Weight gain is a modern-day problem that’s showing no signs of slowing down.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
But our grandparents ate butter on toast and put sugar in their tea and they didn’t get fat—so what’s changed?
The WHO says the reason is an energy imbalance. We eat more energy-dense fatty foods and do lesser physical activity than people did in 1975.
This imbalance reflects society’s changes. Food processing, education, marketing, transport, and the environment are vastly changed, and in most cases, it’s detrimental to our wellness and longevity.
Our grandparents lived in a very different time from us—one where putting on weight was actually quite difficult.
Here’s What Our Ancestors Did Right
Our grandparents ate what they wanted and didn’t pile on the kilos. Here’s why.
They Ate Less
Food wasn’t mass produced in their day. It was a local system, where you bought bread at the bakery and milk from the milkman or farmer.
Supermarkets and drive-thrus didn’t exist, so there wasn’t a never-ending easy supply of food. If you ate it all, you didn’t have food the following day. Restraint was a fact of life.
They Grew Their Own
Lots of grandparents grew their own food, which meant food was seasonal, local, organic, and free from the chemicals of large-scale farming.
Food was likely to be ripe before they ate it, rather than picked green, shipped across the country, and sprayed with ripening gas—like modern tomatoes, for example.
They Cooked from Scratch
Convenience foods are full of fat, sugar, and salt. In fact, reading the back of a ready meal, you might not recognize the ingredients.
Our grandparents cooked whole foods from scratch—healthy, whole foods the way nature intended that were full of nutrition. Processed foods weren’t around then.
They Sat down to Eat
Lots of us eat on the go or in front of the TV. Our grandparents didn’t do that. They sat at a table to eat their meals.
Studies show that those who eat slowly and pay attention to their food eat less and are healthier as a result. Watching TV while you eat mindlessly means that your brain is distracted and doesn’t get a chance to feel full.
They Moved More
Our ancestors ate butter, sugar, bread, carbs, and all those foods we’re supposed to avoid—but because they moved more, they burned off the excess calories.
Few people had a car, so they biked to work, walked to the shops, and when they arrived at work, their jobs were likely to be physical manufacturing or farming work that burned off fat.
They Enjoyed Physical Hobbies
We spend a lot of time looking at screens, watching TV, scrolling social media feeds, or playing computer games after work. None of these hobbies burn calories. In contrast, our ancestors had physical hobbies like dancing and sports.
What Lifestyle Changes Have Caused Weight Gain?
Our environment is very different from our grandparents’ surroundings.
Chemicals are found in our food, water, buildings, and bathing products. The environment is filled with pollution and waste, and you don’t have to walk anywhere. Cars, public transportation, and the internet mean you don’t have to leave the house for personal needs.
And let’s not forget intensive fast-food advertising that encourages us to eat high-fat foods whenever we feel like it. Our grandparents weren’t prompted to think about food whenever they left the house.
Chemicals and Preservatives
Most of us do a weekly shopping trip, which means our food has to last, so preservatives and flavorings are added. These are thought to cause an inflammatory response that leads to weight gain.
A sedentary lifestyle is making us fat. Studies show sitting down all day is a real problem. It’s causing problems from backache to deadly cardiovascular disease.
Sitting down all day also affects mental health. Exercise releases the feel-good hormone serotonin, which helps balance our mood and sleep patterns. Without it, we can develop depression and insomnia.
The pounds pile on when you sit still.
Some experts think our reliance on prescription drugs is creating weight gain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2016, over three billion prescriptions were filled.
Medication that causes weight gain includes antidepressants, antihistamines, and corticosteroids. Many other drugs have weight gain listed in the side effects.
If our modern diets create the need for medication and that medication is causing weight gain, it’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to escape from.
We Follow Diet Fads
As a result of putting on weight, we try slimming diets, but diet food can actually have the opposite result and cause weight gain.
Aspartame, for example, is marketed as calorie-free—but it can stimulate insulin and the hunger hormone leptin, which tells your body to eat more and store fat.
The Rise of Food Allergies
As well as getting fatter, we’re experiencing food allergies, something that was rare in our grandparents’ day.
Antibacterial handwashes and toilet paper coupled with no soil interaction means we’re too clean—and as a result, our immune systems are out of shape.
Experts think food allergies, which have soared over the past few decades, are the result of being so clean our immune systems are inexperienced and react to certain food as a threat.
They also think common items in the Standard American Diet like processed foods and soda cause inflammation that provoke allergies.
Fight Weight Gain the Old-Fashioned Way
It may be difficult to live like your grandparents when your job involves sitting in front of a computer 9–5, but there are changes you can make to boost your wellness.
- Go 1970s vintage by eating all the food groups, but choose organic, free-range, in-season foods and avoid processed foods or “diet” food products. Swapping out soda and sugary coffee for water will improve your health, too.
- If you have space to grow your own veggies, get digging. If not, visit a farmer’s market for organic food, then eat your organic whole foods at a table with your family or friends.
- Get up and move. Exercising is essential. Our grandparents did it and didn’t think of it as exercise, so don’t blow your salary on a gym membership. Start walking instead of driving, or get a physical hobby that’ll burn calories and improve your mental health.
- Don’t take unnecessary medication—and ditch antibacterial handwashes. Soap and water worked for our grandparents, and it’s good enough for us, too.
If you make these changes to your daily lifestyle, the weight will naturally fall away. You don’t need a fancy diet plan or nutritionist unless you’re ill.
Eat and exercise like your grandparents, who never worried about weight gain, and you can rid yourself of modern diet worries.