I have always held the view that physical health and mental health are closely connected; and that weight or body mass and fitness are much more dependent on what we learn from the people around us than on genetics or body type. Hence in a society where most people are overweight it would not surprise me if everyone eventually becomes overweight and obese. The reason is that weight is a mental issue as much as it is about diet and exercise. So in a society that looks up to big, heavy and tall people, paying them millions to play basket ball, football or baseball, while at the same time bullying the little people who are seen as nerds or wimps, it is not surprising that everyone wants to be bigger. In essence there is this subliminal pressure to be bigger.
I spent a sabbatical in Singapore and Canada after more than a decade living in the US and the first thing that struck me about being abroad was how much thinner people are in general outside the US. The next thing that I became aware of was how much more physical activity people outside the US are engaged in. I walked an average of 3 miles per day in Singapore; from fetching groceries from the supermarket a mile away, to walking to and from the bus terminal which was also a mile away in another direction, to climbing the stairs to catch the MRT at Bona Vista and Clementi stations. The average caloric burn per day was easily more than twice what I burned in the US.
Then I became aware of the scarcity of calories for consumption. I was struck with how difficult it is to obtain calories in Singapore. I felt as if the foods were less rich in calories and the cost of calories was certainly higher than in the US. I used to buy Cadbury chocolates on sale just so that I could boost my caloric intake from sugar because I felt as if I was running a caloric deficit. The result of all this walking and exercise (because I maintained my weekly goal of running 30 miles on a treadmill) and the result of living in the heat, (because it seems people living in hot climates burn more calories, because the rate of metabolism increases when the temperature goes up); the result was that I lost weight in Singapore.
But I believe that the most significant change was mental, with respect to how I thought about being thinner, and how much more I now fit in with people around me who were generally smaller. In essence I had reset my mental target weight and my body was simply complying with what my mind wanted it to be. Of course, there is the argument that the effect of the modeling industry on the body image of women pressures young women to be thin. My response to that is based on observation; the pressure of thin models featured in magazines to make young women thin is not as great as the pressure to conform to the larger groups around them in their community or social circle who are generally bigger and convey the message that they should also be big. So in my experience physical health is connected with mental health, and in order to be thin, one has to become recalibrated mentally to the desire to live in a smaller body, and that process of reprogramming the mind to change the body is the key to taking control of your weight.