Let’s go back to basics

The act of eating has become something more than nourishing our body; it is a bad habit which promotes excessive intake of food. In 1998, the World Health Organization classified obesity as a “growing epidemic.”

Obesity is defined by a body mass index (BMI) that is greater than 30. In North America, there is an obvious problem in the way we nourish ourselves. Nearly two thirds of American adults are overweight. Obese Americans aged 20 years and up are counted at 61.3 million (30.5 per cent). Compare this to France, Denmark or Sweden, which, on average, have obesity rates of 10–11 per cent.

This is a good indicator that North America has been advocating eating habits that promote obesity. In fact, according to AnnCollins.com, the rate of obesity in a country is closely related to its income. As much as this is correct, the problem seems to lie in the mentality of people nowadays. As Obesity Canada states, it is estimated that “10–25 per cent of all teenagers and 20–50 per cent of all adults have a weight problem.”

With all of these statistics, one thing strikes me: we’ve turned the action of eating into a constant, complicated and obnoxious aspect of our lives. Food seems to be becoming the main focus of everything. Now, this could be a good thing if everyone was to be eating “healthy” all the time, but it is far from the case.

Consumerism in America has also affected our diets, where everything seems to be revolving around a need for abundance. Nowadays, “bulk size” seems to be a normal one for our society and “snack size” sounds like some minuscule portion of food that no one can really benefit from. The truth is, we eat in excess.

Health Canada’s Food Guide suggests reasonable daily portions and foods, in order to nourish oneself and it also reminds us of how distorted our idea of “normal” is. From vegetables to meats, it gives a detailed description of what a person really needs to consume.

For instance, dark and orange vegetables and fruits are highly promoted in the guide, as long as they are prepared with “little or no added fat, sugar or salt.” Grain products, which are high in fibre and usually low in fat, decrease the risk of heart disease, and milk products and alternatives supply a person with nutrients for healthy bones. Meat products and alternatives, such as beans, lentils and tofu, are necessary to maintain one’s level of protein, fat (good fat), iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B. Along with that, fish is also recommended as regularly as twice a week.

Each suggestion comes with specific instructions on how to keep our food portions healthy and size-appropriate, like “select lower fat alternatives,” “when adding sauces or spreads use small amounts,” “choose lower in salt (sodium) and fat [products],” “limit foods and beverages high in saturated and/or trans fat” and “make water your beverage of choice.”

This guide clearly tells us to make all these products the core of our diets, instead of only eating them as a side order or as snacks. Fries, a double cheeseburger and a side order of two pieces of broccoli does not count as a healthy meal. The guide suggests more “naked” and “pure” dietary alternatives, and completely counters the way that consumers in North America tend to “nourish” themselves.

Eating should provide a person with healing properties, instead of being harmful to one’s health. It should be seen as something basic, simple and tasty (yes, unsalted asparagus along with a small side of steamed chicken can be delicious, without necessarily adding gravy to it). Eating should be viewed as a need, rather than a non-stop activity.

North Americans should really rethink the size of their portions and what exactly should enter their body. “You are what you eat” and, in fact, we now tend to eat the largest portions our society has ever witnessed. We have hit an extreme and forgotten about the actual point of eating.

Personally, I would rather have a plate of mini-tomatoes, cheese and rye toast, rather than a plate of greasy meat, deep fried eggs and pancakes all topped with some kind of processed sweet syrup (as appealing as this might sound), anytime!