According to reports by Marketdata Enterprises, Americans spend roughly $60 billion a year on diet-related programs and products. That is a shocking number when you take into account that roughly 70 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese.
We are a society plagued with optimism that each new diet trend will be the “life hack” to washboard abs and a slim figure. In other words, we want results without having to put much effort into it.
Recent research has had experts in the health field reaching back to our caveman ancestors for insight on proper eating habits. From the Paleo Diet to the recently-popular Keto Diet, the focus on primitive eating habits has been at the center of discourse among both experts and layman for a while. Though the success of both diets are contingent on differing rules, the basic concept is the same.
Cavemen only subsisted on meat and vegetation, as grains were not introduced to our diet until much later. Furthermore, cavemen were not afforded food at all times of the day (in part because they had to hunt for food, and in part because lack of refrigeration meant food didn’t last long). As such, caveman had to fast for extended periods of time which helped regulate insulin levels.
The science behind the “Caveman Diet” makes sense, although it’s still in the infancy stages. Only time will tell if A) it really works and B) if it will hold up to new diet plans that will inevitably make their way to the forefront of the medical community.
What I think is an important takeaway from this hyper-focus on our ancestors is the idea that food is a means of survival, not indulgence.
Being obese is a serious medical condition. It’s the culprit behind a wide range of health issues that, collectively, have made America a very sick country. Consider how cheap insurance costs would be if the pool weren’t filled with so many unhealthy people.
America does not need more diets, supplements, or programs. We have tried to tackle the obesity epidemic at almost every angle and have failed miserably. America does NOT need another physical makeover – we need a mental makeover.
I get it – food is delicious. It is the center of almost all of our social interactions. Whether gathering the family around the dinner table or gathering friends for a barbecue, food is almost always a common denominator when socializing. Why? Because food makes us happy. It’s fun to indulge in hot dogs at the pool or steak at a black-tie event. Great food is, inarguably, one of our most sought-after pleasures, and we justify the indulgence because food is also something you need to survive. So, you can rationalize overeating because it is an action you have to do anyway.
Food is, in fact, the only thing that can be both a vice and a necessity. This can create a convoluted and confusing relationship with food. For example, growing research suggests that the brain sensors respond to sugar in similar ways as it responds to cocaine. The reason that’s relevant is because, while both cocaine and sugar are addictive substance with long-term ramifications, cocaine is not something you need for survival. In order for an addict to recover from a vice like drugs, the typical practice is removing that thing from their everyday life. But you can’t do that with food. This is why we need to make the distinction that food is a means to provide life, not enjoyment.
Restructuring social functions so that food isn’t continually at the core of all interaction is a daunting feat. It’s also – quite frankly – depressing because I think we can all agree that very few things in life are better than a ribeye with mashed potatoes and a glass of wine. But rewiring the brain to associate eating with energy conversion and biological functioning appears to be the only viable answer left at this stage in the game.
Consumption of food should be like drinking fluids or bathing – it’s an action you do to get through your daily grind. That’s it. This shift in attitude and outlook may be the only way to establish long-term health benefits and forgo fad diets that almost always lead to relapse.