As I was sitting at the dining table enjoying breakfast and staring at the humming birds hovering over the trees, I pondered our country’s problem with food supply and weight gain.
(Why? What do you think about at breakfast?)
It got me thinking about Nature’s original dilemma: how to get humans to spend time and effort obtaining and consuming food to fuel their bodies.
Nature had to make it worth it—humans needed incentives, and pleasure is a goodie. If there was no reward, there was no hope that people would voluntarily expend the energy to find food. And if they didn’t, they would starve and die. Not great for survival of the species.
So Nature made sweet fruits and fatty meats. We loved those and felt better after eating them—curing the hunger pangs and low energy. We learned which other foods we could eat without poisoning ourselves, even if the pleasure was not as high as fruit.
But then, because we’re clever, we learned to modify the less palatable foods so they tasted better. Grinding, mixing, heating, combining.
We found a good balance: acceptable effort to find and prepare the food with acceptable amount of energy to get us through the day (read: calories out, calories in).
For millennia, that balance resulted in mostly thin bodies.
Even in America, the system worked until the mid 1900’s when world wars were over and food innovation exploded. Convenience and progress became revered. Food science reigned and social and cultural norms shifted.
Before then, whole foods prepared at home were the only foods eaten (mostly, for most). Even with ready availability in markets (usually separate ones for produce, meats, etc.), food cost was a substantial part of a household budget and the prep still required considerable time and effort.
But as we started to have cheaper frozen foods, packaged meals and ready baked goods, the tides began turning. And fast food “restaurants” only accelerated the issues.
Nature’s original system presumably didn’t take into account our ability to mass-produce food and food-like substances. Effort is no longer a significant rate-limiting factor for us getting food in our bodies (at least it isn’t for the places where obesity is an epidemic).
So we are left only with the incentive: rewarding food. And a major imbalance.
Evolution requires us to adapt to our environment if we are meant to survive. This “new” environment of plentiful, highly palatable food requires that we employ different skills when it comes to eating and health. Skills that may run counter to biological systems now in play.
Obesity causes cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. This is us not adapting to the current food environment.
There may be changes we can make on an individual level, but the solution is bigger than that. Our culture and physical environment around food and what’s on offer has to shift if we are going to have any impact on this crisis.
What this means for you today is to cut yourself some slack.
Recognize the absurdity of being told you should be able to sit at a desk for 10 hours a day and eat 3 restaurant meals in that day all while not gaining weight. Not possible.
We weren’t designed for it.
What we need is some combination of going back to the basics and using the innovations that work for our lifestyle and our bodies.
We’ve lost a buffer layer to overconsumption. We have to learn to be more conscious about our intake in an environment that prefers we be unconscious.
We can do this as individuals, communities and as a country.
Awareness is the first step.