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Neighbors of Kane County

Food Frenzy

It can feel like a food frenzy when you’re eating habits get highjacked by your emotions.  Whether its stress, anxiety, or excitement, it’s easier than ever to let our emotions derail our diets.  Before you fly off the deep end, there are some basic truths you need to understand.  First and foremost, you’re not alone.  Our ancestors exhibited the same disordered eating patterns that we struggle with today.  That’s right!  Thousands of years ago our, ancestors engaged in opportunistic eating all the time.  In other words, they ate whatever they could get their hands on.  When they found food, they ate a lot of it.  By modern standard’s we’d call this overeating! 

The only difference between our ancestors and us is the environment.  Wild plants and animals made up 100% of their environment and diet.  When they couldn’t find food, they experienced what scientists describe as a forced fast.  When you break it down, these foods and eating patterns were incredibly low in calories (between 5 to 50 calories per ounce).  Today, the average American’s diet is at the opposite end of the chart.  Given we’re not snacking on wild plants and animals, the calorie density of our diets, have increased significantly (between 100 to 150 calories per ounce).  Fortunately, our ancestors didn’t have to deal with the 2 for 1 pizza specials, Supersize Fries, and bottomless bowls of pasta that we face every day!   

Our propensity to overeat today is much more hardwired than we realize.  For thousands of years, overeating was a trait that ensured the survival of the species.  Today the opposite is true.  Avoiding calories is a skill.  When compared to prehistoric times, today’s environment is the exact opposite.  Ask anyone and they’ll tell you how difficult it can be to avoid foods that are calling their name!  Access to trigger foods is 24/7.  Something our ancestors never faced. 

Where do we go from here?  We begin by understanding there’s nothing wrong with us.  We’re biologically predisposed to overeat and live in an environment that reinforces this predisposition.  Walk down any street in American to see just how unsupportive the environment is.  According to Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the World Food Policy Center at Duke University, “our food environment is toxic.”  In his book FOOD FIGHT, he states that the pressure to overeat is overwhelming! 

Food historian Felipe Fernadez-Armesto has chronicled the ever-changing global food environment in his book Near A Thousand Tables.  He identifies eight food revolutions from the invention of cooking to the industrialization of food. With each revolution comes a compensatory change in eating habits.  In other words, as food systems change, eating habits change!  Our history leads us to one enduring truth.  If you want to change your diet, change your environment!   I’ve used this principle with clients for more than 30 years.  It’s also been a pillar in my lifestyle for just as long.  Here’s the statement that best clarifies this principle.  If you buy it, you will eat it!  Nobody buys food because their goal is to not eat it.  If you’re tired of struggling with willpower, it’s time to change your environment!   

Add and Subtract  

Your first step is to add high quantities of healthful foods (fruits, vegetables, and other minimally processed and whole foods) to your environments (home, car, and work).  These environments need to be as supportive as possible!  It begins at the supermarket and extends to bringing the right food with you.  I started packing a daily food bag in the late ‘80s that goes with me everywhere.  It’s helped me avoid an untold number of calories and low-quality foods that are prevalent in our modern environment.  In addition to adding foods, you also need to take out foods that don’t support healthy eating habits (you know what they are)!  For me, its baked goods and sweets (i.e., bread, cakes, cookies, candy, pastries, etc.).  No matter how many apples I eat, I can’t resist these foods if they’re in my environment.  I’m better off not having them around. It’s that simple!    

Think Skill Power  

It’s impossible to ignore that our environment keeps changing.  The challenges we face today will look different tomorrow.  A vivid example of this is the advent of Delivery Service Apps (i.e., Grub Hub, Door Dash, Uber Eats, etc.).  These apps put food at your fingertips 24/7.  You no longer need to drive across town in the middle of the night for your favorite splurge.  With never-ending changes, we must continually adjust how we navigate a food system that promotes French fries and pizza with billion-dollar marketing campaigns.  In the end, it comes down to skills (i.e., Skill Power).  Only by identifying the specific action steps (adding and subtracting foods) and then practicing those steps will we develop the skills to successfully manage our modern food system.        

By Richard J. Wolff, RDN of MEDFITNESS 

MEDFITNESS is a Strength Training Studio specializing in On-Demand Personal Training™.  Schedule a Free Trial Workout at (630) 762-1784 or