Monday, February 12, 2007

Today I answer the Bat Signal

Yesterday I felt a teeny tiny bit like Batman.

Not because I even remotely resemble a superhero, and not because I was wearing both a PDA and a cellphone on my belt.

This time because I was called out in a newspaper.

The Ottawa Sun had a piece yesterday discussing this new Food Guide and its relationship to teenagers.

In the piece there's this paragraph,

"Paging Yoni Freedhoff. Paging Yoni Freedhoff. We need an answer from Ottawa's Yoni Freedhoff. Yoni Freedhoff is an expert on fat. Fat as in obesity. Yoni Freedhoff is medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and he had some critical things to say about the revised Canada Food Guide, but none of them were about how you psychologically get the nation's fatsos-through-junk-food to stop eating junk food and getting fat."
I have a piece of advice for the Sun - the best way to get an answer from me, is to actually call and speak with me.

I have this thing called a telephone. It sits on my desk. When someone dials a series of 10 numbers, it makes a sound that I have trained myself to respond to. When I hear that sound, I pick up the hand piece and I generally then speak into the lower segment and say, "Hello".

Anyhow, rather than make the reporters at the Sun go through the trouble of actually trying to reach me, I'll answer their question here - that way too, my words cannot be spun out of context.

The question was, "how do you psychologically get the nation's fatsos-through-junk-food to stop eating junk food and getting fat."

First off, I have to point out that the use of the term, "fatso" is juvenile, and I would have thought beneath publication in a newspaper.

Secondly, I don't think it's an issue of "psychologically" getting folks to stop eating junk food but rather physiologically getting folks to stop being hungry.

Many of us, myself included, crave junk food when we're hungry.

The fact is, junk food is high in one or both of fat or sugars and consequently, it's quite high in Calories. Our bodies, after hundreds of millions of years of evolution, have learned to crave Calories when they're hungry. I've yet to meet anyone who craves green leafy salads.

Fact is, if you're not hungry, the likelihood of you pulling into a drive-thru is much lower.

Now at this point someone invariably always says, "But I don't ever get hungry", and while they may well not feel that gnawing in the pit of their stomach, that's not the only form of hunger.

Food cravings are a form of hunger; having one of something and feeling compelled to have many more than you had planned is a form of hunger; and hunger has a tremendous influence on behaviours like binge eating, night eating, "emotional" eating and "stress" eating.

I firmly believe in hunger prevention as a strategy in weight management.

At my offices I recommend that people not go longer than between 2.5 and 3 hours between meals and snacks. I also recommend that protein be included with every meal and snack as protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat.

I recommend that people make themselves aware of Calories, both in terms of how many their bodies' require in a day and how many are in the food item they're considering.

If you're not hungry and you're practicing Calorie awareness, it will be much easier to forego the junk food that contains half your day's Calories in a package that will take you no more than 10 minutes to eat.

To use an analogy - when you go shopping, do you look at the price tag before you buy something? If you never looked at the price tags but simply bought because you thought the items looked good to you, do you think your bank account would be happy?

If you do think looking at price tags is a good idea, then you should also consider looking at the Calories, because the currency of weight in our bodies is Calories.

Bottom line - people aren't stupid, but it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how smart you are and it doesn't matter how badly you might want to lose weight, if hunger's involved in your day you're bound to make poor choices, and if you don't at least glance at the Calories, they're going to get you.

With specific regard to teenagers, waiting is also going to be key. It seems like it's a teenager's job to be disorganized and rebellious. Teenagers experiment with drugs, smoking, sleep deprivation, sex, oppositional defiance and sometimes crime. To expect that teenagers will respond to any public health message calling on them to minimize an unhealthy behaviour is likely misplaced optimism.

That said, there are some things that can and should be done.

  • Nutrition should be taught properly in grade school, including education around Calorie awareness.

  • Parents should live the lives they want their children to live - your children are not going to eat healthy and exercise if your versions of those same things are eating granola bars and pressing buttons on a remote control. While your children may not immediately make changes just because you have, at the very least you will be giving them the example to strive for when they become adults.

  • Abolish the clean your plate club.

  • Minimize home junk food.

  • Minimize eating out and take out (when you were a child, how often did your family eat out?).

    And of course, Health Canada should produce a resource that would help Canadians, teenagers, children and adults alike, understand an evidence based approach to healthy eating - something they have to date completely failed to do.