When overweight becomes the new normal, we all suffer

Are you going with the flow, swimming upstream or perched comfortably on the bank watching the herd float by?

According to statistics, more than 50 per cent of Canadians are overweight or obese. Despite all of the apps, fitness watches, diet books and exercise shows, things are getting worse — not better.

Part of the problem is our tendency to be lulled to sleep by the oneness of group-think. We crave the comfort of acceptance, wrapped in the warmth of sameness. Like a zebra blended by stripes, we’ve become camouflaged in a crowd of forgiving pants.

Occasionally, sobered by your image in a store window or winded after just a few steps, you pause and reflect. ‘What am I doing? This is nuts! I need to take better care of myself. Lettuce and push ups from now on!’

You return to the herd invigorated by clarity of purpose. You fight to keep your head above water. You struggle, you go under, you gasp for breath, only to be swept up again by the powerful influence of conformity.

“Hey Karen, we’re going for cheesecake. Bring Bob — there’s a twofer on extreme molten lava cake.”

Before you know it, you’re back in the torrent. This time you cope by making some very dangerous rationalizations — comparing stripes with the other zebras to alleviate your guilt.

“Well, at least we aren’t as bad as Sharon and Steve.” Which of course is much like saying, “Our house is on fire — but not as on-fire as Sharon and Steve’s!”

Did you know that the Sharon’s and Steve’s of the world under report how much they eat by up to 50 per cent? That’s Sharon and Steve, of course, not you. Crazy when you realize that 3,000 calories quickly translate into 4,500.

Sharon boasts a lifestyle of “mostly” healthy dinners by balancing vegetables (fries) with savoury chicken (nuggets) and sparkling beverages (diet soda). She limits dessert to weeknights. On weekends, they relax their rigid, healthy eating regime by eating out.

Physical activity for Sharon and Steve consists of walking (to the car), lifting weights (groceries) and running (to the convenience store when they are low on chips and dip).

When overweight becomes the new normal, we all suffer. We look to our friends and colleagues for affirmation. Do I look like the rest of the people at the mall? Pretty much, I must be normal. Sadly, the research supports your assumption — statistically, overweight is the norm.

The media’s infatuation with low body fat only serves to heighten the problem. It’s impossible to escape the images of ripped, perfect people. These unrealistic messages depict a mountain too high to climb. “Well, if I can’t be skinny, I might as well enjoy myself.”

Sure, we all want to look better, but Hollywood goes far beyond skinny jeans (size zero … really?!). This is about taking care of your health so that you can be vibrant, energetic and strong for years to come.

Can the zebra change its stripes? Of course!

Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, speaks of keystone habits. Establishing one new habit can have a domino effect on changing many unhealthy habits. The key is finding something doable to start the ball rolling.

We tend to overwhelm ourselves when embarking on healthy lifestyle changes. YouTube touts incredible Spartan muscle-toning regimes (Grrr), and trendy diet prophets preach unsustainable weight-loss cures. Too much!

Find your keystone habit. Make it simple and easy — hauling rocks and trapping fresh meat is neither. Start eating a healthy breakfast, introduce fresh vegetables at dinner, take the stairs. Pick one habit and make it stick. One.

When you’ve mastered your new habit, add another. Your new, thinner stripes will make you stand out in a crowd.

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