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The Full Yield Blog

It’s Your Right

February 08, 2010 | Tags: Exercise , Featured , Food , Health | Post comment

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Some of you reading this blog saw The New York Times story on The Full Yield that ran on November 29th and likely already know our stance on overeating and obesity: it is a misplaced, dangerous, and damaging causality.

Our country’s persistent and pervasive focus on obesity, rather than on food quality and preventable chronic disease, allows us to blame the individual, the eater, rather than to address the root cause and to then put our energy and resources toward the systemic solutions required. Any widespread problem is first and foremost a cultural problem: when two thirds of a population is suffering from the same problem (overweight and obesity), this signifies not mass individual failure but rather the failure of our culture and our systems to meet the real needs of our population.

The only way we are going to improve public health and prevent diet-driven type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia, mood disorders, skin disorders, heartburn, and on and heartrendingly on, is to eradicate our primary dependence on cheap, highly refined and health-depleting foods.

Our bodies require basic amounts of fiber, fat, protein, and nutrients, all wrapped up in the foods the planet has offered us for thousands of years. The exact ratios varied depending on where on the planet a population lived, but what all groups had in common was that they ate natural, whole, minimally refined foods. And those people who were heavier rarely suffered from the diseases I just listed—these diseases are most often the result of a massive change in the nature of our diets.

The New York Times story referenced the January-February 2009 issue of Health Affairs in which their study concluded that 75% of our $2.5 trillion dollar healthcare bill is largely due to four preventable diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They are preventable by a higher quality dietary pattern, more exercise, and no exposure to tobacco products. To round out the picture, quoted here is Michael Pollan from his introduction to his latest and immediately practical book, Food Rules:

Populations that eat a so-called Western diet—generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Virtually all of the obesity and type 2 diabetes, 80% of the cardiovascular disease, and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet.

Weight-loss as the goal will fail to improve public health or reduce healthcare costs. Most people who lose weight regain it and many wind up weighing even more than when they began to diet. Further, there are plenty of skinny people who have chronic, preventable disease and plenty of overweight people who do not. It is absolutely true that being significantly overweight carries risks: adipose tissue is metabolically active, it interferes with the gherlin-leptin-insulin dance, it puts pressure on the joints.

But we won’t stop eating unless and until our bodies get what they need and we won’t ever adequately get what we need from highly refined foods, not ever. To make matters worse, these foods disable our ability to regulate intake; it’s not will-power that makes it so hard to stop overeating, it’s a failure of physiology and biochemistry in the face of highly refined food.

Yes, we adults do have the responsibility for what we eat and what we bring into our homes, but our dietary choices and habits have developed in an (often unexamined and unacknowledged) reaction to decades of uninformed medical advice, ever more fragmented family and community life, food industry processes, misapplication of food science, industrial farming practices, government policies, sophisticated marketing campaigns, perverse financial incentives within the healthcare and food industries, and an ever-diminishing number of healthier role models and cultural models from which to learn.

To the policy makers and health plans and healthcare providers and nutritionists and self-helpers, I say: we can only hold individuals accountable for what they eat if 1) they have access to health-supporting foods and can afford them; 2) they have accurate information about the fundamental differences between health-depleting and health-supporting foods, and 3) they have the experience of what it feels like to eat a health-supporting diet because then, and only then, can anyone make an informed choice. We have to experience the actual consequences of eating well and feeling well in order to continue to choose well. Right now in this country, the majority of our population has never eaten well enough to feel as well as we could.and this is where our tagline comes from: it’s your right to know that experience and to be able to make an informed choice.

Obesity reflects a massive unmet need. We’re starving for what our bodies and minds need, and for the sense of peace and power that comes from a good, close relationship with food. To restore public health, we need to eat real food. With family and friends. With pleasure and confidence. We’re allowed to feel so good. And it’s our right.