Food – the essence of life, or something else?

Isn’t it funny how we are convinced that we need to eat to survive, yet there is medical evidence that nearly all the food we like to eat is bad for us? Something doesn’t seem right here and I’d like to look into this more closely.

food - a very large plates of lots of food

Eating to survive

I’m sure everyone accepts that we must eat to survive. We know that our bodies need food or we’ll die fairly quickly. But is that really true? What would happen if we didn’t eat as much and as often as we do in today’s modern world? Let’s have a look at a couple of examples of what science has got to say.

Fasting

The first thing is a strange example of a man who fasted for 382 days which appeared in a medical journal in 1973 in a paper called “Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration” (also see Is it possible to fast for over a year? Yes!). The man was 27 years old and weighed 456 pounds when doctors started him on a fast. It wasn’t intended to be a long fast, but he adapted well and they continued. He dropped to 180 pounds and even 5 years later he was still only 196 pounds.

This is an extreme case, and fasting for so long is dangerous because of potential metabolic imbalances, but this is scientific proof that what we believe just isn’t true.

If we have fat on our bodies, then we can fast for extended periods and survive off the fat. We have conditioned ourselves to eat very regularly, and it’s not easy to break these habits and mental patterns, but our body can get all the energy it needs from the fat stores. That’s what fat stores are for after all.

food - buffetMost of the foods we like are bad for our health

We hear it every day, the foods we are eating are bad for our health. People say regularly, “why are all the nice foods bad for you?”. As an example, have a look at this page – “20 Foods That Are Bad For Your Health (Avoid Them!)” – and notice how most of these foods are ones that are generally very popular. Could it be that the foods we like, and think are important for survival, are really killing us?

It’s also very common to hear people ask “why are all the healthy foods so boring?”. Clearly people know what foods are better for them, like fruits and vegetables, but they are considered boring and they’d prefer to eat other things. However, science also proves that eating too much of anything, even things that are supposed to be good for you, can be bad for our health. An extreme example of this is explained in this article – “Water Intoxication: Just How Much H2O Does It Take To Kill A Person?“.

So science proves that most foods we eat are bad for our health and even too much of things that are “good” can be dangerous.

Is food really that good for us?

Calorie restriction

One of the first places I read about the benefits of calorie restricted diets was in the book Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. The most famous experiments are those done with mice where scientists reduced their calorie intake and noticed that they lived longer. They kept reducing their calorie intake and they lived even longer. See also http://www.crsociety.org.

Food - mice live longer when they have less calories in their diets

Source www.crsociety.org – Graph adapted from: Weindruch R, et al. (1986). “The retardation of aging in mice by dietary restriction: longevity, cancer, immunity and lifetime energy intake.” Journal of Nutrition, April, 116(4), pages 641-54.

The science shows that animals in general (this is open to debate but it appears to be true even for humans), live longer if they eat less calories. Isn’t that strange? We believe that we must eat to survive, but science shows that eating less makes us live longer.

We believe that we must eat to survive, but science shows that eating less makes us live longer.

This concept of calorie restricted diets came up on main stream television, on BBC in the UK, recently. The program was called “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” (follow the link the watch the program) and the main part covering calorie restricted diets is between about the 10 and 18 minute mark. After running a series of tests on the presenter of the program and on somebody who had been following a calorie restricted diet for 10 years, it was really interesting to see that the doctor concluded that it was “impossible” for the calorie restricted person to have diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, stroke, myocardial infarction or heart failure, whereas the presenter was at high risk. The doctor went on to say that one year on the calorie restricted diet would “cure” him.

Morbid Obesity

Another thing we see and hear about a lot these days is “morbid obesity”. We know that it’s possible to get so overweight that our health (actually our life) is in imminent danger. There are many programs on television these days that chronicle the efforts of morbidly obese people to lose weight, regain their health and save their lives.

We know, very clearly, that eating too much food can make us unhealthy and even kill us. Yet, at the same time, we think it’s very important to eat regularly and consistently.

food - the wave of fast-foodThe joy of food

Actually, the worst thing is that the reason we eat like we do is not because we know it keeps us alive. That really doesn’t even enter our heads. We really have no fear of dying from malnutrition. In the modern world, death rates from malnutrition are very low (see this link). Even in Central Africa, which has the worst rates of death from malnutrition, the chance of dying from malnutrition is only 0.12% (using the numbers listed in December 2016). In the United States, the chance of dying from malnutrition is 0.006%. In comparison, the chance of dying from cancer 21 times higher in the United States.  There is little to fear from malnutrition today.

The truth is that, today (at least in the developed world), we eat for enjoyment, fun, socialising, “feeling good” and for cheering ourselves up. Look around and honestly see what’s there. Restaurants everywhere. Fast food outlets everywhere. Large supermarkets with food from all over the world everywhere. Food programs always on television. Any family celebration includes food. Festivals are based around food. Excellent chefs are revered and given honours.

Life and food have become interchangeable. There’s a common sentiment that I find very worrying, where someone who’s very overweight and with failing health is being told how they can change their diet to regain their health, and their response is “I’d rather die than not be able to eat my favourite foods”. That makes me very sad. Food has become even more important than life.

Food as an idol

Let’s face it. Food has effectively become our religion. We idolise food. Restaurants have replaced churches and we regularly go to pay homage to food. It’s all a bit scary. We will eat what we like, even if it kills us (literally).

We idolise food. We’re addicted to sugar. We think of food more than anything else during the day. When we meet friends and socialise with them, it’s almost always based around a meal. Afterwards, we say “that was a nice meal” or “the food was so good”. We don’t focus on the interaction we just had with other people, we focus more on the food and the restaurant.

When we say food was “good”, we’re talking about the taste, often linked to the amount of sugar it contained, but never about the nutritional value it had for our body. I’m constantly amazed that very often, when I offer something to someone that really contains a lot of goodness for the body, the response is “oh, no thank you, I don’t like that, I prefer what I’m used to”. Give the same person a sugary, buttery, flour-based cookie (with almost no nutritional value) and they are likely to say “wow, that was good!”.

The purpose of food has become the pleasure it provides us. The comfort and satisfaction it brings. Much of our lives has become the quest to find the most pleasurable, comforting and satisfying foods we can. Food has become our focus.

Food has become our idol. Effectively, food has become our god.

Breaking the addiction to food

Now is the time to break our love affair with food. Let’s just drop that completely. Food is just a means to sustain the body, no more than that.

If we’re carrying excess body fat, we can start fasting now. We don’t have to fast all the time, just for as long as we can as often as we can and, when we do eat, just eat the simplest most nutritious foods we can find and don’t eat much.

If we try this, our bodies and brains will complain initially. They won’t like the change in regime as they are too used to it, addicted really. It requires a change in perception of food and a willingness to push through the initial challenges. However, it’s easy to do. Nothing stopping us really.

Try some radical things, like not eating at the prescribed time once. Tonight, just don’t have dinner. What will happen? Nothing really, except your body will be happy and your mind will be clearer. Sure, you will think you feel some hunger, but that’s just the food addiction messing with you. Try going 12 hours without food, then try 16 hours, and then 24 hours. You’ll find it’s not too hard. You’ll find that a day without food here and there is ok, and even two or three days is easily possible but you need to be careful with fasts that long as vitamin or mineral imbalances could be troublesome.

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