Fighting Mother Nature

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Ask The Guyatitian
Tags: , , , , , ,

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

As seen on WebMD Real Life Nutrition

We seem to be at odds each and every day with Mother Nature’s plan. Her preference is for us to be opportunists – grabbing calories wherever and whenever we can because we are still hard-wired with the instinct to run from danger, trying to avoid becoming a wild animal’s next meal while also needing enough energy to hunt them to make them ours.  If we don’t have to expend a lot of energy “foraging” for food, Mother Nature rewards us with extra storage fat that will come in handy for those long, cold and hard winters when food is scarce. 

We are omnivores by nature who can eat just about anything. We were gifted with a natural bias towards sweet things such as fruit to obtain instant energy while Mother Nature is rewarded with a fertilized delivery package of undigested seeds to grow replacements. The problem is, for us, that we aren’t eating much of the fruits or vegetables of her labor but she’s okay that we return her seeds back in an altered form.  The landscape has changed and Mother Nature has adapted but we haven’t. In her mind we are doing just what we were programmed to do. Throw in a “drive thru” and we have met out biological goal of maximizing calories in while preserving calories out.

Time to change how we forage? There seems to be greater movement towards changing the world we live in rather than trying to change the individual. Based on our natural tendencies, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Mayor Michael Bloomburg wants to set limits on the volume of sugary beverages that can be sold in restaurants and just recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has made the argument that the FDA should require the soda industry to cap the sugar we naturally crave, but now easily provided via beverages, to be more in line with dietary guidelines.

Recent research on limiting portion sizes does suggest that we can still be satisfied with less if presented with that as the preferred and only choice. Case in point, Paul Rozin, PhD, department chair of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, recently presented at a conference I attended and said that the portion sizes of many popular McDonald’s items are smaller in McDonald’s located in France versus ones found in the United States. Smaller portions also translate to the French dinner plate at home though they, as we know, consume more decadent calorie and fat laden items as part of the “French paradox” which results in smaller waistlines and less heart disease. Perhaps we too can have our (smaller) croissant and eat it, too?

I can’t believe that it’s me saying this but I’m really wondering if we are heading in the wrong direction in the fight against obesity and improving public health. Maybe trying to change personal responsibility isn’t the right approach especially since it fly’s in the face of our genetic autopilot that prefers that we over consume calories when presented with an opportunity to do so. Maybe the environmental hurdles we encounter daily are just too high for us to depend on our will power to get us over them and we have reached a point that we have to intervene to help Mother Nature. 

With the latest regulatory efforts, we obviously know where to begin but my question is, do we know where it should stop? So I ask you, should we also mandate? 

  1. No more all you can eat buffets or at least requiring paying for each additional plate
  2. The discontinuation of large sizes of anything we eat
  3. Price incentives for purchasing healthier foods while raising prices on larger portion sizes of foods deemed “not healthy
  4. The discontinuation of shows that promote gluttony such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” or “Man versus Food”
  5. Stiff penalties for parents overheard to say, “Finish eating everything on your plate” 

What say you?


  1. Provocative words, Dave! IMO, we must continue to get folks to work more WITH Mother Nature — ie — to be more in tune with their bodies’ nutritional needs while finding ways to feel satisfied and joyful about eating healthy. The food ‘environment’ is changing and companies, industry, government, restaurants, schools, media are trying to make ‘healthy’ choices easier, but, unfortunately all these changes are about 25 years too late. BUT, better late than never!! So, again, IMO, in order for all the stakeholders to KEEP offering ‘health’, we, the consuming public have to demand it. And, at this point in time, this will take discipline and personal awareness, and responsibility to walk away from the all-you-can-eat scenes, the large portions, the daily overconsumption of empty calories. In all the countries I have lived, the people who eat according to their ‘natural’ needs still enjoy their food, but stay in shape. It has to be said, however, that many countries (not just France) have infrastructures that enable people to move more — more public transport(which always involves more walking — even running to catch trains, buses, tubes, etc), cycling, walking, and more physical exertion as part of their ADLs. This helps alot — especially as compared to the sedentary, automobile-reliant, drive-thru lifestyle in the USA. 12 years ago, I totally agreed with the need to get the environment to change, as we, the experts, were facing doling out recommendations to improve our diets and lifestyles as a futile charade. I even wrote those words in my thesis. I said, then, that the environment would change, and THEN, peoples’ choices and behaviours would change. NOW, however, I feel differently. I DO feel that we have to keep at it, recommending to companies, media, gov’ts etc to do what it takes to make healthy choices easier, more ‘do-able’, but now I really feel we, as dietitians, have to find ways to get folks to make the healthy changes and then we have to support them to keep making the changes until they ‘master’ a healthier lifestyle and it becomes part of them — a natural response to living in an environment that will always offer ‘hedonism .Just my 2 cents.:)

  2. Maria Tadic says:

    I think it definitely needs to be considered- smaller everything – sodas, restaurant meals, etc. If you allow yourself to truly listen to your body and stop eating when you are satisfied (not full) you’ll find out you don’t need nearly as much food as you think. This instinct has been crushed in most Americans because we’re served huge portions and even if you don’t eat the whole plate, you’re still eating too much. If American’s can’t figure out by themselves or get up the will power to just eat smaller portions (and I’m not even saying healthier foods), then obviously another step has to be taken. As a young nutrition professional, I just see endless health care costs and money from taxes going to this cause. It needs to stop.

  3. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    The trick it to change the environment, so that eating healthy is the default, not something that requires will power.

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