Are We Looking at the Obesity Problem from the Wrong Angle?
It is well known that there is an obesity epidemic in many developed countries that governments are concerned about. This concern reaches deep into developed societies with huge sums of money being pushed to try to reverse this trend; causing parents to panic, legislations to be implemented and temporary band-aid solutions to be contrived to prove something is being done. The problem is getting worse.
The quick fixes stem from our cultural desire for results, although the thing people forget is this is not a problem that just appeared. Starting with the low fat craze of the 80’s which is often blamed for the start of the obesity epidemic, there have been fad after fad of other diets: Atkins, ketogenic, raw food, low fat, juice cleanses, cabbage, gluten free and the list goes on and on. The one thing that continues to be proven time after time is that quick fixes do not work.
Diet cannot solely be blamed for the increase in weight explosion. The changes in technology and culture play a factor. Physical activity levels have declined with the availability of cars and public transportation, and the increase in technological dependence as televisions, computers, and smart phones take up increasingly more and more time.
It seems fingers continue to be pointed in different directions as easily as the wind blowing as a new study is published, but we fail to look at the potential underlying factor. Do we really think that, physiologically, we have evolved so much that we are hurting natural selection to be killing off large chunks of our population by disease and obesity?
Society is now made of up of people who are not able to consciously eat to satisfy their bodies, but eat for other reasons like comfort. People eat because they want good value for their money, satisfied with huge portions sizes for what is deemed a good price. People eat because they were raised to always clean their plates, and they eat to satisfy their cravings for the “bad” foods that they have been raised they should not eat, but cannot get out of their minds. Rarely do people eat to enjoy their food and to consume the amount they need to be satisfied and full, which may mean leaving a portion of the meal on their plate.
Genetically we are all programmed to have a specific body type. For example, we have no control over our height. If a person is meant to be average height, say a 5’7” male (~170cm), there is nothing that can be done to make this guy over 6’ (~180cm). Similarly, genetically, we are programmed to have a certain body type, if it is slender or stocky, there is nothing that can be done about that. Babies are born with the innate ability to regulate their intake to grow and develop. They know when they are hungry and when they are full. For some reason, starting in childhood, often parents have this belief that they have control over a child’s growth and begin pressuring the child to eat or not eat, depending on the situation. In some cases, this concern starts as early as a few days old for some babies when some parents choose to bottle feed over breast feed for the sole reason they want to know exactly how much a baby consumes. This pressure over feeding starts eroding the baby’s physiological ability to self-regulate intake.
For the parents who breast feed, these parents have some trust in their baby that he is able to self-regulate his intake and consumes enough to grow healthy and appropriately. This trust is required as the parent has no idea of how much a breast-fed baby consumes in a meal as the baby drinks until he is full and then stops. Once a breast-fed baby stops eating at a meal, there is no way to force the baby to consume more. Regular height and weight checks are the only way to monitor to ensure a baby is consuming sufficient amounts. Only when there are signs from the baby or there are growth changes, are parents then alerted that there is potentially a problem and then either medical concerns or supplementation may be warranted. Bottle feeding can be a different story if parents do not follow the baby's cues. If parents are concerned with the exact amount that a child consumes and expect the baby to consume the same amount on a rigid schedule, babies may be forced to consume more food than their bodies are telling them they need. Most people never consume the exact amount at each meal and rarely on a rigid schedule of every X hours, so why do we often expect some babies to?
All babies are born with the physiological ability to regulate their intake. They know how much and when they need to be fed to grow properly. If this ability is fostered as the child grows up, she will be a conscious eater and will grow up consuming what she need to eat in the appropriate quantity. Conscious eating will also ensure a child grows up to accept her body and have positive eating attitudes, habits and behaviours.
Parents and caregivers play a key role in developing a conscious eater (my next post will define what this means) as they are the primary role models that a child emulates. Let’s look at the parents and caregivers to ensure they can alter their views to start eating consciously so we can help the next generation.