Look around the classroom you’re sitting in. How many people can’t fit in their chairs? You’d be hard pressed to find too many obese people here, where the gym is more crowded than the local McDonald’s. Expand your horizons a little bit and you’ll be frightened to know between 20 and 30 percent of Americans are obese, and about two of every three Americans are overweight. The average American lifespan is 78.2 years – only the 38th longest lifespan in the world. But here in sunny Southern California, organic is in, and even Freebirds has wheat tortillas.

Why are Americans plagued by obesity when all we seem to care about is dieting? Meanwhile, the rest of the world eats what they want and lives longer. The French are notorious for this paradox. They eat pastries for breakfast, cheese with every meal, loads of butter, plenty of beef and even more wine. Yet their average lifespan is 80.7 years, the 10th longest lifespan in the world. The French seem to violate every sacred rule of nutrition the American Food Pyramid advocates. Look a little past the pyramid, though.

First, the French actually spend time enjoying their meals. Americans spend about an hour a day on meals, while the French often spend that long on one meal. Second, the French don’t have ungodly large portions, nor do they spend their time between meals snacking. Third, even metropolitan French cities like Paris encourage walking, so their people are constantly active. Most importantly, the French eat freshly prepared food. They don’t eat food loaded with preservatives, chemicals and artificial sweeteners. That chocolate croissant they have for breakfast might be loaded with sugar and carbohydrates, but it was probably made that morning.

Much of Europe is the same way. The Spanish, known for pork and paella, have the 6th longest lifespan in the world. The Italians, with their pasta and cheese, are 12th. Maybe it’s a plot by the health food industry, currently the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Or maybe we’re just stupid Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 22 percent of Americans didn’t engage in physical activity last month. That is appalling. Humans were meant to labor outside. The average caloric intake of Americans in the 1700s was almost three times as much as it is now, but they weren’t obese because they worked their asses off and ate fresh food – it’s not rocket science.

Moreover, take a look at the list of ingredients on some of the stuff in your pantry. Chances are you’ll find dozens of names that look like they belong on the periodic table, not on the dinner table. Stop eating food made in laboratories. Scientists have learned how to make our palette enjoy those chemicals, but they have yet to work out a way for it to be good for us, too.

More and more evidence is attributing the rise in obesity and cancer to processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame, as well as other refined foods. In laymen’s terms, that’s diet soda, white bread and Splenda. Try replacing one soda a week with water. Not only will that help your general health, but it will also save you gaining about 4 pounds a year.

We need to stop thinking of our bodies as trashcans. It might seem like what we put in just comes right out, but our bodies actually store the nutrients of whatever we eat. Our bodies are our livelihood, and we should treat them as such. Whatever we put in them will affect the way we feel – in the short run and the long run. Try cutting out one or two fast food meals a week and substituting them with fresh, homemade cooking. Good nutrition helps boost mood, improve the immune system, reduce stress, increase energy and promote overall wellbeing.