There’s nothing like getting a fresh look at your world, through the eyes of visiting relatives.  In my case, some cousins from Australia have given me a lot to ‘chew on’ (so to speak) when it comes to our relationship with food.  Or rather, who we blame for our ‘super-sized’ waistlines.

I recently went to lunch at a popular West Des Moines chain restaurant last weekend with the Aussie cousins in tow.  They ordered raspberry tea and my daughter and I followed suit.   They were amazed at the size of the glasses and the fact that before the ice even got to melt, the harried server was coming ‘round to refill’.  In Melbourne, where Mandy and Ellie live, the glasses are half that size and there are no ‘free refills’.
Right away, the server brought out bread: huge, thick, white slabs of it.  A bowlful of butter was included on the platter, arranged in a pyramid.  More surprised looks.  “This is free?”

We ordered appetizers; I thought the bruschetta sounded great.  We all split a huge salad.  My order arrived first, as big as a football.  “Good heavens, Laurie, if you can eat all that, we’ll give you a prize!” they laughed.

About that time, a family of four very large people came to the next table.  Right away they ordered appetizers, entrees and asked up-front if the restaurant served milk shakes.   That’s when 18-year-old Ellie, a college freshman in Melbourne who is studying to be a dietician, whispered, “In Melbourne, you don’t see such large servings, or people!”

I leaned in and confessed that here, we’ve gotten used to over-sized buffets and massive menu choices, so it’s not uncommon to see so many folks struggling with their weight.  I also told them that’s why the exercise industry is a multi-billion dollar empire; people are grasping for straws.  In fact, I told them we even have exercise gurus who claim high fructose corn syrup and Iowa corn farmers are to blame. (That last bit made the Aussies laugh even harder than the arrival of my football ‘appetizer.’)

Well, something is going on; the obesity rate has DOUBLED in Iowa the last 15 years.  We are now the 20th fattest state:

It didn’t used to be like this.  Our grandparents didn’t have to worry about outliving their children because of obesity-related illnesses  Maybe it’s because they walked more, worked harder and had fewer conveniences or entertainment gizmos that kept them seated for hours on end.  There were four TV channels and no internet; no one sat in front of a box all night (especially not to watch a show about morbidly overweight people struggling to lose weight!)  Restaurants were a treat and the servings were modest.   Ironically, it’s much the same today for our Aussie cousins.  Maybe they’re on to something…

We’ve heard that we need to exercise every day, but saying it and doing it are two different things.    And really, that’s just half the story.
Clearly we need to eat less…less of everything!   We also need to spend less time looking for scapegoats (like farmers) to blame, and more time making a lifestyle change.   Skip the appetizers, make water your ‘refill’ and get up from your desk job once an hour and at least walk to the water fountain.  If you can, take the stairs, not the elevator.  But, no matter what you do, lifestyle change needs to start with a long, hard look in the mirror.    And remember, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."—Maya Angelou

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.