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How We View Ourselves Affects How We View Our Environment, Which Affects How We Eat

How We View Ourselves Affects How We View Our Environment, Which Affects How We Eat

Dr. Clyde Wilson

Eating an unhealthy diet is a high-risk behavior. It offers a dopamine reward-response, is addictive, and has inevitable drawbacks that literally outweigh the rewards. Unfortunately, wanting to eat healthy is not usually enough to actually achieve nutritional health. We live in an environment that makes it difficult to eat right. Whether it is us or what surrounds us that is the biggest factor in making us bigger is a matter open to debate, but a recent review of the literature provides us some insight:

• Our perception of healthy food availability affects how we eat more than actual availability

• Healthy food is more available than is often perceived, including in areas of lower economic status

• Our perception of our environment is affected by our psychological state and sense of self (e.g. depression and how healthy we perceive ourselves to be)

• Because social education on how to eat healthy has had only limited beneficial results, it may be more effective to address how we perceive of our environment (and ourselves)

• Children have healthier habits when they perceive their parents as being more strict and involved in general (which is a perception of their environment), not when parents are strict just with health habits

• Specific child-feeding practices by parents can also have negative effects, such as encouraging eating beyond satiety and using food as a reward

The authors of the review conclude that our social environment has a greater impact on how we eat than our physical environment (i.e. the availability of healthy foods), and that to succeed with improving the nutritional health of society we may need to shift from educating the public to a paradigm of health protection by the government. Such an approach has proven beneficial with the development of laws designed to protect us from infectious disease, unsafe driving, and second-hand smoke.

Clyde’s Thoughts: A health protection program would presumably include food labeling and advertising laws, as well as more restrictions as to where certain types of foods can be sold (e.g. in schools and hospitals). Perhaps a higher tax on foods that increase the disease and health-care cost burden on society would make sense as well. However, laws cannot be our only defense against toxic eating patterns. As is the case in the relatively ineffective drug war, there needs to be a reduction in demand for high-risk behavior and eating. We demonstrate our demand for healthy foods very simply by purchasing them. To understand what purchases to make, we have to understand what foods and what type of diets truly are healthy (as opposed to fad diets that masquerade as being healthy). This means that public nutrition education should always be one of the cornerstones of helping the public to eat healthier.

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