Society has come up with every diet imaginable in our journey toward living healthy, but rates of obesity continue to rise. Food journalist Mark Schatzker argues that tampering with the food we eat has harmed our ability to properly feed ourselves. MARK SCHATZKER is the author of The End of Craving, The Dorito Effect and Steak. He is a writer in residence at the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center, which is affiliated with Yale University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Best American Travel Writing and Annual Review of Psychology. He lives in Toronto.
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- The stigma against people with obesity is that they are overindulgent or weak. “This is absolutely wrong,” says Schatzker. Instead, the brains of obese people respond to food differently. For example, at the sight of food, research has shown that obese people experience a spike in dopamine levels in their brains’ reward centres. “The difference,” says Schatzker, “is one of craving.”
- “We always thought that sweetness is this indulgent, enjoyable sensation,” says Schatzker. “It’s actually like an instruction manual… for how much energy we’re getting.” When our food contains additives like artificial sweeteners or fat replacers, it tastes like it should contain more sugar or fat than it actually does. “When there’s this mismatch… the brain doesn’t know what to do,” Schatzker says. “It kind of throws up its hands.” The uncertainty of how much energy we’re getting leads the body to want to eat more, just to cover its bases. Which explains the obesity crisis in North America, where so much of the diet is processed (a.k.a. mismatched) food.
- “We tend to think that our appetite is primitive and unhinged, and that there’s something wrong with food,” says Schatzker. As a result, we’ve been adding things to our food to change its taste, texture, shelf-life or caloric content, and these additives have been directly altering our brains and the amount of food that we’re driven to eat. To make matters worse, these additives are difficult to spot on ingredient labels. They’re often called things that sound healthy and natural, like citrus fibre or milk protein (both fat replaces).
- “If delicious food is a guilty pleasure, you would expect that Italians would be the heaviest people in the world,” says Schatzker. In fact Italy has one of the world’s lowest obesity rates, and he credits that to Italy’s cultural attitude toward mealtime, home cooking and savouring. “Eating is meant to be deeply pleasurable, so don’t be afraid to enjoy real food. That’s the way it’s meant to be eaten,” he says.