I saw the 2014 documentary Fed Up the other day which details the health crisis created by the sugar industry. And if you are able to see it (it is currently streaming on Netflix), it is such a powerful film. So much of what we are told about health and nutrition comes from people trying to make money, not from those looking to really help us lead long, fulfilling lives. This movie really exposes some truths about our collective worldwide weight problem, but also about how sugar in our diet is really killing us.
This movie brings up an additional point that is rarely talked about.
So the other day, I heard people talking about a colleague who eats whatever she wants without gaining weight. “How does she do it?”, they asked. “Gosh, she’s lucky”. Because, if a person eats like crap, but can still wear a small size of clothing, then there are no consequences to their bad diet, right? I mean, maybe it will catch up with them when they’re older. But that doesn’t really matter today!
Flash back to me in my early 20s. This was after I had started to go down in clothes sizes, but before I became the health coach I am today. A doctor took 20 vials of my blood for a medical study in which I participated. (Ah, the things we will do for money in our early 20s.) Well as the examiner was poking around like a vampire, trying to suck my blood for science, he commented, “Wow, I’ve got to go through a lot of flesh to get to your veins. You look thin, but you’re really fat.”
Well, I collected my 80 bucks for my role in medical history and went home. And in the back of my mind, I wondered, “How can someone be a “thin” fat person?” And since I looked good enough, I didn’t give it much more thought than that.
It wasn’t until I was earning my nutrition degree that I started to learn about the very prevalent problem of being “thin” fat. And unfortunately, diagnosing it isn’t always as easy as sticking a needle into someone’s arm. When a person looks thin but is suffering from a metabolic disorder, the fat is usually in very hidden places. This usually means layers of fat wrap around organs like the heart, liver or the kidneys. This can make someone high risk for diseases like cancer and heart disease.
In the movie Fed Up, examiners used MRIs to evaluate stomach fat levels for 4 school age brothers. One of the brothers was obese, while the other 3 were thin yet they were all eating similar diets. The test results showed that while the youngest brother had healthy fat levels in his stomach, the other two thin brothers had very high levels of stomach fat. And they did so while looking thin and healthy! Keep in mind that fat in the stomach is one of the biggest predictors of future disease.
So what can we learn from this ?
The foods most at blame for this health concern are hidden sugar in refined foods.
Most of us are eating so much more sugar than we realize. Even as a food coach, I realize that high levels of sugar creep into my diet while I’m trying to eat healthily. It is crazy how manufacturers will put sugar in ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. They even put sugar in certain baby formulas. Why would a newborn need to be ingesting sugar?? If you can’t read the label on something, and you aren’t cooking 100% from scratch, assume you are eating sugar because you probably are.
There is no such thing as getting away with “eating like crap”.
People who eat high sugar, high junk food diets often suffer from the same health concerns that are usually associated with obesity. Fat wraps around their internal organs. To me, this sounds way scarier than having fat on my thighs. The bottom line is that a diet full of good quality protein, whole grains and fruits and vegetables with treats in moderation is really the only healthy way to go.
It is up to us to protect the next generation.
A baby can become addicted to sugar by the time they are 6 months or 1 years old. Even moms who breastfeed can inadvertently set up their child for fat problems because of the high levels of sugar in their own diets. We need to become vigilant about identifying sources of sugar added into foods and helping kids stay away from these foods in their very early years. Because, if a kid is eating a “healthy” turkey sandwich on sugar-filled bread, applesauce with added sugar, and a whole grain cereal full of the sweet stuff, we have a sugar addict even before we add candy and cookies into their diet.
Eating healthy shouldn’t be just about vanity.
In reality, fat surrounding someone’s internal organs is pretty ugly anyway. And we should really stop judging people who are fat because many thin people suffer from the same internal imbalance. I truly believe most of us have the best intentions for our own health. But taking the time to investigate what we are eating on a constant basis is the only form of protection we have against the big old sugar monster.
We can’t take full responsibility for this health epidemic. The food industry shares in the blame. Yet we need to be aware of the reality of what we eat. Nothing makes me more heartbroken than watching people try to eat healthy, but fail because marketers convinced them that what they were eating was helping, not hurting their health.