Food addiction in our culture


Let me give you just one example of a cultural attitude, and I’ll start with this from Dr Joseph Mercola’s latest book, Fat For Fuel:

“In the US, just eight obesity-related diseases – including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, dementia, and cancer – account for 75 percent of all health care costs!

Keep in mind, however, that while obesity is associated with these diseases, it is not their cause. Obesity is a marker. The underlying problem, linking obesity with all of these health issues, is metabolic dysfunction.”

I wonder what you think of those few sentences, because surely they are worthy of consideration. I am convinced that what he’s saying is spot-on, or at the very least spot-on enough to pay attention. Excess weight is a marker, not the cause. It’s a sign, and just one of many. And yes, this matters. It matters when you eat, and it matters when you think your Problem is your size. In Chapter 2 of my book, Eating Less, I make the analogy of suggesting to a smoker that they stop coughing. Not a bad idea, but clearly it misses the point.

In the same way, the messages in our culture to “lose weight” keep us collectively barking up the wrong tree. It’s not a completely bad tree to bark up, and it wouldn’t matter so much if the right tree – food addiction – hadn’t been consistently ignored, avoided and evaded.

For example, match Mercola’s words with the news this week that “Calories in popular foods must be cut, say health officials”:

“Targets are to be set to reduce calories in pizzas, burgers and ready meals as part of the government’s drive to tackle child obesity in England.

Health officials believe the move is needed as people are consuming 200 to 300 calories too many each day.

It could see the size of products reduced or ingredients changed in food and drinks bought in supermarkets, takeaways and restaurants.

The targets are expected to be set by Public Health England within a year.”

Does cutting back by 200 or 300 calories a day lead to weight loss? Will smaller pizzas cure metabolic dysfunction for anyone? And what are the chances that anyone finishing a low-calorie burger won’t feel like they need a second (or third) helping of something?

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  1. Gillian K

    I so agree with everything you say. Seeing excess weight as a symptom not as the problem has been so important for me. But the wider issues of trying to make helpful choices every day in a society obsessed by and deluged with cheap nasty “frankenfoods” is dispiriting and exhausting. Leaving home without a good packed lunch is a nightmare. I’ve been travelling for six weeks this summer and have struggled to make the best choices since I got home simply because of the unremitting onslaught of less good food options everywhere. The worst places of all are hospitals. I had to go to one recently where the cafe sold sausage rolls, pasties, crisps and confectionary. That was it. A complete joke, except it’s not funny.

    • I feel your pain! I’ve been frustrated recently with a lack of real food similar to your hospital scenario.

      BUT – I wouldn’t want anyone to miss that second sentence of yours. Such a radical step for so many, and it’s important to see ‘social proof’ confirmation that it is in fact a step in the right direction.

  2. Cassandra

    I LOVE what you have to say. I’ve recently been able to lose 55 lbs, and would like to lose another ten. The real payoffs have been for my health and sense of well being, which have soared. The overeating-restriction cycle though is still a problem for me. So I know my relationship with, or how I think about food still needs some healing.

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