While the only solution to the growing public health issue of obesity and disordered eating remains willpower and healthy eating, the problem grows unabated. Shifting responsibility from agribusiness, food conglomerates and regulatory agencies to the individual strengthens the foundation of our collective struggle and leaves us nothing to grasp onto for relief. Doctors recommend ineffective solutions; experts blame the lack of willpower; and science searches for the biological or genetic cause. But it seems as if the answer to facing this world of food is right under our noses.
We have created a world of paradoxes and just sit back and watch how our population goes haywire. The first world is inundated with food, much more than we could ever consume. Food companies exploit scientific and psychological knowledge of food preference to create treats we are programmed to desire. Meanwhile, cultural touchstones present slim figures as the panacea for our woes, a body shape most of the population cannot attain without starvation. We all stand by while experts sanction severe diets as if this is normal behavior.
And our minds and bodies pay the price. We are plagued with guilt and shame, tricked into thinking willpower can override hunger, as we indulge in treats unaware that we are powerless to do otherwise. We chronically starve under the pretense of a sanctioned diet, supposedly doing the right thing, and wonder why we are always so hungry and unable to stop eating. The hunger triggers food obsession and slowed metabolism, and we are shocked when we keep gaining weight and develop diabetes. The system is rigged but no one seems to understand.
There is no one piece of the puzzle to vilify. The whole system is broken. The fix lies in changing the conversation enough for people and society to listen and start to shift our priorities.
From the start, that means education. Without the basic knowledge, we are so easily duped that we sit around blaming ourselves for the disastrous scenario. The basic knowledge will help us understand why we can't accept the current food situation and, in our own small way, will help us understand how to change our own perspective and behavior around food.
The three critical components of education are the biology of food and weight, the myth of willpower and the nonsensical media chatter about food which leads us to blame ourselves.
The biology is simple. Although there is plenty of complex and fascinating science, the layperson only needs to know the basics. Food is necessary for human survival. Our instincts tell us to eat to survive and to eat more when there is surplus and to eat even more when we have been hungry. Historically, the periods of abundance of food have been scarce, and there has never before been a time of endless supply. Even though times have changed, our innate response to food hasn't. Believing we can control all food intake is patently false. Our biological instinct to eat can't be changed. It's a fact of being human we need to respect and not expect to magically override.
Similarly, weight is not a variable we have ultimate control over. The number can shift with fluid changes, hormones and even external factors like seasonal changes. Our bodies allow this value to move to maintain our health, not at our whim. It is one of many components that our bodies adjust for our well-being. The idea that we are solely responsible for the number on the scale based on food intake and exercise is absurd. Basing one's self-image on the number on a scale is a losing battle that ignores the reality of how our bodies function.
The concept of willpower is only effective for a population ignorant of how our body manages hunger and weight. The industries that rely on our ignorance reinforce the false hypothesis. The myth of willpower states that we have the mental ability to restrict what we eat, avoid mouthwatering treats and maintain a too low body weight. The biology of hunger and weight clearly prove otherwise. No perfect diet, newly identified nutrition culprit or Bariatric surgery will overcome our biology.
If biology trumps willpower and our society sets us up for failure, then none of the media information makes sense. Self-help books, supposedly proven diets, medical recommendations and government-sponsored programs encourage behavior that relies solely on willpower. The information is false and leaves us flailing purely focused on our own sense of failure because even the mentally strongest person cant seem to override biology. The only way to manage the media message about food and weight is to ignore it and remember how our bodies truly respond to food.
The basic information about the human response to food and hunger is humbling. The expectation that we all have ultimate control over eating and weight, although pure myth, has a profound effect on our sense of ourselves. It's comforting to believe the answer is within our grasp but ultimately demoralizing to realize we have been duped. Accepting our need for regular meals through the day, a variety of food and a weight range that may be higher than the social norm is a significant first step. The belief that food and weight can't be our top priority may be disorienting at first. It's a leap of faith to know that, with all the advances in modern life, we have it completely wrong when it comes to food and weight. Culture and tradition planned for regular, hearty meals through the day. That pattern stabilized hunger and weight and also trained our minds and bodies to expect food and to learn regulate hunger and fullness accordingly. Modern life has tried to phase out hunger and been wholly ineffective. If we respect our human nature around food and weight and work to incorporate regular meals throughout the day and listen to hunger, we will have much more success in the world of plentiful food than we do now. Knowledge, including debunking all the current false beliefs, followed by new eating behaviors will help us all avoid the pitfalls around so much food.