Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – From Scarcity to Superabundance (Part 3)

In previous posts we began by discussing some of the ways in which we can respond to the superabundance of food in our society. Planning and executing a proper response is not only important for general health but also crucial for those dealing with the effects of ADD/ADHD. The reason for this is the fact that excessive amounts of food is almost certain to play havoc with your blood sugar levels and even with proper brain function. The first two responses that I have mapped out was a) Paying close attention to the signals that your body might be sending and b) Avoiding the ‘Temples of Superabundance’ (i.e. fast food outlets!)
This week I would like to briefly focus on the development of Food Mindfulness. This can be described, in this context, as the firm resolve to react to the superabundance around you by putting strategies in place to ensure that you do not overindulge. This kind of mindfulness is necessary because the superabundance around us means that food, and lots of it, is almost always present. It is therefore very easy to ‘eat on autopilot’.
We can keep from autopilot eating by constantly reminding ourselves that “If it is there we will eat it!” It seems that centuries of scarcity have conditioned us humans that if food is available we should make the most of it. Our default response to available food is therefore to eat as much as possible. The amazing extent to which this is true was proven by an ingenious experiment conducted by Cornell University in which moviegoers were served 14 day old popcorn (Many of them described the taste of the popcorn as ‘terrible’ afterwards!). The study found that rather than simply leaving the popcorn alone, the moviegoers ate significant amounts of it: In direct proportion to the amount that they were served! The fact is we will eat even unappetizing food if it is readily available and our consumption of it will be directly related to portion sizes. The problem is made worse by the fact that we are dealing with severe ‘portion inflation’ in our society. Today’s ‘small’ is very often yesterday’s ‘large’! Some possible responses to our built-in ‘If it is there we will eat it’ responses include the following:
Use smaller plates and containers: The popcorn experiment discussed above drove home a simple point. The larger the container in which food is served the more we will eat! A logical response to this would be to simply make use of smaller plates, cups, bowls etc.! This may seem like a rather simplistic way to attempt to manage your food intake but the ‘Bigger plate – bigger meal’ (and vice versa) rule have been proved again and again by research. If you are particularly serious about blood sugar management you can beat this rule by always eating from a side plate.  People may give you a few funny looks in restaurants if you transfer some of your food from the main plate to a smaller plate but in the health benefits will be worth it!
Don’t be swayed by portion sizes and ‘upgrade’ offers: I have already mentioned the huge (literally!) problem of ‘portion inflation’. You would be well advised to be aware of this as you make your food choices and of the fact that choosing a ‘small’ does not mean that you are depriving yourself but rather that you are making sensible food choices: Choices not dependant on other people inviting you to completely overindulge by the benchmarks that they have set. Don’t even get me started on ‘Supersize’ and other upgrade offers! Their only purpose is to make more money for food outlets. Nobody else receives any benefits from them (despite the insistence that you will be getting a ‘good deal’), especially since the long term use of such offers is quite likely to lead you into some pretty serious health issues.
Keep a food diary: One of the best ways of modifying your eating habits is to keep a detailed daily food diary. This technique is especially valuable for those dealing with the impact of ADD/ADHD as it can also help you to determine which foods seem to exacerbate the condition. Here’s how it works: Keep a little book with you and make a note of every single thing that you put into your mouth over a set period (I would recommend at least a month). This will help you to identify negative patterns and habits. It is also very effective in keeping you from overindulging. This may seem like a very tedious thing to do but studies have shown that food diaries have the ability to break even long term destructive habits.
Food superabundance is a daily fact of life, much of our present and future health will depend on how we respond to it. I used a very important word earlier on: Mindfulness. The goal is to get to the point where you make conscious food choices based on what you really need and not on what society tells you to consume.