The American Diet: Massive Portions, Massive Problems

By Deanna Loew

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We no longer eat when we are hungry; we eat at designated times as a habit.

Most of us carry fond memories of food. Your mom makes macaroni and cheese the same way she has made it since you were two years old. You still go to that one tiny ice cream shop that you have gone to your entire life. Food is tradition, but it is also habit. Throughout the world, people form traditional, habitual routines revolving around food. In Italy, everyone drinks espresso in the afternoons. In England, people partake in afternoon tea. In the Czech Republic, they eat fish, bread, and fruit for breakfast. In Germany, they eat dried sausage and pickles in the morning. In France, hardly anyone eats breakfast at all. In America, we gorge ourselves on fast food and sugary drinks three times a day, without fail (sometimes more, depending on our snacking habits). Eating in massive quantities has become a tradition, and obesity has become a habit. We are raised to believe that eating three meals a day is “healthy” and that snacking between these meals is necessary.

Think about the average day of an average American. On their way to work, they may go to Starbucks and order a pastry and a vanilla latte, racking up about 1,000 calories in a few gulps and bites. From there, they might go out for lunch and order a Caesar salad at the Cheesecake Factory, which, unbeknownst to them, contains a whopping 860 calories. Around four o’clock, they might hit the mid-afternoon slump and grab a bag of Lays and a Coke, adding another 300 calories to their menu. After a long day at work, they may go home and order a B.L.T. from Jimmy John’s, a 770-calorie sandwich. Not counting midnight snacks or any other extra meals, that is about 3,000 calories in one day.

On average, the sedentary male should eat about 2,000- 2,600 calories a day, while a sedentary woman should eat around 1,400-1,800 calories a day. However, with American social norms telling us to eat three meals a day, the average calorie intake is impossible to accomplish. It comes as no surprise, then, that the United States is the number one unhealthiest countries in the world. In a country where we eat three times a day, where we snack whenever we desire, and where dieticians tell us to eat specific amounts of things at specific times, we have lost sight of why we eat in the first place. We no longer eat when we are hungry; we eat at designated times as a habit.

Other countries are not more fit because they have healthier food. In fact, many cultures have just as much junk food as we do here. There is, however, a direct correlation between eating as frequently as we do and the amount of obese people in our country. In contrast, the fittest countries in the world relish in a culture of healthy living. The Swiss, for example, are known to be adamant mountain climbers and skiers. The Spanish and French have incredibly indulgent food, yet exercise extreme amounts of portion control. The Japanese eat mostly fish and vegetables and consume small portions. These cultures have traditions that perpetuate and encourage individual health.

When you think of the United States, what do you think of? Most likely, you conjure up images of McDonalds, Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and Taco Bell.

Our culture revolves around unhealthy, greasy food that is consumed far too often.; it is not of restraint and portion control, but of gulps and super-sized meals.

We have created an environment and a tradition that fosters obesity, and unfortunately, that situation is not easily reversed.

So how do we fix this? Change is possible. As a country, we are growing more and more aware of calorie intake and healthy living styles. More people are understanding the importance of eating habits and exercise. Perhaps we should take a page out of the French book and not eat quite as often, or maybe we should examine the Swiss lifestyle and strive to be more active. Whatever it is, our habits and our culture need to start leaning more towards a fit, healthy, active lifestyle.

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