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 'An observation to stomach!'
by Sonali A Abhyankar
M Sc in Food Science and Nutrition,
S.N.D.T. Women's University, Mumbai,
India

"I am 30 lbs heavier since I came to the US 2 years ago…

…Does that sound familiar? I have heard this statement several times before as well as after I came to the US from India two years ago. It made me think of why that was the case and I sat down to evaluate the reasons that might shed light on this almost inevitable “event”. The mere observation and the reports of innumerable studies that emphasize the frightening prevalence of obesity here was appalling and it definitely demonstrates that the disease does have something to do with the psyche of the country besides the personal choices of the people who live here.

When I came to the country, my first reaction to just about everything was “that is so huge” and that included the portions at the restaurants. I could barely eat half of what was served to me in spite of it being yummy and me being a good eater! However, now if I am not careful I can actually sometimes finish the whole plate…which is scary! And that is way over what the American Dietetic Association puts down as one serving size. My husband says that what you get here as one serve of ice cream is the amount that is equivalent to a Family pack in India!

I always ask for the small size in anything I order, sometimes I feel I should get the kids size, but they always ask me if I’d like the larger size for just another 30 cents…now is that funny? I know what the price display says but its almost like they tempt you to get the bigger size! I have always believed that portion size is what one can and should try and control because all said and done, it is difficult to convince your taste buds that a certain food is not good for you and that you should not be eating it. If you can, you should pat yourself on the back because you’ve achieved something commendable!

It is also very easy to eat out or serve the large variety of ready-to-eat foods that’s so temptingly showcased at the supermarket and need I say anything about the “buy one get one free promotions”. Convenience foods and Great bargains are the favorite words of any average family.

We must remember that we are eating so much more refined and processed food here than we did in India too. If you ate 2 slices of white bread in India and you still eat 2 slices of white bread here, you’ve eaten nearly one extra serving of processed carbohydrate…because the slice of bread here is larger!! You’ve decided to be good and eat a bowl of cereal in the morning so you do. The problem is that the size of the bowl and the serving size on the back of the cereal box have nothing to do with one another. The one is too big for the other and unless you measure out the cereal and the milk, you’re going to be eating double and counting only half the calories.

Nutritional labeling is a boon to those who read labels, but what about the many who don’t? Especially someone who does not know of the concept would surely be getting it all wrong in the beginning. It took me a while to get used to the many varieties of a single product that were available…no fat, low fat, low carbohydrate, high carbohydrate, 1% milk, whole milk and what is surprising is that what is fat free may be so high in carbohydrate, even simple carbohydrate that it might actually not do you as much good as you thought it might!

If there is the slightest question in anyone’s mind about why there’s such a hue and cry about obesity, then let that be clarified immediately. Obesity is a major risk factor in many common ailments and it does not pertain only to a certain age group. We know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and its incidence is rapidly increasing in the developing countries like India. Diabetes is another disease of the affluent and reducing obesity can control the risk. Arthritis is an extremely painful condition and obesity does nothing to alleviate the pain. These are only a few conditions I have talked about and awareness is the key to prevention.

The lack of any kind of physical hardships and the non-existent need for any physical activity does nothing but adds to the problem of increasing obesity. What I have said above is only part of the big picture and in no way do I mean that anyone who is in this country is doomed to see a higher number on the weighing scale. I only want to say that the psyche of the country being a constant, it is a matter of choice and every person makes his own choice…so we have to make an educated and conscious choice about the way we eat and exercise just like we do about all other things in life."

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