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Educating and Saving a Nation.


Educating and Saving a Nation.


Roots women throw down on the Dirty Girl Run last weekend. HOT!

Educating and Saving a Nation.

This weekend landed me in Tampa, Florida – Dunedin to be exact – and, compared to what I am exposed to on a normal basis, I saw a disproportionate number of the 33.9% of the US population that is obese.  It struck a chord with me.

The impact of the obese population in this area was staggering – I saw four diabetic stores and health centers within a 2 mile radius, the sidewalks looked like MarioKart as overweight people opted for motorized transportation over walking (and in all fairness, some of them were simply too large to walk), and individuals emerged from handicapped parking spots no older than 40 and not handicapped, but too overweight to walk any great distance.

There was nothing funny about the state of Dunedin.

On a walk with my Dad we discussed some of the impacts of an overweight society.  Sure, there are the medical costs and questions of who should bear this cost but the larger question is what does this mean for our country from a personnel standpoint?

Scholarly articles and publications have detailed the many impacts on the brain and person’s psychology from being overweight.  Depression, anxiety, decreased willpower, poor college attendance, and lowered self-esteem to name a few.

What becomes of a nation and its staying power when its population and the characteristics and values of the people that built that nation – hard work, determination, fortitude, and willpower – are severely compromised?  Great historical events that shaped this country and put on display the fortitude of Americans – the invasion of Normandy, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement – would those events have turned out the way they did with an obese and sick population?

For too many who swing toward the Paleo or Primal camp the answer to this problem is too simple and lacks compassion.  It’s easy to jump on the Paleo bandwagon of coolness and condemn everyone else that eats otherwise.  But it’s not that simple.  For many of us, we were fortunate to have a friend tell us about Paleo or learned about it from our CrossFit shop.  We were lucky.  And for many of us, when we first learned of this different style of eating, we resisted the possibility that we could do more for our health.  In the end, education and compassion is what got us where we are.

So how do you educate a nation?  Post to comments.

15 Responses

  1. Paula Creevy

    ‘Let them eat paleo’ … Privilege and diet are inextricable and the bigger point crossfitters and others usually miss is that the level of health available to us and therefore what we can offer to others is mind boggling. Compassion is only possible when we aknowledge our own immense fortune.

    1. EmilyMc

      Thanks for saying that Paula. I totally agree. Grass fed grass finished beef is not on the .99 menu at Wendy’s, they ONLY sell processed foods at the Dollar Store, and most food banks tend not to have fresh or even frozen fruits and veggies. Education alone isn’t gonna get us there.

      1. I agree and disagree. The heart of the problem is not access to and affordability of grass fed meat and organic foods. A person can absolutely be healthy not eating these privileged versions of staple foods. Yes, there are degrees of health gained from eating them but we see counter examples to this logic in Boulder on a daily basis. For example, the severely overweight individual checking out at Whole Foods and buying grassfed beef and organic cookies. Eating lower quality food but not being 100lbs overweight will serve a person’s health better than eating organic foods and being 100lbs overweight.
        What got the state of US health where it is today is the disproportionate amount of carbohydrate in the diet, not organic vs. inorganic foods. Whether it’s a Subway sandwich, a 99 cent McDonald’s burger, or a $3.99 sandwich at a 7-Eleven, the amount of carbohydrate is staggering. This is the cause of obesity. If that is the problem then the solution is to limit carbohydrate intake which can be done in many many settings.
        Education can start with balance. It is possible for folks to eat at Fridays and not consume 3 cups of mashed potatoes, it is possible for folks to buy a Subway sandwich and not eat 3/4s of the bread BUT someone has to teach them this.
        For the individuals I saw this weekend, access to food and ability to get to a grocery store was not the issue and this rings true for a large percentage of the population. It is true, food banks pose a particular challenge which requires additional thought. Education can go a long way though. I know that since changing the way I eat, the food I donate to food banks looks A LOT different than what I would have dropped off three years ago. I also know a friend in Atlanta who, since changing the way she ate, worked to change the food served at the food bank she works.
        Spread the word people…

        1. Rachel

          A lot of US cities also have problems with food deserts – areas of the city where the population either financially or physically cannot access healthy foods. Where the only food available is fast food or what you can find at convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Walgreens, which tends to be carb-rich, nutrient-poor offerings. There’s a growing recognition of this systemic problem within the environmental justice movement, but solutions are slow in appearing. And privilege really does play a huge role in diet.
          We also have large-scale institutionalized policies driving our national diet, such as the massive corn subsidies and the way they encourage supply to exceed demand. Educating individual people can only do so much without large-scale nation-wide changes in how we produce food. At the same time, there are simply not enough resources available on the planet to be able to feed 7 billion people a paleo-style diet. The existence of grains, and the calorie security they provide, is one of the main reasons our population was able to grow that large (to an arguably unsustainable level). If hypothetically, everyone in the US suddenly switched to paleo over the next 5 years, that would mean millions and millions of people in the world starving to death.
          I’m not saying there isn’t a role for education in all of this, and there’s a number of great organizations working with inner-city schools and community organizations to set up gardens on vacant lots and teach kids and families how to cook vegetables. But people have a lot of very complex social, cultural, religious, personal, and economic reasons why they make the food decisions they do and I think we’ll never have a one-size-fits-all solution. There’s also plenty of overweight people who eat healthy and skinny people who eat terribly – you can’t really accurately assess/judge an individual’s food and exercise by simply looking at them. I agree with you emphatically that we need to approach this problem with compassion and I think individual education in a non-shaming manner is important, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to solve the larger systemic problems.

          1. Paula Creevy

            Yes Rachel. Privilege is more than whether or not someone can sho at Whole Foods and behavioral changes necessitate more than evangelizing paleo. The picture is so huge- the FDA, marketing, doctor recommendations- we certainly must work to empower people while also being fully realistic about the system that grinds against some more than others.

          2. lauren

            We mostly follow a primal diet, but I definitely don’t think it’s the solution for everyone in the world. I believe in personal experimentation to find the diet that best fits with your philosophies and body. I’ve tried vegetarian, low-fat grain-based, WAPF, and various degrees of strict paleo over the course of my adulthood, and find that primal with some raw dairy and properly prepared grains every once in awhile works best for my body. I honestly think there is a place for grains in many diets, just properly prepared (e.g. soaked), and made with good quality ingredients in limited proportions. (I also think it goes beyond grains – gmo crops, bpa in food, certain pesticides, etc. are also shown to cause health problems and weight problems)
            The current school food program in our country is one of the main reasons I would love to homeschool when the time comes. I think we need mandatory school/home gardens (with parent participation required) and home-ec classes to teach basic life skills. After watching the first season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (in W Va), where first or second graders didn’t even know what a tomato or potato is, it’s clear that a huge problem is lack of education. Most kids are totally disconnected from their food – they don’t know where their food comes from, how its prepared, or how it affects their bodies and minds.
            Food deserts are also a huge problem, and I would love to see some kind of Americorps-type program that takes volunteers into the inner city to work on gardening and food education. WIC should also be accepted at all farmer’s markets (it’s accepted at Boulder and Crested Butte) and CSAs.

  2. Compassionate action & education might look like this: catching ourselves when we feel tempted to judge. Supporting CSAs that donate to local food banks. Encouraging family members & friends who believe “I could never do what you do” by supporting them to begin with one small thing like more veggies or walking with them after dinner. Sharing & responding to inspirational health/nutrition stories on social media with an “atta girl or atta boy”. Doing what we can to be a positive (yet not overbearing) role model in lives of children – thinking Steve’s Club for example – whether or not we are parental units ourselves. Great post Nicole. Thank you!

  3. Hank Nicholson

    How do you educate a nation? Well, we already have a national education system in place. That system (as I discovered last year when Elsie was in 5th grade) teaches the food pyramid and counting calories. Elsie told her teacher that her family doesn’t eat like that. She was told to construct a pyramid representing her diet, which she did, but then her grade on the project was marked down b/c her pyramid didn’t contain any grains. This is frustrating, but not that surprising. The government’s food pyramid will change when public opinion demands it. But right now, there is absolutely no consesus on what represents a healthly diet. When I talk diet with other parents in (highly-educated, health-conscious) Boulder, the only reoccuring theme I hear is “organic” and “whole grains.” But there’s a wide discrepency beyond that. Even with something as foundational as meat. Is it good for you, or bad for you? Lots of differing mainstream opinions on that. But to me, the most surprising thing is how adamently many of these parents believe that they are eating a healthy diet, but it unclear how they draw this conclusion. Bits and pieces from various magazine articles? Word of mouth? Advertisements? I’m not sure, but there doesn’t seem to be any general consensus on what constitutes a healthy diet. That said, I do think there is a way to educate the nation. It’s called CrossFit. How many people were paleo before CrossFit? Very few I suspect. Now look at us trying to figure out how to share our life-changing knowledge. CrossFit was exploding in popularity when I got involved almost 3 years ago and it’s just gained momentum since. You start at a CrossFit box and you are taught that the foundation of the CrossFit model of fitness is nutrition. Then, talk about super-model endorements?!?! People see these Games althletes that are built like super-heros and the natural response is: “I’ll have what he’s having.” Then there’s the fantastic community support and education that comes out of the thousands of CrossFit boxes around the world. I’ve traveled around the country to a few different boxes and I always see some kind of paleo-challenge happening. It’s powerful stuff and people just keep flocking to CrossFit. I just finished reading Cordain’s latest book. He mentions CrossFit gyms throughout the book, not promoting CrossFit, but giving them as examples of how CrossFit gyms are promoting the paleo diet. He also showed a graph illustrating the number of google searches for the paleo diet. Basically a flat line until 2008, but Its gone parabolic since. In other words, the word is getting out — thanks to CrossFit.

    1. Paula Creevy

      Soooo… What can we do at roots? An ongoing nutrition series? Food lectures open to the public? Promotions for middle and high-school students? Rewards for kids who take action at school… Projects, student leadership committees? Schools seem a reasonable place to start- maybe it would even be possible to negotiate some PE/ health credit for them… What an inspiring prospect!

      1. Hank Nicholson

        Paula, it’s awesome you are so inspired to make a difference–especially with kids. I am too! But I must admit, I don’t really know how beyond helping my own kids. And that’s hard enough! I get endless pushback from my kids that I’m a “food freak.” They complain, “I have to eat stuff that everyone says is weird. Why can’t I just eat food like other kids? It’s NOT a big deal, Dad! A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of chips isn’t bad. That’s what everyone eats.” It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of the problem until you spend some time with other kids and parents. You learn that not only are they poisoning themselves with a diet dominated by processed foods, but even worse, its not seen as a problem. There is a disconnect between obesity, allergies and what kids eat. The biggest impact Dia and I have is when other parents ask us what we do. Then we can share our stories of how Denham (the strong, thin blonde girl I work out with) used to be overweight. And how Elsie used to have dark circles under her eyes and a distended, aching stomach. And how Rex had asthma, but he’s been symptom-free since going paleo with no drugs. Even me, asthma since age 5. I was on one of the strongest steroid inhalers three years ago. Now I’m also completed symptom-free with no inhalers. Good stuff. My point is that it’s easiest to help people when they are looking for help.

    2. I think Hank nailed it! Well said sir. Where does it start? With us of course. So often when we think about how to create change, big change (revolution), we feel like we have to get it from the top down but that’s not the case at all. We have created EVERYTHING that we have today and we have created it in the form that it has taken. The “top” was put there by us and remains there by us. I’m not sure where along the way we lost sight of that. Where does the food pyramid stand if nobody in the country follows it? Where does junk food belong if nobody in the country purchases it? Who do pharmacies sell to if nobody in the country “need” their drugs? Answer: they don’t exist. They don’t exist at all without us.
      And in the same fashion that it has taken decades for our country to lose it’s health, I imagine it will take the same to get it back, but it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is us. Citizens, men, women, and especially children. And like Hank made a point of, CrossFit has opened the eyes of many of us and will continue to do so because there is no denying the results. Word will continue to spread and CrossFit along with Paleo will continue to grow until eventually those in charge have no choice but to listen and pay attention because the results will be right there staring them in the face casting their ballots.
      Any mass change must begin on a personal level first.

  4. It is respectable to want to educate the nation or even feed them or whatever really — I just want to keep myself and my immediate family on the train. I like to try and drag my extended family on — but they get bogged down in the confusion of what is healthy (as @google-7f83ab808a7d42433ccb9d8aa8535330:disqus said) Same with friends… but that’s how it has to go — all of us have to try to drag the people we have influence with — if we don’t fight those battles there’s certainly no reason to fight a battle for people we don’t even know.
    But when fighting the battle — whether people can afford this or not — they can make better choices than sugar and even most processed food. We accept now that drinking alcohol and smoking are your own risk behaviors and have consequences on the people around you … people should feel the same way about sugar and processed food. As they start to make these smaller steps, the rest of it becomes more interesting.