In my previous post on food, I wrote about food being the ultimate Trojan. If we don’t eat, we die. Faced with that choice the vast majority of us do choose to eat.
Given the extremely high rates of obesity, diabetes, acid reflux, cancer, heart disease, and so on, and the impact food can have on those maladies, it is fair to say we may not be making the best choices.
Like other human characteristics, habits and behaviors, the conditioning and socialization of how, when, and what we eat, begins at birth. It is influenced by culture, economic class, and parenting. As we age, peers, and other social groups subliminally assert their influence as well. And of course lets not forget the billion dollar food industry, with billions of dollars at stake, prefer not to leave you’re eating choices to chance.
So with that in mind, and in no particular order, here are 8 reasons why our eating habits are what they are.
Illusion of free will – Perhaps more than any country, Americans pride ourselves on our free will. The food industry, consisting of many tentacles, does in fact spend billions of dollars in advertising trying to manipulate that free will. All the commercials, magazine/ web ads, product placement and integration in TV and film, celebrity endorsements, and billboards in the middle of bum f*#k nowhere; are done so that when you get hungry and think to yourself, “hmm what am I in the mood for?” You actually think you’re spontaneously thinking of their product…. Fat chance!
Think of it another way. Would American eating habits be the same if billions were not spent on advertisements for fast and junk food? Or if billions were spent on healthy food? I submit the answer is no. Our eating habits would not be the same, in fact they would be radically different. So the question then becomes, do we… do you… want to let advertising continue to manipulate your “free will?”
Misinformation campaign – We don’t all have the time or the inclination to get PhD’s in nutrition. So, for many looking for professional guidance, that leaves us in the hands of the media and “experts”. Of course big food buys themselves some experts. Their experts don’t have to convince us. They win by confusing us with misinformation about what is good or bad for us food/health-wise. Dr. David L. Katz details this well in his post, Why ‘No Two Nutritionists Agree’ Is A Myth.
If they can confuse us, they can get us to throw our hands up in frustration. “First they say this is bad for you and then it’s good, then it’s bad, whatever I’ll eat what I want”. Unfortunately, this is an effective strategy. Dr. Greger of NutritionFacts.Org explains it nicely in two blogs:
In the past I have written how I think the precautionary principle, should be applied to cancer prevention. Science may not yet be able to prove certain foods and lifestyles cause or prevent things like cancer and heart disease, but as I stated in my previous food blog, with over 1.2 million people dying a year from them, I believe just a wee bit of precaution is warranted.
To be fair, just because a specific industry is funding research that doesn’t disqualify the research in and of itself, but of course it should be disclosed, and a healthy dose of skepticism is prudent. For example, according to Rebekah’s Kearn’s piece in CourtHouse News, “The egg industry is increasingly involved in financing studies on dietary cholesterol. It funded 29 percent of such studies in 1992, 41 percent of the studies in 2001, and 92 percent in 2013, the complaint states”.
Think about this the next time you see a headline promoting health benefits of eggs while denying or downplaying any possible health risk. At the very least, their findings are worth a deeper look, especially if you read how Dr. Greger explains how easy it is to design a misleading study.
Food is an addiction – And like other addictions, there are many times when addicts are in denial. Obstacles that may be unique to a food addiction are: it is easier to hide, it is legal, and lots of people do it. In other words, a food addiction can be hidden in plain sight. And of course while we don’t have to smoke, take pills or inject ourselves, we do have to eat something.
Speaking of denial, if food is an addiction, then like other addictions, when one is in the throes of it, it may be very challenging to get them to admit it, or do anything about it. They may also seek to rationalize and justify their eating similar to how an alcoholic may do the same with drinking.
Couple denial with the fact that we are living in an unprecedented era of political correctness, it may be deemed too offensive to point out how someone’s eating may be contributing to their weight and current and possibly future health problems. They may drop dead prematurely, but hey, at least they won’t be offended by anyone.
Eating for the wrong reason – If nature had its way we would eat when hungry to provide vital nutrients to survive. However, we eat when we’re depressed, bored, stressed, angry, and so on.
This is neither physically or emotionally healthy. This is an extension of food being an addiction. Further, just as smokers and drug addicts will use their substance of choice as a response to “triggers”, so to will people form associations with eating when in certain moods, time of day, activities, etc., that have nothing to do with hunger. In addition, not only are there triggers for eating when not hungry, there are triggers for eating unhealthy foods.
We also eat when we confuse hunger for food when we are actually thirsty. Drink a big glass of water and see if that satiates you till your next meal.
Cultural traditions – There are cultural traditions, and generational beliefs, associated with food, food preparation, and eating that mindlessly get passed down from generation to generation. These traditions and beliefs may originate from a time when there may not have been the knowledge of the effects of food on physical and emotional health that we have today.
Laziness and convenience – In our rush rush world, who has the time to cook? Who has the time to read beyond the headlines of health news? Fast food, processed food and the dying art of cooking makes healthy eating more challenging.
Blissfully ignorant – If everyone were in the movie, The Matrix, my bet is many would pick the blue pill. Some people are so in love with their food addictions that they don’t want to know. They consciously choose denial.
If only the blue pill came without consequences such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and so on. But it doesn’t. Knowing and ignoring this is also symptomatic of denial of a different fact of life: Death. “Those bad things won’t happen to me”. Hopefully they won’t. And while there are no guarantees, the percentages are such that it seems unwise to ignore the effect of diet on quality and quantity of life.
Food cost – Crapola food can be cheaper than healthy food. There are two ways to address this. One, that is the short-term view. When you consider the cost of health, disease, the effect on mood, and so on, spending a little more for food in the present can save not only money, but pain and suffering as well.
Second, wherever you are on the continuum of health/unhealthy eating, I would suggest you can do better and that limited funds is not an excuse. I say this as someone who works in mental health with homeless and mentally ill adults that are on food stamps. I’m with them at the market. I make suggestions, they make choices. If you don’t want to eat better, you don’t want to, but in many cases it is not because of cost.
An example I have given many times to friends and clients is two people buy the same car off the same lot on the same day. Owner A, changes the oil and gets routine maintenance done on schedule. He drives close to the speed limit and so on. Owner B saves money along the way and gets oil changes when he remembers and takes the car in for service a few thousand miles after an indicator light goes on. He frequently drives well over the speed limit. Which car is going to last longer? As the cars age, which will perform better? I suppose if Owner B is wealthy or doesn’t mind using credit cards he can get new car parts or even a new car if and when needed. Organs can’t always be replaced.
There you have some reasons why we eat the way we do. Sorry to get all gloom and doom on you towards the end but the best way to avoid the negative in the future is to confront it today!
One final note is that I am specifically not addressing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia is this blog, nor did I in my previous food blog. I feel those conditions require distinct focus and attention. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be struggling with any eating disorder please seek medical and psychological attention.
In my next post on food I will offer suggestions for those interested in making some changes.
Before considering any new diet program, or making any diet changes, please check with your doctor and clear any diet changes with him or her before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian and nothing in this blog should be used to replace medical advice.