Modern diets are crushing the human metabolism. If you’re looking for proof – look no further than this: Studies have found that people today who eat and exercise the EXACT SAME amount as people in the 1980s are still, on average, much more obese.
Olga Khazan’s article,Why is Was Easier to be Skinny in the 1980s, provides some interesting insight: “A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.”
Most troubling about these findings may be the fact that our conventional wisdom surrounding weight loss is flipped completely on its head. The basic idea around weight loss, and one we’ve talked about before, is calories in vs. calories out. Simply put, we must burn more calories (exercise) than we eat (diet) in order to lose weight. So why now, in 2022, if calories in and calories out are close (enough) to where they were in the 1980s, are we more obese than ever before?
Khazan offers 3 hypotheses:
1. People today are more exposed to chemicals that are weight-gain inducing like pesticides, flame retardants, and the chemicals commonly found in food packaging.
2. The use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the 70s and 80s, and many of these drugs, including antidepressants, are linked to weight gain.
3.The microbiomes and gut bacteria of the average person has changed dramatically over the last few decades – in the age of mass produced food, meat, dairy, and produce products are all declining in quality. Many “healthy” foods we eat today are actually treated with hormones and antibiotics that allow the animal or plant to grow more/faster, but have awful consequences for us as humans. Some say you are what you eat – but in fact you might actually be what you eat, eats, in terms of the makeup of our cells and bodies.
Whatever the case, the modern diet is bad for us. We have to work harder to lose weight and keep it off than ever before. We’ve actually been programmed to develop appetites for sweet foods, salty foods, and high-fatty foods. Food quality is decreasing, and the proliferation of low-quality, high-calorie, low-nutrient food is more accessible, and cheaper, than it has ever been before. Compare your grocery bill from buying fresh vegetables and high-quality meats, eggs, and dairy products to the dollar menu at a fast food joint – the latter is going to be much cheaper and much less time consuming.
The World Health Organization has described obesity as a global epidemic and one of the day’s “most blatantly visible yet neglected public health problems.” The battle against obesity is a difficult one indeed. It’s not that people are necessarily that much lazier, or more sedentary than our parents were decades ago, but rather that the very quality of the food we eat has deteriorated so badly that our metabolism is in complete shambles. Going outside for a walk or skipping dessert has never hurt anyone’s weight-loss goals, but an important next step is to also analyze and consider these other factors, some of which aren’t even food related, when it comes to our body weight, BMI, and overall health.
At the end of the day, a calorie deficit is still the best tool we have in encouraging weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight is more difficult today than it has ever been in the history of the human race, but still very possible. The takeaway from all of this, as with most topics we touch on in the health and fitness space, is not meant to be all doom and gloom. Rather, it can be important, and empowering, to understand and acknowledge that there are factors we are dealing with that no one else has ever had to before. The book on health, fitness, nutrition, diet, and weight-loss must be written and rewritten frequently to stay up to date with the challenges we may face.