After the holidays, we turn to resolutions for the New Year. For many of us, the perennial is a pledge to lose weight. Gyms fill up with optimistic people signing long-term contracts, while the diet industry makes most of its annual money.
To a large extent, this is a triumph of hope over experience. The likelihood of relapsing into old habits and having to go on a diet again is almost 100 percent. Indeed, the more ubiquitous diet programs seem to become, the worse the national obesity problem seems to get.
Perhaps there’s a lesson for us all as individuals and for the nation as a public policy issue.
Most people are genetically hard-wired to seek out food and retain fat. Our ancestors lived in a world where food was often scarce, and the predisposition to eat well when food was available and store its energy was a highly adaptive trait.
This means any diet built around deprivation is fighting primal human instincts and thus bound to fail.
The cultural move toward high-quality foods may point the way to a solution. The inclination toward quality is expressed in appreciation for local and artisan-produced items and interest in specific foods and beverages, such as fine wine, single-malt Scotch, fresh fruits and vegetables, free-range poultry, grass-fed beef and, of course, specialty cheeses.
Make no mistake, many of these foods are calorie-dense, and one can get heavy by overeating any of them. Fortunately, quality foods tend to satiate hunger; those interested in them tend to need only a small serving to savor the experience.
There are many reasons for the obesity epidemic in America. If one sits at a desk all day and rides around in an automobile, it’s hard to burn up the calories one is likely to consume in a world where food is plentiful and easily accessible. So adopting other characteristics of a good life, such as a daily constitutional to provide an opportunity for both exercise and reflection, is much to be desired.
Many processed items are designed to make it easy to consume a lot. And various tricks, such as “low-fat” versions, don’t work if people feel liberated to eat even more!
Rather than depriving yourself, make a resolution to eat only the best. You’ll pass up fast food and junk snacks not because you’re depriving yourself but because you want the best, the richest, the highest quality.
You’ll eat better, and once sub-standard stuff becomes unsatisfactory, you may find yourself losing weight as well.