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The ‘tipping point’ – have we reached it?

Carole Carson

What triggers an unequivocal decision to get fit? I’m fascinated by the process. I remember the instant I decided. Looking back, I went from sedentary slug to “gung ho” athlete, from recreational eater to nutrition Nazi, and from quiet neighbor to local columnist. Instead of moving into old age, I moved into a “new stage,” where I think and feel younger.

But why, after 40 years of attempting and failing to lose weight, did I suddenly succeed? Even more intriguing is how many of us are doing the same thing. Featured below, Clare McDowell describes shrinking her body 130 pounds and six sizes. Like me, she spent years trying and failing to make changes, yet today she succeeds.

More examples are brought to my attention each week. At what point are there enough of us fitness fans to reach the tipping point? The point when the trend toward obesity is reversed?

In a bestselling book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell demystifies social epidemics by careful examination. Although he doesn’t argue obesity is a problem, he cites results of one independent researcher who reports a 1 percent decline. Are we replacing an epidemic of obesity with an epidemic of fitness?

Have you noticed new menu items at restaurants and fast food chains promoting better eating? Kentucky Fried Chicken dropped “Fried” from its name (they’re now KFC) and advertises roasted chicken. Applebee’s is introducing Weight Watchers’ appetizers, entrees and desserts. Other chains are jumping on the bandwagon, offering salads and “low carb” options.

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Groceries promote health-conscious products which didn’t exist months ago. Food networks feature “cooking thin” shows. Newspapers and magazines – from Guidepost to Business Week – feature articles on fitness. According to one report, one out of four Americans is on the Atkins’ diet.

Next month, Time Magazine is sponsoring an obesity summit, bringing together leaders from government, research, health care, plus food and drug industries. Their goal – to come up with comprehensive solutions.

Locally, residents continue post-Meltdown fitness efforts – none of which I’m organizing. Just knowing the Meltdown was going on triggered healthful changes in some people even though they never participated.

According to Gladwell, grass roots efforts from the bottom up – not top down – are typical of authentic social epidemics. A fitness epidemic is simply lots of “regular” people acting on common sense and assuming responsibility for their bodies.

What most convinces me are changes occurring in my family. My husband decides to lose weight. One son trims down, and another son exercises more consistently. Granddaughters – who never met a hamburger and French fry they didn’t eat – join me for Subway sandwiches. Dinner guests appreciate lower calorie fare.

Gladwell theorizes that change begins with exceptional individuals who popularize an idea. Like disease, social epidemics are highly contagious. Today, because of advances in technology, we realize how interconnected we all are. Every time one of us changes, we change others around us.

Knowing Gladwell’s theory of the contagiousness of social epidemics makes it intriguing to contemplate the impact of the Meltdown. Television, newspaper and radio audiences in millions learned of what we were doing. Did the Meltdown add momentum to a national fitness epidemic already under way?

For sure, the Meltdown won’t die. I’m told Nevada County’s story and photographs will be featured in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday.

Obviously, change doesn’t stop with one person. Our actions send signals to others, just as their actions send signals to us. Every time we affirm fitness, we make room for others to do the same. Who would have imagined that my own fitness efforts would influence others? Certainly not I. Yet look what happened.

If you are one of those people making this transition, e-mail me. Tell me your story so we can inspire others to reach their personal tipping point.

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Carole Carson is a fitness and nutrition advocate from Nevada City. E-mail her at meltdownusa@earthlink.net or write her at The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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