This being the land of Chick-fil-A and Coca-Cola, it’s no wonder that more than a quarter of Georgians are clinically obese, making us the seventeenth-most-obese state in the country.
“It’s fried foods, biscuits and gravy, sweet tea. Those things are just killing us, and we’re not burning them off,” says surgeon Christopher J. Hart, chief of staff at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and medical director of its Atlanta Bariatric Center. “We’re a driving city. We don’t walk anywhere . . . The most exercise people get is walking from the couch to the car.”
Atlantans also stay sedentary to avoid the heat, especially at this time of year, says Dr. Ralph Peeler, who practices family medicine in Chamblee. “Part of the problem in the South is the weather’s real hot, and people don’t like to exercise outdoors in the heat,” he says.
But the consequences are deadly. According to a study of more than 3.5 million subjects published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, obesity is now as great a risk, if not greater, to quality of life than smoking. The study found that between 1993 and 2008, the number of smokers declined 18.5 percent, but the proportion of obese Americans increased 85 percent—resulting in a slightly greater loss of “quality years” per person than smoking. Obesity has been associated with diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and increased risk of stroke, heart attack, disability, depression, and cancer.
Hart suggests working out early in the day. “No one really wants your time at 5 a.m.,” he says. “If at all possible, [exercise] first thing in the morning. Then it’s out of the way and the rest of the day can happen. If things go sideways and the day gets away from you, you’ve already done your exercise.” He also advises looking for fun activities such as rowing on the Chattahoochee or joining an ALTA tennis team if you dread going to the gym.
Planning ahead can help you avoid those last-minute trips to fast food restaurants, says Peeler. “I tell [patients] to prepack meals and snacks to take to ball games and soccer practice and hopefully have a nutritious meal when everybody gets home in the evening.”
When extra pounds spur any kind of medical issue—such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or arthritis—then it’s time to see a doctor. He or she will usually order simple blood tests to make sure there’s not a medical reason for weight gain. Many of the patients who come to Hart’s office meet with one of the two nutritionists on staff. Those who are clinically obese are candidates for weight loss surgery.
“The first time I see those patients, I get up on my soapbox for an hour and tell them they have to make a serious commitment to lifestyle change—eating healthy and exercise—before I’ll even talk about surgery,” says Hart. “You just have to make a commitment to take care of yourself.”
Here are some area restaurants that offer a hefty selection of lighter fare.
3050 Peachtree Road, 404-846-1552 (Buckhead); 90 Perimeter Center West, Dunwoody, 770-671-0052 (Perimeter Mall)
Because the kitchen relies on wood-fire grilling, caramelizing vegetables, and other flavor-enhancing techniques, every item on the vast menu is 475 calories or fewer. Try: wood-roasted pork tenderloin with herb polenta, broccoli, cremini mushrooms, and shallot-Dijon glaze; oak-grilled filet mignon with Yukon Gold garlic mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables, and roasted mushrooms
931 Monroe Drive, 404-724-0151
The menu changes daily at this Midtown spot, but soups and fruit are mainstays. Try dishes such as: local organic pork tenderloin with sauteed baby spinach and mango salsa; mango tuna salad with microgreens and white balsamic dressing
R. Thomas’ Deluxe Grill
1812 Peachtree Street, 404-881-0246
Fresh produce, organic foods, and vitamin-filled ingredients such as kefir, a yogurtlike dairy drink, fill the menu at this South Buckhead grill. Try: R.’s Grilled Range Chicken, a boneless, skinless chargrilled chicken breast, served with garlicky green beans, broccoli, and hijiki seaweed
3085 Piedmont Road, 404-262-0702
This Buckhead Life restaurant offers many fresh grilled seafood choices as well as vegetarian and vegan menus. Try: arctic char, grilled and basted with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and oregano and served with warm, braised greens
56 East Andrews Drive, 404-237-7687
This popular neighborhood cafe offers an ever-changing menu of hot soups, cold soups, sandwiches, and salads. Call the daily menu hotline (404-239-9023) and hear the Weight Watchers points for each mouth-watering option. Try: lima bean with spinach and artichokes soup
Cafe Jonah and the Magical Attic
3188 Paces Ferry Place, 404-343-4107
Souper Jenny’s sister restaurant also offers fresh, light fare. But instead of soup, this cafe serves a daily rotation of salads, sandwiches, and breakfast food. Try: a build-your-own fruit salad
Illustration by Jude Buffum