the children are at least as crippled as their aging parents?
Where we overfeed our beloved pets, and both age and cripple them as well in the name of love?
Step by step.
Donut by donut, Big Mac by Big Mac, treat by treat, day by day. These are minute- to-minute choices we make about our bodies, our health, our mobility, life quality.
But this isn't love. It's abuse. The sad part is that we tell ourselves that we deserve a treat and another and another, life is so hard, when if we were to truly TREAT ourselves we would treat ourselves to a walk instead of donut, a hike instead of a hamburger. That's self-love.
True self love begins with feeding ourselves well with real food, and asking our bodies to work how they were designed.
I'll say this again: being big doesn't mean we aren't fit. These folks were morbidly obese and it had crippled them. They were clearly in pain, and even their beautiful surroundings weren't enough. That's heartbreaking.
I have big friends who are sporty, active, engaged and love life. Big isn't necessarily the issue. For you and I can be both big and fit, so I don't buy the notion EVER that one has to be thin to be healthy. The mother on the beach yesterday was thin and she was in terrible health.
And please, please keep in mind that I am not addressing some of the very real issues of people with lipedema or other obesity issues, that is a separate issue entirely; nor does this article speak to the unspeakable burden that people crippled young by genetic disease must face. This is about people who are otherwise perfectly healthy but make bad decisions. There's a big difference when we talk about big.
If your numbers are good, if you can move and hike and walk and play and run and do all those things, you are fit. Being fit is the point. Fit allows us to be fully in life.
I have been obese. I totally get how hard this is, and how much easier it is to relax into the comfort of food, when so many other comforts don't offer the same joy or satisfaction.
But the cost, not only to ourselves and our country is staggering.
Please Google Fast Facts: The Cost of Obesity (link didn’t work, my apologies)
Fellow Medium writer Dr. Mehmet Yildiz has spent a considerable amount of time lately writing about obesity, fat loss and how he has changed his own body composition. These are two recent articles of his from Medium:
Dr. Yildiz is, among several other writers on Medium, focusing our attention on what you and I can do to redirect our habits towards health. Illumination and Euphoria are jam-packed with better living ideas and tips, and I highly recommend them. But that's not all.
I recently read. Dr. Robert Lustig's excellent book Metabolical, which goes into considerable detail about how all the Bigs (food, pharma, corporations, government etc.) have created a no-win for those of us who really do wish to be healthy. That book is chock-full of data about how this trio got where they got (my guess, anyway) and what you and I can do about our own lives.
Here is what I wrote about that book:
Lustig isn't the only doctor or medical journalist tearing back the lies and forcing us to face what we have allowed to become normal. What I saw on the beach is now the norm in too many places, and all of us are paying the price. Since I've been obese I know how miserable it can be, and I also understand how tough it is to get that under control. However, I did. That was thirty-five years ago.
That's one reason I write about it. It's fair to say I succeeded, at least so far.
We do not have to be where we are. I write about health, fitness and aging because first, I do not want to be that old lady on the beach who can't negotiate a few stones to see the wonders of the Oregon Coast.
And while I don't have children, I would not want to be the aging grandmother who knows damned good and well that her kids are going to be even more sick, addled, crippled and bedridden at forty than I am at sixty and beyond, and of no help to me whatsoever. If anything, if there are additions made to the house to help someone get in and out of the tub and shower, or a ramp to get inside, it will be for the kids, not for me.
In fact, I might need to be the one helping my kids, not the other way around.
Today, too many of our grandkids are so obese that even they are crippled.
This is a terrible future, and the future is right here, right now.
That is not a life I want for you or me or anyone else. And while it might get irritating that I keep pounding this drum about diet and exercise and the social value of getting a posse to help you get healthy, consider the alternatives.
They aren't pretty. Life can be. Having a healthy body allows me to jump pools, clamber rocks, and capture this kind of pretty so that I can entice you to go find the pretty in your back yard:
Training ourselves to trade a food treat for a physical treat takes time. But it begins with us. Part of the work I do arises from the fact that I've had to deal with obesity and eating disorders.
These issues are intimate to me and I feel for anyone battling them. I did. I won. I believe passionately that more of us can also win those battles, but it begins with the acceptance that no pill or magic trick or mind program will do it for us.
That trio does not have to be your future. We can do better. I truly want you able to be fully in the life we have, not the life we wish we had. But it is going to take work.
Let's do the work, and go find all the pretty places ourselves.