This month, I wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow Calm Moms on food and nutrition. For any of you who know me well, you know that I am an “everything in moderation” type of gal. In graduate school, I studied human eating behavior and spent five years “digesting” ample research that tells us that having “forbidden foods” increases the likelihood of overeating these foods when they are available. In other words, if you love chocolate, you are better off eating a tiny square each day than never having any and then eating an entire pack of Oreos at one sitting. So, in my family, we eat a bit of everything, in small portions, and we make sure to live an active lifestyle. So far, this approach is working for all four of us.
However, like most moms, I am greatly concerned by the rising rate of childhood obesity. As a psychologist, I recognize that obese kids are often teased and socially excluded. These experiences are hard to outgrow, even if the weight is eventually shed. Children who are socially excluded and victimized by their peers tend to have difficulties with anxiety and depression when they grow up. And, as a cardiologist, my husband is well aware of the physical risks of obesity including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. So, we want to ensure that our kids maintain a healthy weight.
To this end, I recently read “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” by Dr. David Kessler. What a fascinating book. This book tells a very compelling, grim story. Basically, the story goes as follows: Modern society has invented foods that are sweeter, fattier and saltier than anything that exists in nature. The food industry has discovered that sweet, fat and salty layered together is a particularly compelling combo and therefore, spends millions of dollars developing foods that hit this “sweet spot”. These processed foods are actually addictive to the brain – yes, in the same way as drugs. The more we eat of them, the more we want. And, just to make matters worse, along with wanting more of this hyperpalatable food is the simple fact that in our society, it is very affordable and very easy to get. Hyperpalatability + ease of access = a national problem with obesity.
As I read the book, I kept returning in my mind to one of my favorite books ever written about food and eating – Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”. Mr. Pollan’s book has a lovely head of lettuce on the cover and the elastic band around it reads “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” Eat food. Well, duh, you might think before you read the book. But, what he points out in the book is that what we now consider food is actually highly processed chemicals masking as foods. He suggests eating foods that your great-grandmother would recognize if she came back to your dinner table. I love this message! It fits perfectly with Dr. Kessler’s message. Our brains are less likely to become addicted to foods that are less sweet, less salty, less fatty – in other words, as they occur in nature.