How to eat well, feel well...... look well and be well

To understand how we’ve been led down a path to poor health let’s look at the influences that have been shaping our eating habits. We’ve been subjected to myths, untruths and misinformation.

A vendor arranges tomatoes on his stand at the Mahne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Rising food and fuel prices in Israel have brought public pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce tax relief measures and the country's biggest trade union is considering a national strike (February 9, (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
A vendor arranges tomatoes on his stand at the Mahne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Rising food and fuel prices in Israel have brought public pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce tax relief measures and the country's biggest trade union is considering a national strike (February 9,
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
How can it be that we know so little about a thing we do so much? Eating is a vital part of living, yet close to 70% of the population is overweight, indicating that food has become a source of both pleasure and pain. Apparently, most of us are unaware of how what we eat affects us.
This series will explore the scientific basis for what has commonly been termed an obesity epidemic, to reveal how we gain weight (it’s not because we eat too much); why the struggle with nagging hunger is not a psychological fault (hunger is a physiological need, so no need for self-blame); and how weight loss and weight control can be achieved (it’s a matter of understanding the glucose/insulin phenomenon).
Eating our favorite foods is a wonderful experience. It’s deliciously satisfying, yet for many it leaves an unsettling feeling of remorse, guilt and self-blame, and often results in excess weight. Something terribly and seriously harmful is happening when a human need such as eating is leading to diabetes, hypertension, joint inflammation, depression and pain.
To understand how we’ve been led down a path to poor health let’s look at the influences that have been shaping our eating habits. We’ve been subjected to myths, untruths and misinformation that were so innocently absorbed.
To start with, dieting has almost become a national habit. There are as many diets as there are people who promote them. We know that dieting doesn’t work, first of all because dieting leads to more dieting. When a diet fails, it sends the dieter into a closed cycle: Decide that losing weight is necessary, find a good diet, start to lose weight, feel the nagging hunger, struggle with the temptation to eat that is too strong to overcome, give in and eat forbidden food, start to gain weight and then the cycle is repeated with a new diet.
This pattern is also exacerbated by the timeline that dieting promotes. Start a diet that restricts specific foods, lose weight, reach a desired weight, the diet has been completed, it’s over. Soon the need to diet returns. Dieting is cyclical, and leads to frustration, and too often to abandoning any attempt to try again. The tragedy is that almost regularly, each failed diet is followed by more severe weight gain.
Calorie-counting is another piece of misinformation that we believe and try to live by, except that eating low-calorie meals is counterproductive, mainly because it’s unsustainable. The body is far more complex than simply following a calorie-in, calorie-out response. When we eat a calorie-restricted diet, we start to lose weight, which then necessitates lowering the calories once again in order to lose more weight because our body mass has been lowered and requires less calories.
This then leads to hunger that can’t be controlled. In addition, a low-calorie diet slows metabolism, which slows down and prevents weight loss. Another strike against calorie-counting is that eating a wedge of cake will add to body fat, but a hefty steak that has same amount of calories won’t, due to the protein content.
Equally sinister is the untruth that eating fat makes us fat. This is to a large extent responsible for the current obesity epidemic: We’ve been instructed to eat low-fat food. With that recognition, food companies were compelled to find replacements that would keep the food tasty. Enter the era of sugar and salt as taste enhancers. Increasing the salt content in processed food increases the risk of hypertension; increasing the amount of sugar in processed food has led to serious weight gain.
After all this, what may seem like an unsurmountable battle to regain our health can be simply understood by the scientific explanation of the sugar/insulin action, which will be addressed in a future column.
The writer made aliyah with her four children in 1970 from Montreal. She is a GI counselor in private practice and author of three books, The Biochemical Key, The Only Way Out and Enjoy Eating (to be published).
lenbar12@gmail.com


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