The article titled ìWeíre not fat, weíre Rubenesqueî in this weekís Triangulator was a bit disturbing to me, a registered dietitian with a degree in public health working in Durham. It stated that Durham ranks number 11 in Menís Healthís 100 Fattest Cities in America list. Raleigh ranked 47, Greensboro, 70 and Charlotte 74 while San Francisco came in dead-last.
San Francisco came in last. I used to live in San Francisco. I was thin when I lived in San Francisco. I am not thin now and am sitting in Durham. Iíd like to explore why that is. For starters San Francisco is a walking town ñ a very manageable 7 mile by 7 mile chunk of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, a hilly Marin County to the north, the San Francisco Bay to the east and more hills to the south. San Francisco is famous for its hills making driving a pain and walking a pleasure. Eventhough I had a car, I rarely drove it. You had to have magical ìparking karmaî if you drove anywhere without an attached garage and fines were always stiff if you decided/were forced to be non-compliant. Plus the public transportation system is excellent. So walking was always the best option.
Let me note as well that San Francisco ranks last on this infamous list yet it is an eating town. Food is a major driving force in that city, from the farmerís markets to the high end, celebrity chef restaurants. There is not a bad meal in this town. Whether you pay $5 (like for Taqueria Cancunís vegetarian burrito with huge chunks of fresh avocado) or $200 (dinner at Jardiniere, for example) you will be equally satisfied. I didnít cook much when I lived in there, it just wasnít worth it. I could get good, fresh food at a reasonable price in any ethnic version at a momentís notice. One would think that this is a recipe for obesity, evidently not.
In the fifteen years since I left the City by the Bay I have gained 40lbs. How did that happen? I certainly donít blame Durham, but leaving a walking town to live in a driving one certainly has had its impact. I went from walking to and from work, a vigorous 45 minute walk each way (burning up about 600 calories total) to driving to and from work (calories burned = ZERO!). So now Iím absorbing those 600 calories into my system every day. That alone turned into 15lbs almost immediately. Then I got married, which apparently makes you fat without eating, another 10lbs, thanks to newlywed bliss. Eventually I started working out so my weight stabilized but then I went to grad school and that just put me over the edge. It was a stressful time and the remaining weight packed on to comfort me through exams and presentations. Somehow being a dietitian and helping others meet their weight loss goals does not translate into weight loss for me, so here I am fat in the 11th fattest city in America.
So what can we do to make Durham a more healthful city? Aside from the numerous socio-economic issues at hand that warrant their own serious commentary, I think awareness is one important key. Many of us are not aware of what or how much we eat nor of how little we move our bodies. In todayís society being healthy is a conscious decision, it is not an automatic state of being like it might have been 100 years ago. We are bombarded with countless messages everyday encouraging us to make unhealthful choices and although we all know what the healthful choices are, we do not make them often enough to derive consistent benefit. This contradiction between what we know and what we do exists because many of us have never experienced health in a conscious way. It is so difficult to imagine what life would be like as a normal-weight, fit person that it requires a leap of faith in oneself to actually go for health (or a move to San Francisco!). This is why places like Empower exist, to help guide us through the leap. We need the help of trainers, nutritionists and other wellness professionals in order to create new habits consciously so that we may stand healthfully on our own. With proper guidance and motivation we can achieve our health goals and in the end contribute to a svelte silhouette for our chubby little town.