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GENERATION XLRaising Healthy, Intelligent Kids in a High-Tech, Junk-Food World
By JOSEPH MERCOLA BEN LERNER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Joseph Mercola
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCONFESSIONS OF A TWINKIE-EATING TV JUNKIE
Picture for a moment a scene from a 1970s sitcom: a Cleveland suburb with typical middle-class neighborhoods of large, treed lawns and dual-parent homes. So far so good. Inside one house are a father, mother, and three boys. The oldest boy, sporting a red afro and plaid pants, is about nine years old. As he sits on the sofa beside his siblings, munching a Twinkie, his eyes glaze over from the bluish glare of the TV parked across the room. In fact, if you take a closer look, you'll see that all five family members are busy eating some kind of sugary snack while zoning out in front of the tube-a scene repeated virtually every night in this household.
That redheaded boy is me, Ben Lerner. I wasn't always the co-founder of Maximized Living; I was born into a family whose main entertainment was eating. Although I grew up in Ohio, my family life was deeply entrenched in the long-standing culture of Queens, New York, where I was born and my extended family had lived for years. Everything revolved around food. It was our main pastime and our reward for everything. Two or three times a week we went over to somebody's house with a little white bakery box for a social call. We literally lived off New York-style pizza, cheesecake, and whatever was in those little white boxes. For breakfast, my brothers and I downed bowls of Fruity Pebbles or Cap'n Crunch. If we were going to have fun, it usually involved food.
I was never heavy as a kid, but my horrible diet led to all the typical child health problems times ten. Constantly fighting sore throats, colds, and joint problems, I got to know the inside of my doctor's office a little too well. If Ritalin were as popular back then as it is today, I would have been forced to walk the school halls with a Ritalin IV drip. The only reason I didn't have a weight problem was that I was active in a way many kids aren't today. During the summer I'd often get on my bike and head down to a friend's house for all-day football. Even though I was active, I was still putting in a good forty hours a week in TV time, and the legacy of my family was always hanging over my head. In the Lerner family, every adult I knew was overweight and lived a sedentary life. It was a fate promised to me as well. I remember standing on the fourth step of our home in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, when my mother said to me, "When you're thirty, you're going to be fat like the other men in the family." I looked at her and said, "You know, Mom, Billy's mom said he was going to be an astronaut when he grew up."
That's right, while other kids were being told they could be lawyers and presidents when they were older, I was being told I was going to have big pants. It was my birthright-all I had to do was look at the evidence all around me.
Destined for Bigness?
Seeing my destiny spelled out in longer and longer belts, I started to get a little worried. I knew food was a problem; I knew my parents, friends, and relatives weighed too much. I just didn't know what in the world to do about any of it. After all, for years I'd eaten whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, just like the rest of my family, without ever once thinking about the consequences.
Sound familiar? I was raised on the three C's: Cow products, Chemicals, and empty Calories. At the time I thought there were only two major food groups: Fruity Pebbles and pepperoni pizza. If it wasn't loaded with artificial colorings, flavorings, or a list of ingredients even my science teacher couldn't pronounce, I didn't eat it. I certainly didn't feel unique. I was part of a generation raised on frozen dinners, snacks from 7-Eleven, and a revolutionary way of eating that was spreading across the country as quickly as backsides were spreading across the car seats we were all suddenly eating in: fast food.
My parents were always on diets. My dad would lose as much as one hundred pounds and then gain it all back, something I now know to be extremely dangerous. Sadly, they did not possess knowledge of how to eat healthfully or well. It was either starve or eat. We were always "on" or "off" a diet. I would go on the diets with my parents, and I started having concerns that I was heading in their footsteps. Though I was barely conscious of it, the first few times I heard the phrase "you'll be fat too someday," I was already making internal commitments to buck the system. That internal nudge flickered into full-blown determination by the time I entered junior high.
While the family naysayers unwittingly propelled me toward wellness, something else added fuel to the fire burning inside me: the desire to fit in. Every adolescent kid worries about how well they fit in at school, but for some kids this teenage angst morphs into agony; the daily bus ride alone can be enough to make them want to walk.
Obviously, with everyone in my family being overweight, appearance was not at the top of the priority list. I was allowed to go to school looking unkempt, my curly red hair and plaid pants screaming misfit. I didn't understand what the deal was-as far as I knew you just needed pants and a shirt, right? So when I took my big red afro and plaid pants out into the community I couldn't understand why other kids didn't always accept me.
There's no question that those early days of trying to figure out who I was-and how I fit into the world-fueled my passion for succeeding. They provided the impetus for change. I made a conscious decision at age thirteen: "I'm not going to stay on this road; I'm not going to stay unpopular and weird. I can beat this; I can become accepted. I can become healthy and live a thinner life."
Sports, I decided, were my ticket to being cool. They also fell in line with my newfound pursuit of health and fitness. I was an amateur wrestler throughout junior high, high school, college, and for several years after college, honing my body by working out with weights and controlling my "weight class." I typically competed in a weight class that was fifteen or twenty pounds below my normal weight. During wrestling season, I sometimes had to "make weight" two or three times per week. As a result, I lived on and off a diet for nearly two decades-first from my parents' example and then from my own compulsion to succeed at wrestling.
A Weight-Loss Laboratory
While making weight was often nothing less than torture, the good part was that wrestling turned out to be a weight-loss laboratory for me.
All through junior and senior high, I was dieting in the dark. During those times, losing weight was extremely hard, and I endured a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. When you are that young, you want to eat like an elephant, but I had to look like a gazelle-lean, muscular, fast, and hard to pin down. It wasn't until after several years of college that I finally learned to eat properly. After learning what to eat and when to eat it, I was able to lose even more weight than before, lose it faster, and actually eat twice as much food.
The results of my wrestling laboratory experiments showed me that eating well doesn't mean deprivation. Turning away from bad eating choices became its own reward as I saw and felt the changes within my body. A large part of being overweight, I now realize, is being poisoned and swollen from all the indigestible (man-made and/or altered) food stored as fat and fluids in your system. A lifetime of such eating takes its toll on any body. I only have to look as far as my own family for proof.
You see, I was named after my grandfather, whom I never met. Both of my grandfathers died of heart disease-in their fifties. My oldest uncle died in his fifties too. In fact, my passion for wellness today is rooted in tragedy: I watched my father die of a heart attack at age fifty-two and my mother suffer a stroke one year later. But even then, as a young man in my twenties, I knew my parents' poor health wasn't the result of a single problem, the need to diet. Taking care of yourself is complex. You need a plan for how to eat, how to cook, what to do at school or work, where, when, and how you will exercise, and how to do this as a family.
That quest for a holistic approach to sustainable health-what I call maximized living-propelled me first to major in nutrition and then to study chiropractic. In chiropractic I discovered a proven pathway to build health instead of merely treating disease. Seeing thousands of patients a year, I witnessed firsthand their frustration as they tried their hardest and yet failed to make the lifestyle changes they so desperately desired-especially weight loss. My desire to help people succeed in their own health quests led me to develop the simple, attainable, step-by-step methods that are the foundation for my professional practice, the Center for Maximized Living. The principles work, and you'll discover why and how in this book.
The Apathy and Denial of Obesity
Whenever I've studied and worked with kids who have weight or health problems, their feedback runs the gamut of responses. Some say, "That's just me; I don't care." It kind of bothers them, but they dismiss it. I call this the apathetic response. When surveyed, nearly half of all obese people or parents of obese kids deny that being overweight will hurt them or their children. Others readily admit that the challenge of obesity or not fitting in leads to depression, which leads to more overeating or the habits that excluded them in the first place. For some (like me), feeling excluded serves as a good motivator to overcome the habits and choices that cause the rejection. Others may desire to change but simply do not know where to start-or how to make the changes stick.
We are all wired differently, with our own unique emotional and spiritual makeups. God created every human body with an innate inclination toward wholeness. Isn't that wonderful news? Your body yearns to be healthy!
Whether you are a parent, an educator, a health practitioner, or a school-age kid who battles with being fit, my desire is not to force change but to take you by the hand and show you how to take small, steady steps toward a life of wellness. Let me be the first to assure you that the principles found in this book-the same ones I built my practice on-produce results that are typical: safe, steady weight loss and a body built strong through good food and exercise.
Is There a Fat or a Sick Gene?
Growing up, I concluded that my family suffered from Poor Genetics Syndrome, or PGS. Rather than become discouraged, I vowed to overcome my PGS. I had to choose a completely different path through life-a path I now know everyone can follow. At forty, my cholesterol is one-third of what my father's was at this age, and my blood pressure is half.
Over the years of caring for the neurological and nutritional well-being of hundreds of thousands of people in my practice and serving as a chiropractor, nutritionist, and fitness trainer to the U.S. Wrestling Teams in six World Team competitions and two Olympics, I've discovered something that may come as a surprise to you: PGS is a myth. In our battle of the bulge, Americans consistently blame their genes as the chief culprit. However, I've seen super fit, healthy people with seemingly bad genes and overweight, sick people with what should have been great genes.
A common misconception is that some "lucky" people have high or "fast" metabolism, and some "unlucky" people have low or "slow" metabolism. Those who struggle with weight gain often lament that they were simply born with "bad glands," or PGS, but the reality is that the only glands involved here are usually the salivary glands.
We all have some genetic tendencies to be high-strung, low-strung, stomach-big, or heart-weak. However, these are just tendencies. They are not death sentences-or weight sentences-pronounced with finality over our lives. Tendencies can be overcome. While some people may have a genetic tendency to burn less caloric power and store more fat than others, in most cases the metabolism is caused to be low or high by the person themselves. The law of thermodynamics states that if a body burns more calories than it consumes, it will lose weight. And if a body consumes more calories than it burns, it will gain weight.
The truth about metabolism is that your body's efficiency at burning fat and calories is determined more by the way you and your child live your lives and less by your genetics. Movement, along with eating the right foods in the right amounts for your metabolic type (more on this later), all speed up or normalize the metabolism and cause the body to find or maintain its ideal weight.
What's Wrong with the Wellness Movement?
Over the past several years I've become increasingly bothered by something-if the number of wellness businesses and products is booming, why has being unhealthy and out of shape become such an epidemic? Granted, most wellness products are aimed at adults, not children, but this "wellness" trend still begs the question: If adults (including parents) are more aware of wellness issues now than at any other time in our nation's history, why are they allowing their children to make such poor health choices? The history of wellness dates all the way back to 1961 when Weight Watchers held its first meeting. Since then we've seen gyms pop up in every suburban shopping mall; Suzanne Somers's ThighMaster infomercials hit the airwaves in the eighties, Body by Jake and Tae Bo in the nineties, and South Beach, Atkins, and Dr. Phil's weight-loss plans started the new millennium.
What has been the result of the wellness revolution? We're bigger and more out of shape than ever. Obesity numbers have soared in the last two decades, tripling and even quadrupling for children and adults in the United States and abroad. Diseases related to obesity now kill more people than smoking and nearly every other kind of medical condition.
While wellness businesses and products have made incredible advances over the last four decades, the actual wellness of the nation has retreated almost as quickly in the opposite direction. As we study other societies that continue to experience wellness while lacking the sophisticated tools we've created in the United States, it becomes evident health and fitness are not created by stuff; they're created by culture.
In our culture every adult and most children have cell phones; our schools now have McDonald's and Pizza Hut vendors; we can't imagine a week without stress or an unrushed moment. We demand fast service and instant relief; our bloodstreams are 75 percent Starbucks; we have a pill for every ill and a potion for every emotion. It's considered exercise if you have to do long math or compete in an intense game of Nintendo hockey. In this environment, chances are the next company, book, supplement, or exercise machine won't suddenly produce an army of healthy people.
Norms Are Really Abnorms
Cultures or societies contain norms. It seems that when it comes to health in America, however, what is a norm is always dangerously wrong.
For example, my practice is located across the street from a McDonald's. As much as we all know the dangers of that "food," the norm in America remains the same regarding fast food because the line there is always immense. In other words, norms are typically abnorms.
Therefore, if you want to become well, first you have to become free. Free from the typical way our culture lives.
What are some of the cultural abnorms in our lives that prevent us from becoming healthier, happier, and more well-adjusted people? The following are some abnorms worth rethinking.
The ingestion of soft drinks for kids ages six to seventeen has tripled over the course of the last three decades. This is linked to the significant rise in weight of the average child due to adding a couple hundred calories a day from sugar.
TV is where you receive the most misinformation about health issues, largely through commercials. If you do not think you're prone to the effects of commercials, see if you can answer these questions:
What goes, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz"?
How do you spell relief?
What's the nighttime "stuffy head fever so you can rest" medicine?
What fast-food chain does it "your way"?
What worldwide company encourages you to "Just do it"?
Excerpted from GENERATION XL by JOSEPH MERCOLA BEN LERNER Copyright © 2007 by Joseph Mercola. Excerpted by permission.
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