My Fortunate Experiences with a Healthy Lifestyle
I’m an athlete, and have been one my entire life. Growing up, I played all the usual sports: soccer, baseball, basketball, and then, more seriously, tennis. For each sport I had lessons, practices, and games to which my parents drove me. There were the costs of gas, equipment, and any number of other expenses. As I got into my teens I began to really focus on tennis, which meant gym memberships, a focus on healthy food, lessons, clothing, gear, and travel to and from matches. None of this came cheap; no matter how frugal you are, these costs are unavoidable, especially if you want to perform at your best.
Nowadays I am an avid cyclist. I bike to and from work, and go for training rides whenever possible. I take advantage of everything I can to stay motivated and make the most of my riding: I keep my bikes maintained, have the requisite gear for any weather, and even use a coach. As a result of all this and more, I am able to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Many Are Less Fortunate
Even though I spend my days thinking about poverty and how to serve the poor, I’ve long taken it for granted that–when it comes to obesity and losing weight–it’s a simple question of “eat less and move more.” But an article in The Guardian, ’Poverty, not gluttony, is the cause of obesity,’ forced me to remember that it is that much harder for the poor to be at a healthy weight. Why? Think about all the things I do, and have done, to stay fit. And then think about what you do: try to add up the cost of all the exercise books, food, clothing, equipment, and coaching you pay for, and you’ll quickly realize the problem.
Sure, it’s possible to be in great shape just by jogging and doing jumping jacks, but as the article rightly asks, “…why do a certain class of people feel that it is perfectly reasonable for them to require expensive, sustained, multi-layered help to keep fit,” only to expect the poor to do so through a kind of Rocky Balboa, up-from-your-bootstraps fitness regime? Yet the problem is even more insidious: the stress of poverty, the need to work two or even three jobs, the lack of access to healthy food and safe places to walk or run or bike–these are all significant, additional barriers.
A Different Kind of “Budgeting”
In our modern society, replete as it is with cheap, calorie- and fat-dense foods, it is all too easy to gain weight. Consider this: if your basal metabolic rate is 1,800 calories (meaning that’s how much, at rest, you burn in a day), you can only eat three, 600 calorie meals without gaining weight. If you drink a soda with lunch, then, you’ve already consumed nearly half of your allotment for the meal; add in some fries or a cookie, and you’ve blown your budget!
Exercise makes things easier, since it increases your daily caloric burn, and therefore increases your “break-even” caloric intake, but the logic is the same: you can very easily, and very quickly, eat more than you burn. In fact, if your daily caloric surplus is 500 calories, you will gain 1 pound per week (conversely, with a caloric deficit of 500 calories, you will LOSE 1 pound per week). Put another way, one cookie and soda each day is enough to make you gain over 50 pounds per year!
Perspective Is Key
As I often like to point out, we all make bad decisions, but the poorer you are, the greater the ramifications of those decisions. The bottom line is that it’s hard to lose weight in general (even with all the resources out there) but for the poor, weight loss is just one of a myriad of difficult issues–financial, emotional, educational–to address. Not only must we show more compassion, then, but we must also advocate for policies that give low-income families the tools they need to make healthy decisions and then stick with them. There are no quick fixes, to be sure, but we can start by adjusting our attitudes and seeing the problem from the point of view of the less fortunate among us.