Earlier this year, the American Medical Association officially designated obesity as a disease. Researchers estimate that in 2022, 113 million Americans will be obese and another 81 million will be overweight. How did we come to this point, and what can we do to stem the tide of obesity-related diseases?
The ancient science of yoga, corroborated by modern medical science, provides important insights into how we can both treat and prevent obesity. While the prevalence of obesity has rapidly escalated in modern times, it’s a problem that has existed for thousands of years.
The Risks of Obesity
While hundreds of years ago the risks of starvation were more prevalent, today as a society we more commonly suffer from being overfed yet undernourished. Being overweight or obese has become so prevalent that many people simply don’t realize that they or their children are heavy enough to be at risk for serious health problems. Carrying excess pounds puts significant stress on the body and increases the risk for serious diseases such as:
- Coronary artery disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain types of cancer (endometrial, breast, and colon)
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol
- Liver and gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Fertility issues
Harvard experts have put together an excellent diagram on the many risks of carrying too many extra pounds: http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/extra_pounds_health_woes.htm. Needless to say, these health problems have profound consequences not only for the individuals who suffer from them, but also for their loved ones and society as a whole.
Looking for a “Quick Fix”
One of the characteristics of our modern society is expecting things to be done quickly. After all, with so many technological advances, many things are accomplished more easily than ever before. Crops that used to be harvested by hand are now harvested by machines. Cars and planes take us places faster than ever. Even simple kitchen appliances have dramatically sped up basic domestic chores.
So naturally, when faced with a problem like obesity, our social consciousness tends to look for a quick fix—a quick fix diet, a quick fix pill, or a quick fix surgical procedure. Yet this same “quick fix” mentality is largely what has led to obesity and obesity-related health problems in the first place.
How Did We Get Here?
In an effort to be faster and more efficient in everything we do, our society has embraced the idea that fast food is better—whether it’s from a drive-through window, the freezer, a can, or a package. Home-cooking has become old-fashioned and may even be seen as a waste of time. But what is sacrificed in this rush to feed ourselves quickly is the vitality of our food—and consequently our good health.
One thing that nearly every diet philosophy agrees upon is that overly processed, chemical-laden, and nutritionally deficient foods have greatly contributed to the epidemic of weight gain and weight-related health problems we experience in our society today. When we eat foods that have been depleted of nutrition and vitality, the body craves what it’s missing—nutrition. So we eat more in an effort to be nourished, and we end up still malnourished yet obese. It’s a vicious cycle, but we can break it simply by knowing what to eat.
If you look at the body as a natural form, it’s easy to understand that the body functions best when it’s in harmony with nature. All the nutrients that Mother Nature provides—micronutrients, macronutrients, and phytonutrients—help achieve physical balance, including a healthy body weight. The more we eat our nutrients in their original, natural form, the better off we are.
One of the key principles of yoga is eating a healing diet, based on unprocessed, nutrient-rich plant foods. This same yoga diet is what research has shown promotes health and vitality. Eating too many processed, devitalized foods throws the body out of balance, resulting in obesity and chronic diseases. Foods like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and small to moderate amounts of dairy products provide the nutrition we need without overstimulating the appetite or producing excess body fat.
The benefits of eating foods in their whole, natural form isn’t just an esoteric idea—it’s been proven in modern science over and over again. Almost every week, more research comes out touting the health and weight-loss benefits of whole, natural plant foods. As a few examples, consider headlines like these that consistently make the news:
“Whole Grain Diet Lowers Risk of Chronic Disease ” - ScienceDaily.com
“Tangerines: Help to Prevent Obesity and More” - Examiner.com
“Nectarines, Plums and Peaches May Fight Obesity and Diabetes” - MedicalNewsToday.com
“Fiber: the New Fat Fighter” - FitnessMagazine.com
“‘Go Nuts’ and Still Lose Weight” - LiveScience.com
“ Summer’s Secret Weight Loss Weapon” - Shape.com
“Green Tea Plus Exercise Speeds the Loss of Tummy Fat” - LATimes.com
Almost every plant food in its natural form provides inherently healing and balancing properties, which is why there are many different ways to eat a plant-based diet and still achieve excellent weight loss and health results.
On the other hand, processed foods and meat tend to cause health imbalances, and one of the symptoms of this imbalance is weight gain. A large study, known as the PANACEA study, found strong evidence for what yogis have known for thousands of years. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports, “Meat, french fries, and sugar-sweetened drinks can help to pack on the pounds ... By contrast, eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt was linked to reduction in weight gain over a 4-year period.”
Other research comes to a similar conclusion, showing that vegetarians and vegans tend to live longer, healthier lives. While some people may not find that they are able or ready to avoid meat completely, simply reducing the amount of processed foods and meat in our diet and replacing them with wholesome plant foods can yield powerful results. A balanced yoga diet is a simple, healthy way to achieve weight loss almost effortlessly.
In next week’s health tip, we’ll feature more information on how to use the principles of yoga to achieve a healthy weight.