19 Feb Eating habits and how they’ve changed
Eating for survival vs eating for pleasure – how our habits have changed from filling up out of necessity to filling the void.
Watching the birds on the feeder in the garden, the jackdaws hack at the fat balls as their beaks are too large to get at the nyger seeds or peanuts there. And viewing things from a Nutritionist’s perspective means it was only a matter of time before I contemplated the question – what exactly are we feeding them? How tasty and nutritious can those fat balls be? These industrial made suet balls are not exactly the height of gastronomical excellence. I envision the whole process as quite unceremonious, slapping together bits and pieces of seeds and nuts suspended in fat. And then I thought, why do the birds eat them? I can’t imagine they taste nice but in tough times (and the lack of a birdie Centra or Spar) they’re eating them for survival. This concept is so far removed from our psyche now, with all the highly palatable foods out there, why would we ever choose to eat just because we had to?
How our ancestors ate
Our species has been evolving for the last 2 million years and it’s worth noting that our ancestors, for 66,000 generations, lived free from the modern diseases that claim so many lives and affect so many others in today’s society. Our ancestors ate to survive, to support their bodies, to provide much needed sustenance to allow them to live. They ate what they could forage and find: simple, local, seasonal. And it’s because of this evolution that our brains are hardwired to go for sugary, salty and fatty foods, foods that would have provided much needed energy in times of very little (2).
Today, is a very different picture. Today, most of us eat without the threat of starvation but with a different motivation.
How we eat today
Food still sets off the brain’s reward centres to ensure we keep a steady supply of essential nutrients coming in to ensure we stay alive. But now food is not in short supply. We have an abundance of food that we can eat at all times of the day or night, in season or out. Whatever type of food we want 24/7, as much of it as we want. There’s no convincing our ancestral brain, after millions of years of evolution, that things are not quite the same anymore.
The ubiquity of food means we now eat not just for sustenance but for pleasure, comfort, out of habit, out of temptation and even out of boredom. Our basic motivations are the same, we still need to eat to stay alive but the types of food we’re choosing to eat is having a huge impact, not just on our waistlines but also on our overall health.
Our ancestors ate what was available to them, now what’s available to us is highly processed and refined foods. We certainly don’t eat pizza and chips for their health giving properties, we consume them because
1. they’re filling and
2. they’re so damn tasty.
The Food Industry knows the secret of your hard wiring and by filling foods with salt, sugar and fat, makes them all very hard to resist.
Exploitation of our hard wiring?
Ireland’s CSO statistics claim that 62% of the population are now either overweight or obese (3). Which means we’ve moved away from being vital and healthy to overweight and sick. We’re well fed but undernourished as we choose these highly palatable processed foods over a natural diet, one that doesn’t have excess sugar, salt, artificial trans fats, additives and preservatives.
You have a choice
It depends on where you’re starting from, if you eat processed/fast/junk food every day consider cutting down and introducing more wholefoods into your life. Life isn’t always about indulgence, otherwise it becomes normalised and these types of foods should not be the mainstay of anybody’s diet.
A real food diet should be the new normal focused on good quality meat, fish, vegetables, herbs and fruit. We should keep treats as just that, a treat, not your usual 3pm pick me up of a coffee and a pecan plait because we deserve better than this.
So next time you’re doing your food shopping, consider our feathered friends and think of your body, rather than your tastebuds. Realise the function and purpose of the old parts of our brain and in this age of unprecedented processed foods, eat to nourish, not just to fill the void.
- Simopoulos, A. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, [online] 56(8), pp.365-379. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332202002536.
- Moss, M. and Brick, S. (2013). Salt sugar fat. New York: Random House Audio.
- Central Statistics Office. (2018). The Wellbeing of the Nation 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-wbn/thewellbeingofthenation2017/hlt/.