Saturday, December 5, 2009

The End of Overeating?

Once again, my Uncle Gene...

I had been reading several books on nutrition this week, when two of the authors I was busy reading showed up on the Charlie Rose shows. David Kessler, M.D., is the author of a new book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Dr. Kessler was puzzled as to why he persistently regained the weight he had so often struggled to lose. Then it dawned on him: he was eating in response to the endless advertisements that promised not just satisfaction, but delight, from eating what Agribusiness wanted Americans to eat: diets high in fat, sugar, and salt. While that may seem to be crediting advertising with powers it does not possess, there is evidence that we do respond to the advertisements we see and hear, and overeating can become a compensation for the satisfactions we are not getting elsewhere in our lives.

To the question, Why do we eat so much? Dr. Kessler suggests that we are biologically programmed to eat more than we need at any one sitting, precisely because our ancestors needed to overeat, to make up for the times when starvation would be narrowly avoided. Long ago, lipidologists determined that our bodies were inclined to store fat when it was available, to be consumed when needed. Problem is, the times of starvation seldom occur anymore.

Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, rings some serious alarm bells about the way our food is produced and processed. As he says: “People don’t know how their food is produced. A level of industrialization has taken over our food supply, with disastrous consequences. Ground beef, for example, is now a dangerous product. In a slaughterhouse that kills 400 animals an hour, there’s no way of keeping manure out of the end product. The hamburger meat you buy may have come from 50 different animals, and the odds are there will be harmful bacteria in it.” (70,000 Americans are taken ill each year from E-coli bacteria, and 7,000 will have long-term health consequences.)

Pollan is an optimist about how we will deal with these problems. He thinks we can solve the long-term challenge of providing healthy food for the planet’s 9 billion people by the year 2050. We begin by improving our everyday eating habits. Small changes over time will have dramatic impacts. When he turns to the health care spending debate, he writes that three-fourths of health care costs are related to treating diseases that derive from the way we eat. One-third of Americans are obese, and almost half of them are diabetic. The costs of treating Type II Diabetes exceed $500,000 over a lifetime. (Medicare spending on Diabetes is $113 billion dollars today; in twenty years, it will be over $270 billion in today’s dollars.)

Pollan is in the forefront of what is called “The Good Food Movement,” which begins by encouraging people to grow some of their own food, to buy what is locally grown, and to decrease meat consumption. (Americans average 9 ounces of meat a day.) Pollan belittles our fascination with “processed” foods, the foods that have so many ingredients listed you wonder what it is you are really eating, and he suggests: “Don’t eat what your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized as food.” Pollan says his book can be summarized in seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Dr. Kessler might add, don’t spend a lot of time watching the TV commercials that try to convince you that all your troubles will end if you just eat a certain food, or, for that matter, that some pill can compensate for your overindulgence. Kessler and Pollan are right: we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the way we eat, with long term consequences for us, the planet, and the generations that will come after us…

1 comment:

Susan said...

Uncle Gene !

As usual, you are so "with it" ! And I do believe that you & Lei, Marcia & I are playing an active role in the "good food movement" -- for ourselves, our families & friends ... for now & for the future!

As always, you are an inspiration ! I love you !