Food Friday: Food Joy and Fat ?

Food joy. Does all this enthusiasm about food contribute to the obesity epidemic ? Consider everything hot now in food : food magazines, the food channel, food trucks, street food, farmer's markets and local food ! Vegan, Paleo, Pegan, organic. 

I say a resounding NO. All this food joy is a great step in the right direction. It does not contribute to the obesity epidemic. I have no data here. I only have 30 years in medicine, most of which is focused on women’s health. 

Those with poor nutrition and problems with obesity are most often those who have not discovered the joys of food. Many times they are those that eat whatever food they can get. This ends up being the stereotypical top ramen, soda pop and boxed mac and cheese, or the iconic white bread. I remember unkind comments from adults I knew as I was growing up, as they wondered how people with so little money could get so much food to get so big. This reflects a profound misunderstanding of nutrition poverty and obesity.

Many times overweight people do not eat very much. They have little and eat little. What they do have is cheap carbohydrate, and they need to eat it as their whole meal since protein sources and fruits and vegetables are or are perceived as less available. Because of this diet, these folks suffer from chronically low metabolism and have low energy. They therefore become less active. Their extra weight compounds their insulin resistance, which results in more fat deposition. It is very hard to get out of this vicious cycle.

Many times I see young women in this predicament while they are pregnant. In this instance they have access to better resources such as food stamps as well as nutrition teaching. I have found that they are as eager and able as anyone else to learn. Once they do learn about the correct composition of meals, as well as the correct timing and quantity, they are astounded about several things. First, they are astounded about how much they enjoy their new diet. The are almost universally shocked at what large quantities they are supposed to eat. And, given this, they are amazed that their pregnancy weight gain levels out appropriately. Finally, they begin to enjoy food preparation, but note that it is a time commitment that they did not have before.

Some have odd reactions from significant others, and find themselves isolated. The partners may not want to change the way they eat. Sometimes partners even make fun of the one trying to be healthy and tease or taunt them back down to their level of poor nutrition. 

Most of the time this change toward nutrition awareness, and eventually toward food joy, is life altering. They never want to go back. Sometimes it becomes a source of pride and accomplishment in the family, and mealtimes become social in a way that they had not been. 

To me, the final stage of food joy is the social and cultural aspect. I took a walk down my own Main Street. I was amazed at what our little town had to offer. We had artisanal breads, real sushi, Thai food, genuine French macarons, and handmade watermelon chili sorbet all on one block. Granted, most of these delicacies were treats. But they were foods that made people appreciate food, other people, and other places. I saw people clustered in cafes, and out on the sidewalls. I saw people working on laptops, socializing, and flirting, all the while over special foods and drinks. They all seemed rather vibrant. 

It appears that people who take the time to walk about to find beautiful food like this are not apt to “ waste” their calories or carbs on junk. They become conoisseurs who are interested in the best for themselves. 

It is always a step in the right direction when people start to focus on quality, in nutrition, food, or even cuisine. When people focus on quality in one dimension of their lives, it tends to spread to others. My favorite part of this whole process is watching patients start to embody quality and enthusiastically take good care of themselves.