San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Take responsibility for your own health

These days it is easy to blame someone else for our less desirable attributes, and being overweight attracts a lot of culprits: our genes, the processed-food industry, our stressed-out lifestyles, too many parties over the holiday season, personal safety concerns (riding a bike on most roads here is like dicing with death, and as for sidewalks, hmm, I think I might have spotted one the other day) and so on. All these can add up to a resounding despondency, a perception that we no longer have control over our weight. In reality, it’s a question of attitude, of setting goals and priorities and making choices that lead you to achieve those goals. 

Julie Godfrey

Julie Godfrey

A recent study found that wealthy countries with a higher density of fast food outlets have higher levels of obesity than wealthy countries with a lower density of fast food restaurants per capita. This suggests that being surrounded by convenience foods directly contributes to an increased waistline – right? Well, another study carried out on New York City residents in 2009 found that regardless of the density of fast food outlets the residents were exposed to, it was ease of access to (the scarcer) healthier food outlets that influenced obesity rates. The latter study implies that having a choice and choosing wisely is what matters. 

So, if you are one of those people whose New Year’s resolutions have already bitten the dust, now could be a good time to re-evaluate. There are a lot of pitfalls in the quest for slimness, and evidence is emerging to suggest that overweight and obesity are not simply related to too much food and not enough exercise; lack of sleep, infections, genetics, the mother’s diet during pregnancy, environmental pollutants, undernutrition and more are being considered as additional factors. This is not to say that you can ignore diet and exercise. While it can be a minefield out there, traditional diets and traditional lifestyles are repeatedly linked to increased longevity with less disease, so going back to basics can be a good strategy. To quote from a book I recently read: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” 

Hence, take a realistic look at your health goals and an honest look at your current lifestyle. Aiming to be healthy, rather than to lose weight, is a good starting goal. It detracts from the desire to be constantly reaching for the scales; also, habits that promote general good health tend to lead to a more normal weight anyway. Scientifically, good sleeping habits and a strong immune system can keep you healthy, while chronic sleep deprivation and constant infections have been linked to weight gain. Healthy people need less medication, and various common medicines have been linked to weight gain. 

Once you’ve decided on your goals, determine what needs to change, and then start implementing these changes month by month. Imagine how different your life could be if each month you introduced just one health-promoting habit. If you can manage this, perhaps next year you can forget the torture of New Year’s resolutions – you simply won’t need them.

Sources: Science Daily (, National Center for Biotechnology Information (, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press, 2008). Julie Godfrey, B.Sc. (Hons), is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see or email

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