This week I was interviewed for a documentary about people who have lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for a certain period of time. I was excited to do this interview because I am frustrated by the way the media often covers weight loss.
There is a lot of talk about the “obesity epidemic,” specifically in the western world. And there is an underlying assumption in the way it is covered by the media, and I would dare say even the way it is studied: “No one can entirely give up ‘comfort food.'”
We’ve got Oprah managing her bread. We’ve got contestants on The Biggest Loser exercising for 6 or more hours a day and ruining their metabolisms in the process. We’ve got Dr. Oz recommending sugar in moderation rather than artificial sweetener. In fact, we have an army of nutritionists recommending eating what amounts to junk food in moderation, so people won’t feel deprived.
What I think this does is perpetuate the myth that if you give up junk food, there will be no joy left in life. And this is a belief I see and hear all the time. When you give up cake, the first thing that everyone asks is, “But not for your birthday, right?”
I gave up cake entirely. Even on my birthday. I gave up my grandma’s lasagne for Thanksgiving and Christmas the last few years she was alive.
The idea that food equals joy is not entirely foreign to me even now. I have favorite meals. I look forward to them. I sometimes do a little dance, or talk to them in a baby voice. (This is not a joke – ask my husband.) I love to eat. I love food. It brings me joy, it’s true. The difference is that the food I eat now is all nutrient rich food. It’s all real food. It’s all whole food. It’s mostly stuff that grew in the ground, and can still be identified.
I don’t know how to stop this idea that a person both cannot, and should not be expected to, give up unhealthy food, because that would be cruel. A punishment.
But there is something important that I would like to point out. It was not always this way. This “obesity epidemic” is new. And I know that it is, because when I was growing up fat, I was the exception, not the rule. I was the weirdo. I was the one who was considered lazy and shameful. So I remember a time when most people were a healthy weight. I was not one of them, but they were the majority. In 2011, the U.K. medical journal, The Lancet, reported that obesity rates world wide had doubled since the 1980s.
So here is my point, this idea that people cannot be expected to control their eating is ridiculous. There is no biological reason for it. But there may, in fact, be a reason for it that has to do with money, specifically profit.
There is a whole industry out there making food as addictive as possible. There are scientists in labs working on “food optimization,” doing whatever they can to make everyone feel the need to eat more. Even if it is killing us. They are looking for the perfect combination of fat, salt, sugar, and texture to keep you eating past the point you know is healthy. They are trying to get you to eat without ever feeling satisfied. They have buzz words like “mouth feel” They are working to create “addiction.”
I put “addiction” in quotes, because I don’t know how much of it is what I would consider a real addiction. “Addictive” is a word we use for everything now: TV shows, video games, songs, apps, just about anything. So the truth is, I don’t know if the salt, fat, sugar, mouth-feel, and crunch combination is simply “tricking” us into eating more than is healthy, but ultimately we still have control, or if it is really creating an inability to stop. But when we are talking about food, especially junk food, it is having a real effect, with real consequences on our lives and our health. Real whole food that can be identified (i.e. is not or is minimally processed) does not keep one on the hamster wheel of more.
Here’s the deal: I’m fine. I am a-ok, and I am going to continue to be just fine. I found a real and lasting solution to my eating problem. I live a free and happy life. I am not saying this for me. I am saying this for the people who are suffering and keep being told that there is no solution, because, apparently, “nobody can avoid junk.”
If you want to avoid junk, you can. And perhaps we should all, as a culture, be asking who is gaining from our weight gain, when seemingly everyone is telling us that losing it is impossible.