Eating healthy is hard. It is really hard. I know many can relate to this scenario. It’s Friday, it’s been a long week, and it’s 5:30PM. I am tired. I am hungry. As I drive and think ‘what’s for dinner’? – I pass restaurants with folks sitting on outside patios enjoying Happy Hour – and they actually look happy. I make my way to our local grocery store to purchase items for dinner.
When I enter the store, not even the real store, but the lobby where the carts are, there is a wall of Frito Lay products in every imaginable flavor. Once I enter the store I am in the fresh produce area where I select a bag salad, a tomato and an onion. I then make my way towards the pasta aisle to purchase 100% whole grain pasta and tomato sauce, but before I can make it there, which is less than 250 feet away, I find cakes, cookies, candy and other distractions peppered in the aisle that I am walking to reach my destination. I select my pasta and tomato sauce and make my way to the check-out where I am greeted by more candy, chips and soft drinks. This time I made it out of the store with my intended grocery items, but usually when I am hungry, and tired, I end up with a package of Twizzlers or a grab bag of chips.
It is hard. Impulse food is everywhere. And often this food is filled with added fat and refined carbohydrates – i.e. sugar and white flour. I was recently reading a study conducted at the University of Michigan titled “Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content and Glycemic Load”. This study had startling findings – highly processed foods or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates trigger addictive like eating behavior. They cited animal research where lab rats given intermittent access to sugar showed binge consumption behaviors. And when the sugar was removed from their diet, they were anxious, teeth chattered and showed aggression – all signs of withdrawal.
If humans react similar to lab rats to the consumption of highly processed foods and foods with added fat and refined carbohydrates, is it really surprising that almost 70% of the U.S. population over the age of 20 is overweight or obese? The real issue – not much is being done to address our nation’s increasing population of overweight and obese Americans.
And everyone knows what needs to be done –
- Decrease calories
- Reduce portion sizes
- Reduce consumption of highly processed foods – high fat, calories, sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Increase physical activity
But, unfortunately –
- Our culture provides more high caloric options – there is actually a Red Robin burger with 3,540 calories and 6,280 mg of sodium, which is significantly more than the daily recommended allowance of calories and sodium intake. On top of that the burger has 69 grams of saturated fat.
- Our culture increases portion sizes – most steak houses regularly feature 24 ounce steaks when the recommended serving size for meat is 4 ounces or the size of a deck of cards.
- Our culture increases the amount of highly processed food consumed – there are so many new snack food products introduced each year that there are actual awards for the best and the most innovative.
- And for whatever reason, we are simply not getting as much physical activity as we used to – a National Health and Nutrition Examination Study found that over ~20 years the % of women not participating in physical activity went from 19% to 51% and for men from 11% to 43%.
Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against us and this is not a battle we can win alone. But, the first most important step is the decision to want to eat and live healthier. The next steps include a lot of willpower and determination. And let’s not forget, the seeking and the acceptance of help. That help could come in the form of friends and family who are willing and support the trying of different foods and the eating at different restaurants. It could also come from community or paid services like personal trainers, health coaches and dieticians who can use their professional skills to develop a personalized plan for your success. And the final step is to always remember that this is a journey. One with good days and bad days. But a journey that you are determined to follow.