No matter what we say to make ourselves feel better about our dwindling health, we know.
Researchers and health campaigns preach and have for decades, the importance of balanced nutrition and a non-sedentary life. These two things are proven to combat depression, anxiety, suicide, tooth and gum decay, stress, and countless other things we know wreck our world. And yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975”. One of the most heartbreaking realities WHO shares is that children under the age of 5 who were overweight or obese in 2016 numbered 41 million, and those aged 5-19 numbered over 340 million.
How is this possible? If knowledge is power, as Sir Francis Bacon is claimed to have said, then how are any of us struggling to live a healthy life? Well, the answers may be more understandable than you think.
Dr. Wayne Anderson, New York Times bestselling author and physician in nutritional intervention and lifestyle management, believes “It’s not your fault you’re struggling.” He points out, in Dr. A’s Habits of Health, that we are each living in a body with 10,000-year-old programming that screams at us to eat. Imagine how life looked 10,000 years ago. No vehicle. No refrigerator or microwave. Extremely basic tools. Our eyes closed with the sunset.
Our furthest ancestor walked, climbed, ran, paddled, or swam to find food. Once they found it, they built a fire to cook- which means carrying water and gathering wood. Our bodies learned to hold on to calories and fat because they never knew when the next meal was coming and how much energy they needed to get that meal. In Dr. Anderson’s words, “To this day, our bodies fight to hold onto every calorie of energy we take in. We’re programmed as if our survival is still in question.” This isn’t helpful when, as Dr. Anderson points out, “restaurant portions are eight times bigger than they used to be.”
Bottom line: We do the opposite of our ancestors. Eat more. Spend less energy. Sleep less. And yet, we work with the same programming.
But why else do we consume the foods and drinks that trigger the decline of our health, have addictive qualities, and our body clings to like a sloth clings to his sleep?
Canadian Journal of Environmental Education published a report entitled Food, Identity, and Environmental Education in 2015. This report, by Sarah Riggs Stapleton, cautions researchers and educators from moving too fast when it comes to discussing what people eat because the evidence supports the connection between food and identity. For example, when we think of a geographical region, we often think of food.
- South (U.S.): fried green tomatoes, beignets
- West (U.S.): Frito pie, chantilly cake
- Midwest (U.S.): stromboli, toasted ravioli
- Northeast (U.S.): saltwater taffy, fluffernutters (marshmallow and peanut butter)
- Canada: butter tarts, poutine (crispy fries, cheese curds, and gravy)
The same connection between food and identity is also found within cultures and races. For many, food is equivalent to memories. It’s difficult to change your mindset and food choices when your world is heaped in tradition, celebration, and history that doesn’t support a healthy lifestyle.
Radio Canada International released a study in December 2017 that said: “almost half the foods Canadians eat are highly processed products that are poor in nutrition and increase health risks.” Jean-Claude Moubarac, Assistant Professor at the University of Montreal, included in this report that “we are, in Canada, the world’s second-largest consumers of these [highly processed] products, next to the United States.”
Of all the times we’d love to come in first or second place, this is not one of them.
In addition to genetic predisposition and identity, our cash and time-poor society play a role in our ability to ignore the research and signs that our health is being hurt by our actions. Cash-poor is defined as having little spare money and likewise, time-poor is having little spare time. We’re conditioned to think of healthy food as expensive and fast food as our savior. And since calorie-dense foods often are more filling because our body clings to their fat, sugar, and sodium, it’s easy to convince ourselves that the best way to live in a cash and time-poor society is to buy cheap, filling foods and drinks.
Reality check from Dr. Anderson: The inconvenience of health leads to living every day with the inconvenience of illness.
Saving time in the short-run by eating unhealthy can decrease your quality of life and worse, shorten your lifespan. As for healthy food being more expensive, here are a few tips:
- Buy frozen, tinned, & dried fruits- cheaper than fresh and still nutritious
- Buy in bulk and in-season produce- freeze extras
- Plan meals- stick to your list and avoid the inside supermarket aisles
- Cook at home- make leftovers to save time later
- Buy food closest to its original form- a block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese
- Convenience costs- grate your cheese, break down your chicken, avoid instant rice and oatmeal, buy a head of lettuce instead of a bag, etc.
- Buy generic, if quality ingredients remain
- Stop buying junk food
- Replace meat with other proteins, like eggs and beans
- Clip coupons
Knowledge is power… but only if we use it wisely.
Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach