On my mind these days are The Weight of the Nation, the four-part presentation by HBO and the Institutes of Medicine, in association with the CDC and the NIH; the rise of condition-specific foods which are actually just more junk but are selling hand over fist; and, perpetually, what our members and others I know have to say about their personal challenges day-to-day.
The Weight of the Nation premiers next week and is already garnering a great deal of comment. The intensely good intention behind the creation of this HBO series makes it all the worse that in addition to being painfully shaming, it completely misses the mark.
Obesity is a real problem: for those who are suffering from it, it can be a terrible burden in every sense and requires care and kindness.
But it isn’t THE problem. It is a potent symptom of a larger and more complex problem, one that is far more difficult to address--and far more urgent.
It’s relatively new, historically speaking, that culture is primarily a manifestation of the predominant economic system, rather than that the economic system is only one of many expressions of culture. Increasingly, our shared life experience—our culture--- is determined, from pre-birth to death, by what makes shareholders money.
The biggest machines creating our culture today are those whose efforts only secondarily (at best) have anything to do with insuring that we’re well fed, well educated, and self-empowered to be purposely engaged members of our shared experience.
Whether something makes money (and how much) matters, but so does whether something serves to support a healthy and highly functional populace (or, conversely, contributes to ill-health and disempowerment).
These two considerations have gotten out of sync and this imbalance is creating a great many societal ills, not least of which is terrible and worsening public health. The quality of the food we eat, whether we have time and space to move around safely and vigorously, and whether we’re encouraged to take good care of ourselves in meaningful ways have simply not been profitable enough, nor are they profitable enough now.
This imbalance is also preventing us from actually solving the public health crisis, of which obesity is a symptom as often or more often than it is a cause. Market forces are simply far greater than any other force and until they are more aligned with improving good health (by every measure), we’re not going to reverse obesity, reduce healthcare costs, or improve productivity and quality of life.
As part of my work training coaches, I listen to a lot of coaching sessions. Our members are a particularly concentrated representation of our current culture: many of them are hurting enough to enroll in a year-long, life-altering program; many of them are recovering from programs which wound up contributing to their sense of ineptitude and failure; they are all overwhelmed by contrary information provided by the media, the market, and their healthcare providers; and by trying mightily to take action on their own behalf they are often outliers among their families, friends, and colleagues.
They, along with every person I’ve ever met, wants, deeply and truly, to feel well, to feel cared for, to feel understood, to feel empowered, to be purposeful and productive. Yet our culture insidiously and masterfully convinces most of us that we don’t know how to take care of ourselves, or, even if we acquire the know-how, don’t have what it takes to do so.
What can we do?
Like the fish embryos in their individual sacs within their shared gelatinous ball in this photograph (we found this gem in our backyard pond), we’ve got the pleasures and the challenges of our own unique bodies and lives, right along with the pleasures and challenges of the world we share.
Collectively, we’ve got to restore better balance between profits and well-being—we have to amend the systems that are so intensively determining our shared experience so that we are ALL better served in a multitude of ways, ongoing. (The fact that so many of the same people suffering the consequences of economically/culturally-created disempowerment and ill-health are often also shareholders is a good reminder that we’re all swimming in the same waters.)
Individually, we can better meet our urgent needs right in the hot moment by recognizing, to quote the words on this Mason jar, that we are “self sealing.”
No matter what is happening around us, we can actively choose to notice, accept, and care for our bodies. We are the only ones living in them: we are in fact self-sealed.
We can choose to give ourselves what we need because, if we’re functional adults, we’re the only ones who will: whole foods, good sleep, lots of self-welcoming movement (think about it and you’ll know just what I mean), and the assurance that we’ll do our very best to give these things to ourselves all over again tomorrow.