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