Our society as a whole has strayed far away from the diet our ancestors ate, and even from the way our grandparents ate! Only in the last 50 years has the idea of “quick food” been an option for us. Our grandparents had to buy “real” food and bring it home and prepare it in the kitchen from scratch. Very few women worked outside of the home in the first half of the 20th Century and there were no “take outs” or fast food restaurants available. Eating out when I was a child was very cost prohibitive and it wasn’t until I was around 10 yrs old (in 1966) do I ever remember going into a real restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria! The only fast food I remember as a small child is Prince’s Hamburgers, and I loved going there once a month, as it was a novel idea that my Dad would have us all wait in the car while he walked up to the window and order us each a hamburger, coke, and ice cream cone for a total of 35 cents per person!
It seemed that by the time I became a teenager that fast-food restaurants were the norm and they seem to have sprung up everywhere! I thought this was great, and so did my friends. On Friday nights, we would all pile into my 1965 Ford Mustang (a very cool car back in the 1970’s) and make the trip to Jack-In-the-Box for our entertainment and junk food high. Little did we know that we were consuming 3,000 calories in a meal, but we were delighted in having this high salt, high fat meal served to us in our car within 5 minutes of ordering it. A new way of life was born with these fast food restaurants and it swept the Country off its feet and liberated us from the kitchen and from the proverbial task of cooking.
During the same time period of the introduction of fast foods, came the Information Technology Revolution. By the end of the 20th Century practically everyone had a personal computer(PC) and we became glued to our PC’s and started spending more time interacting on-line than interacting in real life. Now, on top of eating highly processed foods, we exercised less because we could get our entertainment from our chairs on-line without having to exert much effort in making connections in person. This combination of poor nutrient fast foods and lack of exercise set us up for mood disorders, depression, and weight gain.1
A combination of the fast food phenomenon, physical inactivity, depression, lack of sleep (less than 6 hrs per night which can alter gut hormones), and the trend to quit smoking (causing a lower metabolic rate) has influenced our society’s weight gain epidemic over the past half-century, and even the movement of the population from rural areas to more urban areas with less access to parks and safe places to exercise and play has contributed to soaring obesity rates.3
We know how we got into this SAD(Standard American Diet) shape (pun intended), but how do we get ourselves out of it? Can the damage of our newly developed lifestyle be changed or reversed? Sadly, our SAD diet may have caused irreversible damage to the hypothalamus, where satiety is controlled in the brain.3 A diet that is high in fat causes inflammation which may cause neuronal injury affecting the signaling process to the satiety center in the hypothalamus, which was evidenced in MRI studies showing gliosis in obese individuals.3 A high fat diet in childhood can damage the signals for satiety permanently as proven in rat models, dooming our children to live a lifetime fighting obesity.3 Bariatric surgery may be the only solution for obese individuals that have been unsuccessful in losing weight to achieve and maintain a long-term weight loss.
There are some hopeful studies underway in developing drugs that have a modulating affect on the hormones such as stimulating leptin (to activate satiety) or inhibiting ghrelin (suppressing appetite) such as Qsymia® or Belviq® that may be of benefit for people with a BMI > 30 or if BMI > 27 with concomitant risk factors.3 For now, I believe that avoiding a diet that is high in fat and full of processed foods is the best way to prevent neuronal damage that can leave us doomed to live a life of obesity.
The Food Industry has played a role in the American obesity epidemic. They have turned food into a “hyper palatable experience” in order to lure us into keep coming back for more. The Food Industry invested a huge amount of money and research into maximizing the flavor, texture, and allure of a food to stimulate all of our senses and our appetite into making us want to buy more and more of it to line their pocketbooks at the expense of expanding our waistlines.4(12)
It is the anticipation of the stimulation of the appetite, rather than actually being hungry, that keeps us eating way beyond the point where our caloric needs have been met.4(12) Designing foods to create a highly pleasurable response is big business because if you can succeed in creating a product that causes an irresistible craving then people will buy more and more of your product and it has the potential of being the next big “blockbuster” food.
The invention of the fat-free cookie by Nabisco’s® Snack-Well’s® brand is a great example of how a hyper palatable food works. I have to admit that I was hooked on those cookies back in the 90’s when they first came out. Little did I know the science behind the cookie! The fat was removed, but loads of creamy high fructose corn syrup was injected into those creamy chocolate cookies. No matter how determined I was to eat only one cookie, after the cookie melted in my mouth the flavor lingered in my mouth that caused me to desire more! I found myself returning to the pantry for more and more until I had eaten the entire box, then I would be depressed and disgusted at my lack of self control! What happens in these types of loss of control instances is that someone who is not normally a food addict keeps eating past the point of caloric need.4(35-40)
Many neurons can be triggered by a single food to stimulate a pleasurable sensation: sugary taste, aroma, and creamy texture.4(36) I am now absolved of all guilt of my past pleasures as I was a victim of the Food Industry’s ploy to get me addicted for profit! I know better now and I am armed with proper information so now I will not fall into that trap and be a victim.
The American Food Industry has become greedy. It wasn’t enough for the Food Industry to get us addicted to “super-sizing” and substituting real sugar for the sweater, cheaper version of high fructose corn syrup, the scientists working in the Food Industry have discovered that they can “kick-it-up-a-notch” with the concept of “add-ins” appealing to the indulgence factor and creating a “purple cow” experience.4(87-93, 132-134)
By “adding-in” ingredients, more sensory stimulation can be had. Creating the ultimate ice-cream experience by smashing up oreo cookies and blending it into the ice cream, or by adding a teaspoonful of vanilla to a cup of latte coffee “kicks-it-up-a-notch” that makes that food choice just a little more appealing so that next time you think of that ice cream or latte your memory will compel you to return to that place that gave you that extra sensory kick!4(88-89)
A “purple cow” experience is one that stands out and creates a pleasurable memory connecting the food to an emotion.4(132) The Food Industry is designing foods that “pop” or takes a hold of all of your senses and causes you to feel a passion towards it.4(132) Their goal is to give people what they crave to captivate their attention.4(133) By kicking it up a notch, they can make food stand out and give the consumer a “wow” effect. This “purple cow” will forever be lodged in the brain of the consumer.4(134) The Food and Restaurant Industry wants us to believe that they are beginning to take responsibility for America’s obesity problem in being pro-active in education and menu labeling. However, it seems to be just a ploy to delay or placate us while they continue to feed us their junk food while robbing us of our health. I have never been a big supporter of government regulations but in some cases such as in the Food and Restaurant Industry it is not only appropriate, but is necessary.
- Demo E. Dietary Protocols Foods for Mood.[Paper] Download Food for Mood Dietary Protocols.doc . Accessed November 17, 2014.
- Gerhardt A. Food and Addiction: Environmental, Pyschological, and Biological Perspectives. What is Food Addiction and How is it Measured in Humans?[Podcast] USCF Center for Obesity, Assessment, Study, and Treatment. University of California Television. http://podcast.uctv.tv/vod/18562.mp4. Accessed November 17, 2014.
- Apovian CM. Why Are We Unable to Lose Weight and Keep it Off? All About the Connection Between the Gut and the Brain. Boston University School of Medicine. [Podcast]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5e806y7Xq0#t=23. Accessed November 17, 2014.
- Kessler DA. The End of Overeating. Rodale. NY, NY. 2009.